‘Recent heatwaves in India had a major impact on human health, education, water resources, agriculture, energy and labour productivity’: WMO chief | World News

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In January this year, Professor Celeste Saulo was elected as the first woman and South American Secretary-General to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In an interview with Anjali Marar, Saulo, who is a teacher-researcher-academician, spoke on her scientific journey, late Indian meteorologist Anna Mani, responsibilities of developed nations to fight climate change, India’s contribution to the South Asian Meteorological services and WMO’s long-term plans to improve early warning systems.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) is celebrating its 150th year during 2024 – 2025. How do you see India’s meteorological contributions and what role can India play towards strengthening climate services over South Asia?

The India Meteorological Department is a valued and active member of WMO. Indeed, Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, was last year elected Third Vice-President of WMO.

IMD hosts the WMO Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre, New Delhi which has a proven track record of timely and accurate early warnings of tropical cyclones. These warnings have saved countless lives in recent years. For example, IMD warnings of tropical cyclone Amphan in India and Bangladesh in May 2020, underpinned a successful disaster mobilisation campaign, including the evacuation of more than 3 million people. Early warnings from RSMC New Delhi were instrumental in laying the ground for early action to limit casualties in Myanmar and Bangladesh from the extremely strong tropical cyclone Mocha, in 2023.

IMD also plays a pivotal role in the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum, which issues predictions on the Southwest monsoon and brings together meteorologists and decision-makers from the region. Many developing countries also look to IMD’s experience and expertise in developing heat-health early warnings and action plans.

In India, and world over, there are few women scientists and even fewer meteorologists / specialists in atmospheric sciences viz-a-viz males. Now as the Secretary-General, WMO, could you share your scientific journey and challenges ? What is your message to the young women scientists?

WMO’s historical photo archives from the late 1950s actually show an Indian woman surrounded by men! Her name was Anna Mani and she made invaluable contributions to both her country and the international community. She worked her way up to becoming Deputy Director-General of the India Meteorological Department and excelled in a totally male-dominated profession. She was active in a number of WMO activities and WMO honoured the centenary of her birthday in 2018.

Anna Mani should serve as an inspiration to encourage more female scientists and meteorologists in India and around the world.

I am proud to think that, as the first female Secretary-General of WMO, I can also act as a role model to young aspiring women.

What short and long-term goals do you envision for WMO? Are there any sectors or areas which need immediate climate-smart planning or intervention?

I am guided by WMO’s Strategic Plan 2024-2027, which reaffirms the WMO vision: By 2030, we see a world where all nations, especially the most vulnerable, are more resilient to the socioeconomic consequences of extreme weather, climate, water and other environmental events; and underpin their sustainable development through the best possible services, whether over land, at sea or in the air.

WMO’s overriding top priority is the ‘Early Warnings For All’ initiative, announced by the UN Secretary-General in 2022, to ensure that everyone on Earth is covered by life-saving early warnings by the end of 2027.

Another top priority is implementation of a Global Greenhouse Gas Watch to inform efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement.

Could you enlist some of the gap areas in the delivery or implementation of weather and climate services, globally?

There are many! For instance, early warning systems have helped decrease the number of deaths and have reduced losses and damages resulting from hazardous weather, water or climate events. But only 50 per cent of countries worldwide report having adequate multi-hazard early warning systems. Climate, weather and water-related extremes have led to 15 times more deadly hazards in Africa, South Asia, South and Central America, and small island states. 70 per cent of all deaths from climate-related disasters have occurred in the 46 poorest countries over the past 50 years.

This is the rationale behind the Early Warnings Campaign which has prioritised 30 of the most vulnerable countries in the initial stages.

We also need to close the gaps in the Basic Observing Network. The Systematic Observations Financing Facility provides grant financing and technical assistance for the sustained collection and international exchange of surface-based weather and climate observations, according to the Global Basic Observing Network regulations.

It focuses on countries with the most severe shortfalls in observations, prioritising the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States and thus, contributing to strengthening climate adaptation and resilient development.

Many Asian, Latin American and African countries still do not offer climate projections or have a robust early warning system / disaster-specific weather alerts. How can WMO plan to partner-with and handhold these nations?

We need to work from the ground up, because when working with 193 members, there is a large diversity of needs, and it is crucial to understand the various subtitles.

