Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A perfect storm is brewing - and we can prevent it

by Pradeep Kurukulasuriya 

As we move further into the 21st century, all indications are that we will not only see increases in average temperatures, but also more frequent and more intense severe weather, changing rainfall patterns, droughts, floods and sea-level rise around the globe.
Just this month, the city of Jilin in China was severely flooded and more than 110,000 people had to be relocated, with 18 reported dead. The death toll from flooding caused by heavy rain in southern Japan has risen to at least 15. Just last week, a flood at a popular swimming hole in Arizona killed 9.
This threatens each and every single one of us. You might have read all about it in David Wallace-Wells´ recent piece in New York Magazine.
But preventing new and reducing existing climate risks in order to save lives, businesses, communities and countries, is one focus set out in the Sendai Framework, the world’s blueprint for dealing with disasters.
To understand climate change induced-disaster risk, you need the effective deployment of climate and weather monitoring technologies. The data generated from this technology needs to then be used with socio-economic, biophysical and other data to generate estimates of risks. The collection, packaging and distribution of this understanding of risk forms the backbone of early warning systems.
Taken together these “climate services” can save lives from fast-acting storms, protect livelihoods and infrastructure, and work to break the cycle of disaster-risk-and-recovery that forces developing nations to take reactive – rather than proactive – approaches when bad weather hits. This cycle means that all too often vulnerable communities need to start again from zero, infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, and funds need to be re-allocated from key areas that show promise of breaking the poverty cycle such as education and health.  
Unfortunately, this is a step that’s easier said than done. The problem does not only come from a need for better suited technologies, it also comes from challenges to maintain the equipment and the systems that need to be in place to monitor and understand risks, or even overlapping systems that don’t fit well together. Moreover, even if we to get that right, another common constraint is, for a variety of reasons, resistance to behavioral change. That can lead to knock on effects including limited information sharing, a fear of new technologies, new partnerships and new approaches.
Paradigms are not easily shifted.
This is why UNDP is supporting an ongoing dialogue on “A New Vision for Climate Services” that explores a shift in technology and a shift in approaches to ensure end-to-end climate services and their connected early warning systems are easily deployed, affordable, effective and built to last.
The creation of effective early warning systems requires connecting any number of parties and sectors to analyze and distribute actionable early warnings that vulnerable communities can use to get out of harm’s way, protect their goods, and build more climate-resilient livelihoods. The information chain for an early alert extends across National Met Authorities, Disaster Risk Agencies, various ministries, executive branches, the media, and the civil society. With improved, reliable weather information, this information chain can connect diverse sectors to inform improved disaster risk governance, and ultimately, save lives.
Decision makers can use this information to transform the community´s vulnerability into resilience by offering capacities to coping with extreme events such as invest significantly in infrastructure projects for water, energy, transport and flood mitigation. This will strengthen local economies, lower migration caused by climate change, and help build climate-smart infrastructure designed to withstand the risks due to a changing climate. Private sector enterprises can also use the information to inform their own climate adaptation strategies, while on the community level, people can develop climate-resilient strategies to improve local enterprises and protect productive assets.
What´s more investment in effective end-to-end climate services is smart business. The projected cost-benefit ratio is regularly cited as five-to-ten-fold for every dollar spent on climate services. Think about this - over the past three decades, floods and droughts have already cost Zambia $13.8 billion, equivalent to a 0.4 percent loss in annual economic growth.
This said, investments in climate services should not just fall on the public sector alone. While early warnings are an essential public good and a key component of disaster risk reduction, private enterprises certainly benefit from improved weather and climate information, which can be used to avoid crop losses and improve productivity on the farm, support energy and extractive industries, allow for weather insurance, and build responsive business prepared for the new climate realities of the 21st Century. In 2016, droughts, water scarcity and stricter environmental regulations cost businesses a reported $14 billion.
UNDP is working to connect private-sector enterprises with public-sector institutions across the globe in efforts to create integrated climate services. Think about the potential. Telecoms companies can create another revolution by sharing early warnings and improved weather information to mobile users, energy companies and decision makers can make better investments in large infrastructure projects, and, of course, vulnerable communities can make more money on the farm, save money to send their kids to school and the local clinic, and protect against the spread of vector-borne illnesses.
By supporting climate and weather intelligence among vulnerable communities, we can work to reduce the cycle of poverty.
It’s definitely a smart investment. The challenge will be creating the appropriate enabling environments and connected transformative change needed to deploy, monitor and maintain effective end-to-end climate services. In the end, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction are inextricably linked. Improved resiliency on the farm, better decision making in the capital, and improved information sharing across economic sectors, all serve to reduce risks, take proactive steps toward disaster preparation, and avoid for humans to become an endangered species. 
Pradeep Kurukulasuriya is head of climate change adaptation at the Global Environmental Finance Unit, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, United Nations Development Programme.


This piece also appeared in Thomson Reuters  under the following link http://news.trust.org/item/20170726150028-zqprc

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Building a Value Proposition for Climate and Weather Services


By Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, Alan Miller, and Robert K. Rutaagi

Climate change, including extreme weather events compounded by ineffective risk management systems, threaten to derail efforts to build resilient nations in Africa.

Without improved weather and climate information and effective early warning systems, droughts will put livelihoods at risk, floods will wipe out infrastructure, lightning will take more lives. In Uganda for instance, many lives have been lost and properties destroyed by floods and landslides in Bududa in Eastern Uganda and Kasese in Western Uganda. Recently, one soldier was killed by lightning at The Statehouse in Entebbe, and 10 people were killed in Kabale District. These are but few examples of the many disasters caused by weather and climate phenomena for which the countries in Africa are ill-prepared.

