Climate Services

Climate-informed
decision-making

Changing weather conditions inherent to climate change demand decision-makers to be better informed when exercising their judgement on adaptation responses. To that extend, climate services facilitate climate-risk informed decisions through the provision of useful and usable climate information and products (e.g. risk or vulnerability assessments). By making climate information more readily available and customized to end-users’ needs, adaptation responses can be tailored to the expected climate conditions and be made more robust against the likely range of changes.

Tangible climate information products range from global and regional climate model outputs to local impact and vulnerability assessment results. Generating these products requires data and information from various fields of research. Climate information can describe historical, current and future climate conditions. They can entail future predictions and projections on monthly, seasonal or decadal timescales and their impact on natural and human systems. Climate services encompass the generation and provision of this information to a wide range of users in order to support climate resilient development. The scope and detail of climate services still need to be defined in close collaboration with users.

‘Adapt to what exactly?’ is the first question a decision-maker may ask when faced with the need to prepare for the consequences of climate change. Without knowing the expected changes in climatic conditions, proactive and anticipatory adaptation approaches are difficult. Whilst measures can be based on already experienced climate change, the more we know about future impacts, the better responses can be designed to address them. Climate information and services are therefore needed to support risk management and decision-making.

The provision of climate services is a fast-growing field and involves a variety of actors ranging from national research institutes to National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) to operators of global and regional information platforms. In recent years, efforts have increased to customise climate information and target it to the specific needs of users. The formal UN framework that supports the development of climate services is the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) led by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Due to different perspectives, there may be a mismatch between what providers understand as useful information and what users recognise as usable. This may be due to information providers not being familiar with users’ decision-making processes and contexts or with decision-makers being unable to process climate information in the provided form. The level of uncertainty associated with a particular projections is another important factor. Exchange and dialogue between the users and providers is therefore of utmost importance.

In this context, the term climate value chain has been created. It describes an end-to-end climate information production cycle that is characterized by one or several steps of value-adding which might be tailoring of data or provision of information and services, etc. to make climate information usable. These steps are performed by various stakeholders, characterized as follows:

  • Providers: providers of climate information collect, manage, archive and provide climate data and also basic climate diagnostic- and monitoring products as well as climate predictions and projections. Key providers at national level are mainly National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS). Also important are academia (e.g. universities, research institutes) for model and product development as well as external data providers which provide data and products from the regional or global level. In many contexts the private sector may also collect relevant climate data for own interests which is, however, not systematically provided to a central database of a NCS.
  • Intermediates: intermediates have the function of adding value to climate data or purely climate information in order to make it useful for the context of the decision-maker. They can be differentiated in basically two types: (1) technical intermediates refine basic climate data or information by tailoring and/or adding external data (e.g. modelling future river flow, based on climate data and river flow models). Important stakeholders may be impact modelers, risk managers or authorities (line ministries) who can often be found at the sectoral level; (2) institutional intermediates or boundary organizations have the function as communicators of climate information as well as advisors for decision-making. This can be the preparation of special publications, or the communication of climate information in reports or trainings. Private companies, None Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Community-based Organizations (CBOs) and media are important stakeholders. Another group of institutional intermediates are “enablers” who provide basic resources like global and regional data, knowledge and capabilities (e.g. UN organizations) and funding (e.g. development banks). Intermediates are also users of climate information but with the main function as a value-adder, communicator or purveyor of climate information.
  • End-Users: the term end-user predominantly targets stakeholders who use climate information for decision-making in a practical context, from the national to the community level. In this concern they can be distinguished from intermediates. Important stakeholders for infrastructure sectors are managers, planners, engineers or politicians.