Better climate information seen aiding U.N. pact

GENEVA Tue Sep 1, 2009 9:08am EDT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - A push to improve climate information for everyone from farmers to investors in solar power will help a planned U.N. treaty to combat global warming, the head of the U.N.'s meteorological agency said on Tuesday.

Michel Jarraud told Reuters that a 150-nation World Climate Conference in Geneva this week, seeking to boost collection and sharing of climate information, would assist the world to cope with droughts, wildfires, sandstorms, floods or rising seas.

Agreement in Geneva would help set the stage for a planned new U.N. climate treaty, due to be agreed in December in Copenhagen.

"It will support whatever decisions are going to be made in Copenhagen," said Jarraud, who is Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

"One component (of a deal in Copenhagen) will be bigger use of renewable energy -- water, wind, solar energy. These three will require better information to implement," He said.

Investors, for instance, want to know about future climate to decide where to site a dam, wind farm or solar panels, he said.

Cyprus, for instance, had suffered four consecutive years of summer drought -- forcing water imports by tanker because it had built dams and reservoirs sufficient to store winter rainfall only for three years.

"The dams were based on the best rainfall statistics from the past. With climate change the probabilities are changing," he said.

EL NINO

Jarraud said a problem with the current information about climate was that it was only given every now and again -- such as a recent WMO warning about an El Nino event developing in the Pacific Ocean that can affect weather worldwide.

"The ambition of this conference is that we should institutionalize that so that farmers do not have to worry: 'will information come, will it not?'. They need it every year before the rainy season," he said.

A planned "Global Framework for Climate Services" to be agreed in Geneva at the August 31-September 4 talks would also include investments in monitoring levels of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels.

The framework, mainly to help developing nations, would bolster monitoring of the climate -- places such as the Congo basin need far more weather stations. Jarraud declined to estimate how much the framework would cost.

He said that it would require cultural changes to get people to act on climate information -- often viewed with skepticism by planners even though forecasts have become far more reliable.

About 70,000 people more than normal died in a 2003 heatwave in Europe, partly because of inadequate preparations. Even so, meteorologists had predicted a likely heatwave months in advance, he said.

And it would take big cultural changes.

Farmers in Africa, for instance, in some cases have to ditch traditional knowledge about signs from nature that help decide when to sow or harvest crops. Climate change, perhaps affecting the timing of monsoon rains, was making such knowledge less valuable.

"Cultural changes are tricky, they take time. It was very solid traditional knowledge but now we can do better than traditional knowledge. But it will take time," he said.

(Editing by Charles Dick)

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