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Fair-Weather Friends: Strengthening a Global Weather Partnership

April 10, 2017

InterMET Asia

“There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather,” said John Ruskin, an English writer and an optimist. In actuality, there is bad weather, which is responsible for more and more damage around the world. Hydrological and meteorological (“hydromet”) hazards are responsible for 90 percent of total disaster losses worldwide. Between 1970 and 2012, that meant economic losses of $2.4 trillion, and the deaths of 2 million people.

While no country in the world is safe from hydromet hazards, developing countries are affected the most, undermining sustainable economic growth. One of the main duties and challenges countries face is putting into action up-to-date systems that protect life, property, and wellbeing. Modernization needs require more than $1.5 billion of additional investment, on top of the $300 million needed annually to operate the new systems. The needs are huge, and addressing them requires collaborative efforts of the public and private sectors and academia, which together form a network increasingly referred to as the Global Weather Enterprise.

The private sector’s complex role in providing weather and climate services has been growing exponentially. The private sector provides value-added meteorological products, enhances basic infrastructure that the public sector provides, and offers advanced solutions. But as the private sector’s presence in hydromet has grown, so have the questions surrounding its responsibilities. How can we balance the increased role of the private sector with the duty of states to guarantee safety to their citizens from weather-related hazards? Or, more bluntly, how can we ensure that developing countries can obtain solutions that otherwise may not be affordable?

On March 22-23, 2017, at InterMET Asia – the annual event that gathers public and private weather-service providers – representatives of both sectors met in Singapore to affirm their commitment to the Global Weather Enterprise (GWE) and their common mission to protect lives and property, and to enhance the economic development of citizens everywhere.

The GWE is already operational. Both public and private members are even now producing a range of weather forecasts, from general forecasts for the public to tailored outputs for specific business applications. But only by scaling up the GWE will the needs of all citizens be met. The global goal to protect all citizens requires the GWE to grow by a factor of ten within a decade.

With these challenges in mind, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank convened a special session where participants discussed opportunities and obstacles to achieving goals of the GWE. “The World Bank and GFDRR [are] taking leadership,” says Brian Day, Chairman of the Hydro-Meteorological Equipment Industry, “to talk about what the initial issues are, and the inertias to overcome in order to create a true global weather enterprise.”

All participants at the session – whether from national weather services, private companies, or academia – agreed on the need for the GWE to adopt a Strategy to guide its future growth. In a quickly-changing world, this Strategy would have to address a set of complex factors:

·         The greatly increased need for more accurate and reliable forecasts

·         Increasing mobilization of private capital in the sector

·         Economic growth in many countries

·         Scientific and technological advances

The GWE faces financial, infrastructural, and institutional challenges, but we cannot overlook the need for a culture change, as well: there must be more trust and respect between all players for this partnership to work. The evolution of the GWE depends on improving engagement and cooperation between the public and private sectors.

“It’s no longer business as usual,” says Amos Makarau, Director of Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Department. “[We] need to change the mindset of our thinking. We cannot work in isolation. [Working with the] private sector would assist us. The world is changing, and very rapidly. We have to be onboard as well.”

After all, a lot still must be done to make the GWE a fully-functional mechanism. The private and public sectors will have to work together to foster good governance through better regulation; enable the effective use of privately-supported data services through new business models; and make high-quality global predictions from advanced centers available to developing and poor countries.

To achieve these aims, private companies, public services, and development partners must prevent misunderstandings and promote the spirit of information-sharing and transparency. Meanwhile, the distinct roles and responsibilities of the public and private sectors should be more clearly articulated to prevent confusion and unnecessary duplication of efforts.

Taking these steps would help the GWE achieve its mission: saving lives, protecting property, and enhancing economic development.

“The only way to advance the weather enterprise is to explore the public, private and academic partnership,” says Neil Jacobs of Panasonic. “Working together will go much faster than competing against each other.”

" “The only way to advance the weather enterprise is to explore the public, private and academic partnership. Working together will go much faster than competing against each other.” "

Neil Jacobs

Panasonic Weather Solutions