The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has called for ‘early action’ rather than ‘early warnings’ as extreme weather increases.

Extreme weather and climate events have increased in frequency, intensity and severity, yet one in three people are still not adequately covered by early warning systems, according to the WMO’s 2020 State of Climate Services report.

In 2018, globally, around 108 million people required help from the international humanitarian system as a result of storms, floods, droughts and wildfires.

By 2030, it is estimated that this number could increase by almost 50 per cent at a cost of around US$20 billion a year.

In response, the WMO is stressing s the need to switch to impact-based forecasting – an evolution from “what the weather will be” to “what the weather will do”.

The 2020 State of Climate Services report contains 16 different case studies on successful early warning systems for hazards including tropical cyclones and hurricanes, floods, droughts, heatwaves, forest fires, sand and dust storms, desert locusts, severe winters and glacial lake outbursts.

“Early warning systems (EWS) constitute a prerequisite for effective disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Being prepared and able to react at the right time, in the right place, can save many lives and protect the livelihoods of communities everywhere,” said World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

“While COVID-19 generated a large international health and economic crisis from which it will take years to recover, it is crucial to remember that climate change will continue to pose an on-going and increasing threat to human lives, ecosystems, economies and societies for centuries to come,“ he said.

“Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to move forward along a more sustainable path towards resilience and adaptation in the light of anthropogenic climate change,” Professor Taalas said in a foreword to the report.

The report makes six strategic recommendations to improve the implementation and effectiveness of early warning systems worldwide:

  • Invest to fill the early warning systems capacity gaps
  • Focus investment on turning early warning information into early action
  • Ensure sustainable financing of the global observing system that underpins early warnings
  • Track finance flows to improve understanding of where these resources are being allocated in relation to EWS implementation needs and what impact this is having
  • Develop more consistency in monitoring and evaluation to better determine early warning systems effectiveness
  • Fill the data gaps, particularly in SIDS