The absence of accurate data will mean that high-priced investments in energy and economic development will be less effective, more risky, and more prone to failure. Opportunities for widening the service offering of public-sector-based Meteorological Services will be foregone, posing the real risk of rendering such fragile institutions to be regarded as even more redundant across a number of countries.

Decision makers, lacking the essential information, enabling policies, latest technology, funding and bandwidth required to anticipate, plan, respond and react to the effects of climate change, will be left standing in the mud.


Across much of sub-Saharan Africa, efforts in the past have failed to create sustainable public sector based climate and weather services. These investments have failed to promote lasting results, potential revenue streams have been left largely untapped, and hard-to-maintain-and-service technologies have been abandoned. Decision-makers have continued the all-too-familiar pattern of looking to the sky to inform their risk-management processes.

On a global level, a lack of climate information in Africa that specifically targets the needs of real-time decision-making – be it in agriculture, water management, urban planning, road and housing construction, defense and security facilities, plans for the tourism sector and the like – has created a continental-sized blind spot. World leaders, private-sector investors, climate negotiators, national decision makers and farmers simply do not know what short- and medium-term weather or long-term changes in climate are coming their way, and have too little information to accurately make decisions. 

Real time data forecasting prduct from Uganda Met Network
There is, however, a silver lining. While challenges remain, a number of African countries are attempting to learn from past mistakes and are proactively taking incremental steps to build more efficient and effective systems. The development and sustainability of these systems requires new ways of thinking. This starts with building and supporting the policies, laws, programmes, strategies, procedures, technologies, finance and capacities required to build a true value proposition for weather and climate services.

Rethinking the problem: New ideas to address old problems.
  • Policy. The value proposition starts with creating an enabling environment to support the sustainable adoption of alternative technologies and business models that can more effectively be used to generate and share accurate climate and weather information. 
  •  Finance. Entry barriers, including allowing for critical incubation periods necessary for the testing and up-take of new technologies, requires the provision of basic seed financing. International public finance has a key role to play to incentivize both public- and private-sector institutions to invest in improving climate information data generation and disseminations to end users. Counterpart funding by beneficiary governments is a fundamental sine qua non for success.
  • Partnerships. The challenge of finance is complex as business opportunities expand for private-sector alternatives that lay beyond the scope of traditional public-sector provision of climate information. It calls for the efficient and effective engagement of public and private weather service providers to collaborate on generating, calibrating, packaging and distributing information so that decisions with clear value propositions can be made. Revenue sharing agreements between the public and private sector need to be formulated, and need to be done within a fit-for-purpose context. Revenue sharing and market dynamics for weather and climate services will play a vital role. For many years, in Uganda, public-private partnerships were non-existent. The Department of Meteorology – later transformed and modernized to become the current Uganda National Meteorological Authority [UNMA] – provided meteorological services to the Civil Aviation Authority without payment. Very few private-sector companies paid for any consumed meteorological services. Effective in mid-2016, the public-private partnership concept and strategy is firmly taking root in Uganda, with technical and financial support from the United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility for a Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warnings Systems Project, as well as a recently approved project funded by the Green Climate Fund to support wetlands restoration and climate information in Uganda. Based on meteorological services commercialization studies done in Uganda and 10 other African countries, Memos of Understanding have been signed between UNMA, the public Civil Aviation Authority and the private enterprise Fit Uganda. The Civil Aviation Authority made its first payment to UNMA in August 2016. These payments will be repeated on a quarterly basis, according to the signed Memo of Understanding. Payment from Fit Uganda is in advanced stages, while more Memos of Understanding have been signed or are being negotiated. While some challenges persist, all these new positive steps indicate that engaging the public and private sector to finance climate change adaptation in Uganda has started in earnest and is expected to improve in the coming months.
  • Technology. New technologies are now available that make it easier to deploy cost-effective, accurate and easily maintained weather and climate monitoring systems. Learn more about advances in technologies
  • Incremental Approaches. We are now entering the phase where we start to package products to reach end users, further engage with civil society, create effective cost-recovery mechanisms, and monitor, evaluate and re-adjust these approaches. Discover recent steps Uganda is taking toward the finish line.  
  • The Last Mile. Weather information, climate data and early warning systems should remain largely a public good in Africa. After all, weather data saves lives and exclusivity of the raw data may not be possible. However, by looking at the gaps that have hindered the effectiveness of past efforts to modernize weather and climate services across the continent, there is an opportunity to un-tap revenue generating products, increase new revenue streams, deliver more actionable services by individuals, lower climate-related risks and prepare ourselves for an uncertain climate future. Discover new approaches to reaching the last mile with weather and climate services.
If done right, these services will not only inform risk-management practices – and empower nations that are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change to take proactive, rather than reactive approaches to climate change – but they will also help reach the “Last Mile.”

Crossing the Last Mile will provide farmers and vulnerable communities with the information they need to climate-proof their futures, make more money on their farms so that they can send their children to school, and break the cycle of resource-poverty, capacity-poverty and information-poverty that keeps much of Africa trapped and struggling to break through. 

Useful Resources





Dr. Pradeep Kurukulasuriza is Head of UNDP's Climate Change Adaptation Portfolio.

Alan Miller is an independent consultant on climate change policy.

Dr. Robert K. Rutaagi is Chairperson of the Board of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority; Senior Associate Consultant and Governance Advisor for Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (ECASA) Group Consultants. Dr. Rutaagi's residence was recently struck by lightning twice, destroying the meter box and nearby electric pole. According to some sources Uganda has as much as 70 lighting strikes per km per year.