Developing a global, multi-hazard, climate-related early warning system

Society is basically pursuing two options for responding to the threat of climate change -- mitigation of emissions and adaptation to potential climate impacts.  Although these actions are necessary, there is a third important option that is related to, but not the same as conventional adaptation. That option is to protect the population against the immediate threat and consequences of extreme climate events such as heat waves, forest fires, floods and droughts by providing it with timely and actionable warnings. Although there are piecemeal, individual warning systems for some types of climate-related hazards and for particular regions, there is no comprehensive warning system that provides early warning of extreme climate events and their consequences and possible response options. Moreover, developing countries have much lower coverage of early warning systems than developed countries.

In an effort to address these shortcomings, the UNEP Office of the Chief Scientist in collaboration with the Early Warning Branch of the UNEP’s Division of Early Warning and Assessment is developing a concept for a UN-wide multi-hazard global early warning system for climate-related extreme weather events – CLIM-WARN.

As a first step in this effort, UNEP convened a discussion between 16 experts involved in early warning systems from several institutions (including the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, UNEP’s Division of Early Warning and Assessment, the United States Geological Survey, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the World Glacier Monitoring System, the Global Climate Observing System, the Global Fire Monitoring Centre, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, and the University of California at Berkeley).

UNEP further commissioned a detailed literature study to examine the “state of the art” of early warning systems. The key finding of this study indicates that the creation of a multi-hazard early warning system is possible; however, several challenges need to be overcome. [Click here for full report which also include the main conclusion of the expert meeting]

Based on recommendations from the expert meeting and the literature study, UNEP in collaboration with other international organizations plans to further develop the concept for CLIM-WARN by working with experts and stakeholders in three case study countries (Kenya, Ghana and Burkina-Faso). Progress in the project will be reported on this page.