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UN launches $3bn early extreme weather warning system plans

© Shutterstock / FotoKinaextreme weather on a flooded US street

UN secretary-general António Guterres has announced plans for an early warning system for extreme weather. It would help those affected prepare for disaster, and the system will include weather-watching, disseminating information and responding.

  • Early Warnings for All initiative calls for initial five-year investment of $3.1 billion.
  • One-third of the world has no early warning system, and those that do often fail to communicate risk effectively.
  • With half the world in areas at risk of extreme weather events, preparing for disaster is critical in building long term resilience.

The Executive Action Plan for the Early Warnings for All initiative calls for initial new targeted investments between 2023 and 2027 of $3.1 billion – a sum which the UN says would be dwarfed by the benefits.

This is a small fraction (about 6%) of the $50 billion in adaptation financing that is being called for at COP27. It would cover disaster risk knowledge, observations and forecasting, preparedness and response, and communication of early warnings.

The Early Warnings for All Action Plan was drawn up by the World Meteorological Organization and partners, and it was supported by a joint statement signed by 50 countries.

Guterres said: “Ever-rising greenhouse gas emissions are supercharging extreme weather events across the planet. These increasing calamities cost lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in loss and damage. Three times more people are displaced by climate disasters than by war. Half of humanity is already in the danger zone.”

The importance of an early warning extreme weather system

According to the UN, the number of recorded disasters has increased by a factor of five, driven in part by human-induced climate change and more extreme weather – a trend that is expected to continue.

Yet today half of the countries globally do not have early warning systems and even fewer have regulatory frameworks to link early warnings to emergency plans.  Coverage is worst for developing countries on the front lines of climate change, namely Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Scientific and technological advances make this an easy adaptation win

Early warning systems are widely regarded as the “low-hanging fruit” for climate change adaptation because they are a relatively cheap and effective way of protecting people and assets from hazards, including storms, floods, heatwaves and tsunamis.

“Early warnings save lives and provide vast economic benefits. Just 24 hours’ notice of an impending hazardous event can cut the ensuing damage by 30%” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

There is a rapidly growing market in technologies which monitor and predict the weather, and the growing space industry is going to have a role to play.

Investment in early weather warning system could save money long term

While no one is suggesting that $3 billion is a little, it pales in comparison to the impacts of extreme weather. The Global Commission on Adaptation found that spending just $800 million on such systems in developing countries would avoid losses of $3 to 16 billion per year.

At the same time, if you look at the cost of action against the global impact, the cost doesn’t seem that high. While the initial investment over the next five years has been estimated to be over $3 billion, Guterres pointed out that this is a cost equivalent to just 50 cents per person per year for the next five years.

That would enable such a system to reach everyone on Earth with early warnings against increasingly extreme and dangerous weather.

Deeper understand of risk and impact is required

Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said: “The Early Warnings for All initiative offers an opportunity for countries to significantly increase their understanding of risk, which is the foundation for all resilience-building efforts.

“For these reasons and more, implementing this Action Plan is critical to saving lives. Secretary-General Guterres provided us with the vision and WMO has provided us with ‘the how.’ It is up to us all now to make this a reality.”

There are a number of elements which need to be developed to make such a system work. They include a deeper understanding of risk across all time scales; stronger national meteorological and hydrological services, disaster risk management agencies and emergency preparedness measures; accessible financial and technical support and an anticipatory humanitarian sector.

At its heart, this is intended to be a people-centred approach that prioritises community engagement.

Sameh Hassan Shoukry, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs and COP27 President, said: “The science is there and clearly shows the urgency with which we must act to assist those in need of support to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change.

The launch of this Executive Action Plan is an important contribution for adaptation and resilience, particularly in Africa, where 60% of people are not covered by early warning systems.”

The estimated new targeted investments of $3.1 Billion over the five years would be used to advance the four key Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (MHEWS) pillars:

  • Disaster risk knowledge ($374 million) – systematically collect data and undertake risk assessments on hazards and vulnerabilities
  • Observations and Forecasting ($1.18 billion) – develop hazard monitoring and early warning services
  • Preparedness and response ($1 billion) – build national and community response capabilities
  • Dissemination and communication ($550 million) – communicate risk information so it reaches all those who need it, and is understandable and usable

The plan indicates how key foundational financing mechanisms will be scaled up to support the achievement of the goal, including a new framework developed by the Climate Risk and Early WarningSystems (CREWS) Initiative and Green Climate Fund, and the operationalisation of the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF).

The UN Secretary-General is therefore going to create an Early Warnings for All Governing Board, co-chaired by the Executive Heads of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), in order to implement the plan.

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