The UN’s meteo branch, the World Meteorological Organization, wants to standardize the way information is produced, fill gaps in knowledge about where greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are going, and produce much faster and more accurate data on the evolution of the planet’s atmosphere.
The objective is to better inform strategies to combat global warming.
The WMO concluded a three-day meeting at its Geneva headquarters on Wednesday, Feb. 1, that brought together more than 250 ocean, space, climate and meteorological experts.
“Climate change is the most stressful and enduring challenge of our time,” said Hugo Zunker of the European Earth observation program, Copernicus.
“If we don’t understand how the climate is changing and what risks these changes bring, we can’t plan for a sustainable and resilient future,” he insisted.
Data, more data
“Currently, there is no comprehensive and timely exchange of data from surface and space-based greenhouse gas observations at the international level,” the WMO said.
The three main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide.
CO2 alone is responsible for about 66% of global warming. And there are also gaps in knowledge about the role played by CO2 absorption mechanisms – carbon sinks – such as the Amazon rainforest, oceans and permafrost areas.
“We have large uncertainties about the terrestrial component of CO2, both carbon sources and sinks, and the other unknown is methane,” said WMO chief Petteri Taalas.
The WMO’s 2021 greenhouse gas bulletin, released at the UN COP27 climate summit in Egypt in November, showed the largest annual increase in methane concentration since 1980, “and we don’t fully understand the reason behind that,” Taalas said.
WMO is therefore developing a concept for an internationally coordinated GHG monitoring infrastructure.
The new framework should facilitate surface and space-based greenhouse gas observing systems, with common standards and rapid access to its measurements.
“The data generated by such a system would support the provision of robust quantitative information,” the WMO hopes.
The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change saw countries agree to cap global warming at “well below” two degrees Celsius above levels measured between 1850 and 1900 – and 1.5°C if possible.
Carbon where are you?
The monitoring system would also provide a better understanding of the entire carbon cycle.
Lars Peter Riishojgaard, who is in charge of these issues at the WMO, believes that there is a good understanding of how much CO2 is being emitted. “We know by and large how much oil and coal gas we extract. We can assume it’s all burned,” he said.
“Some of it enters the land surface and some of it enters the ocean. We understand the sum of these two elements, but not the individual components,” he insisted.
For him it is essential to understand the system as a whole if we are to effectively mitigate its adverse effects. And reliable funding must be found.
Most current GHG monitoring measures depend heavily on research capacity and funding, which is often too intermittent and makes continuous global monitoring “difficult to achieve,” the WMO says.