During the 1970s, the use of computer-based weather forecasts became commonplace. Climate science is currently undergoing a similar revolution.
Professor Stephen Belcher, Head of the Met Office Hadley Centre, talks to ScienceOmega.com about the development of climate services in the UK and beyond...
Professor Stephen Belcher
Yesterday, ScienceOmega.com reported on the launch of Climate Service UK: a Met Office-led initiative to support the management of climate-related risks and opportunities.
The new service, which has been developed in response to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), will enable stakeholders to identify the ways in which they might be vulnerable to a varying and changing climate. Climatologists will also help users to exploit potential opportunities that are likely to arise from climate change.
Building upon Britain’s national climate capability, Climate Service UK will receive government funding through the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme. Climatologists from the Met Office Hadley Centre will take the lead in advising policymakers on climate-related issues and helping users, from both the public and private sectors, to guard themselves against the risks posed by climate change.
I spoke to Professor Stephen Belcher, Head of the Met Office Hadley Centre, to find out more about the drivers behind this new initiative...
What is Climate Service UK and why is it needed?
Let’s rewind a little bit. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, weather forecasting with computers was an experimental practice that took place exclusively within universities. During the 1970s, the use of computer-based weather forecasts became commonplace. Climate science is currently undergoing a similar revolution.
So far, the purpose of climate science has been to determine whether or not the world is warming, and if it is, whether this temperature increase is due to human activity. We now have rock-solid evidence to demonstrate that the world is warming, and that this increase is due to human activity; we are as certain about these things as we ever can be in science.
The time has come for the climate science community to change its focus. We must now work to develop the tools that humanity needs in order to deal with climate change. This is what Climate Service UK is about. It is a framework to explain how weather-related events and their associated risks are likely to change over the coming seasons, years and decades.
Has preparatory work included the collation and integration of existing climatological tools within the new framework?
Yes, absolutely. Firstly, in conjunction with the academic community, the Met Office Hadley Centre will bring research together in order to provide these tools. The second step is to identify and build relationships with partners who can help us to deliver these services.
We have been conducting work, sponsored by the Department for International Development (DFID), in Africa. Our first step was to talk to some of the local stakeholders about the type of climatological information that they would find useful. We were surprised to learn that they weren’t interested in long-term climate change. Instead, they wanted forecasts for the next season: information about the onset of rains and gaps in the rainfall.
After engaging with the prospective users, we were able to interrogate our seasonal outlooks. Sure enough, we identified transferable skills. We were able to deliver useful information on a whole host of subjects. Put simply, Climate Service UK incorporates a wide range of tools for users; both retrospective and speculative.
How difficult has it been to strike the right balance between the provision of domestic and international climate services? Is it necessary to draw this distinction or is Climate Service UK best viewed in a global context?
Climate Service UK is the British climate science community’s response to the GFCS. Climate science has always been a global endeavour in the sense that we need to understand what the whole world’s meteorology is doing. It’s natural, therefore, for us to think globally. This approach is particularly valuable when it comes to developing countries in which citizens are more vulnerable to the hazards associated with climate change.
You have spoken about how Climate Service UK will help users to guard against adverse climatological changes. How might this initiative facilitate the identification of opportunities that might arise from a varying and changing climate?
UK climate science is absolutely world class; there is no doubt about that. I am absolutely confident that the British climate science community has the skills and knowledge necessary to establish the type of service that will lead to job creation. Climate Service UK is about bringing this world-class expertise to the marketplace. This is a real opportunity for the UK.
For further information about this initiative, check out ScienceOmega.com's coverage of Climate Service UK's launch...