Climate change affects us on multiple levels and in many different ways, and like all phenomena that have a global impact, it hits the most vulnerable countries the hardest.

WMO’s role is to work with meteorological and hydrological services and to empower them to focus on climate change adaptation. We need to make their actions more visible and effective through early warnings, often alongside climate services. Today, no productive activity can be planned without considering how it is impacted by weather and climate and how changes in weather and climate conditions might affect it.

How have the Covid-19 pandemic and the two ongoing wars affected efficient delivery of climate services, gathering global weather data, establishment and dissemination of early warnings?

Geo-political disturbances do, indeed, disrupt the provision of weather and climate services and can lead to the destruction of valuable meteorological observations. They also deflect attention away from humanity’s overriding challenge: Climate Change.

And it’s important to remember that conflict and instability frequently combine with extreme weather and climate change impacts to worsen hunger, displacement and poverty.

Women are more seriously affected by climate change than men. Do you think more women in leadership positions in atmospheric sciences/climate studies would help?

We definitely need more women in leadership positions in atmospheric sciences! The disproportionate vulnerability of women and girls during disasters is now common knowledge. Women are the key drivers of livelihood, especially in subsistence farming. Therefore, the economic losses resulting from natural hazards have massive impacts on them and their communities.

Evidence from Fiji and Bangladesh shows that older women and women with disabilities are among the most affected groups during and in the aftermath of disasters. A study in Tanzania showed that widows, especially the elderly and illiterate, are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to a low adaptive capacity.

Women, generally, suffer from unequal and restricted access to economic, social, and political resources. We know that they have less access to climate information, early warnings, agricultural advisory services, mobile phone technology and financial credit.

Several of WMO’s programmes are designed to strengthen climate adaptation and seek to address the barriers faced by women and marginalised communities in accessing resources and decision-making tools.

You hail from the global south. How do you see the role of the advanced nations in the collective fight against climate change?

The developing and least developed world has enormous capacities and opportunities to lead in climate change. Our knowledge and experience is vital. But advanced nations have a key responsibility to take the lead in cutting greenhouse emissions and in stepping up financing for climate adaptation.

The period 2020-2023 saw the longest La Niña event. In 2024, projections of another La Niña prevail. Do you find any links between climate change and El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions?

ENSO is a key driver of natural climate variability. However, climate change from human activities exacerbates the impact of El Niño and La Niña related hazards, including high temperatures, heavy precipitation and drought. El Niño was a contributing factor in 2023 being the hottest year on record, but greenhouse gases played a much bigger role.

Asia suffered over 70 hydro-meteorological hazard events mostly in the form of flooding in 2023. How can WMO enhance its work with the regional meteorological centres towards flood mitigation, developing effective flood warning systems with country-specific requirements?

Water-related hazards are the main reported cause of human casualties and economic losses in Asia. However, mortality and the economic cost of heatwaves is widely under-reported. For instance, the recent heatwaves in India not only had a major impact on human health, but also on education, water resources, agriculture, energy and labour productivity.

As regards floods, WMO supports the South Asia Flash Flood Guidance System (South Asia FFGS), with the aim of improving early warnings for a major natural hazard in one of the world’s most populated regions.

Operated by IMD, the South Asia FFGS seeks to provide the nation’s nearly 1.6 billion people with effective flash flood guidance and forecasts. IMD acts as the regional centre covering Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, providing forecast products, data and training.

There are vast unexplored areas on land, in the oceans and at the poles from where no weather data is being generated, yet. Are there any plans to improve the weather data network?

WMO is working hard to maintain and improve the Global Ocean observing system. The Global Ocean Observing System unites international, regional and national ocean observing programmes, governments, United Nations agencies, research organisations and individual scientists to monitor our changing ocean through the ‘eyes’ of thousands of ocean observing platforms.

These platforms range from autonomous profiling floats and underwater gliders, to fixed and drifting buoys, to commercial and research ships, and even marine mammals. 1,600 ships provide nearly 10,000 observations per day, sharing them in real-time through the WMO Global Telecommunications System. Any decline in ocean observations has a big impact on forecasts and early warnings.

The Polar Prediction Project (PPP) was a 10-year (2013–2022) endeavour of WMO’s World Weather Research Programme. It aimed at promoting cooperative international research enabling development of improved weather and environmental prediction services for the polar regions, on time scales from hours to seasonal.


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