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A global climate services system is due to be launched in October, in the hope of providing advance warning of weather changes that influence water, food security, natural disasters and health.

Around 70 countries lack adequate infrastructure for coping with challenging weather conditions, and six of these countries — all in climatically vulnerable places —  "have nothing at all", according to Jan Egeland, co-chair of the High-level Taskforce for the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) initiative.

The decision to create GFCS was made in 2009, and there are currently pilot projects in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger. "Climate services don't get to the last mile, to those that need it the most," Egeland told an event held by the WMO in Brazil on 15 June, in the lead up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

Weather and climate variability are key factors in food production processes, most common natural disasters, myriad health epidemics, and the facilitation of water and energy access.

Reliable long-term data can feed into climate services, which can help assess, monitor and predict difficult weather conditions.

Examples of local initiatives successfully using weather data include Cuba's cyclone early warning system, which is based on radar technology and effective communication networks. In 2008, when three hurricanes within 20 days hit the country, economic losses amounted to US$9 billion, but only seven people died.

Better climate information could also help predict and manage health epidemics, including malaria, dengue fever and cholera.

Mannava Sivakumar, acting director of the WMO's Climate and Water Department, said: "There is an increasing gap in climate services between developing and developed countries. Currently most developing countries don't have good climate services."

This is due to a lack of infrastructure, meteorological networks and skilled personnel.

Egeland said that science has "made enormous progress" in the areas of water, weather services, climate variability and change — helping to reduce forecasting uncertainties.

"We now have, in embryo [form], a global integrated approach to providing information to those who need it the most," Egeland said.

"Products need to be easy to understand, user-friendly and developed in dialogue with users and scientists."

Elina Palm, liaison officer at the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in New York, United States, said that climate information is "very important", but that related challenges include a lack of information access, understanding, knowledge and the resources necessary to take action following climate forecasts.

Nelson Castano, disaster risk management coordinator for the Americas at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that decision making procedures for acting on information also have to be in place.

Until mid-July, there is an open review of planning and governance mechanism implementation, and the framework should be approved at a WMO extraordinary congress later this year (29-31 October).

Link to the High-level Taskforce for the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) 2011 report [8.17MB]