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Better climate services

Dr Sushil K Sharma
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

CLIMATE services from the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) are increasingly becoming important towards the support of our national and regional climate risk studies, analysis and management.

The Climate Services, Research and Development arm of the FMS provides much valuable consulting support service by providing specialised data, climate and weather association reports and advisory services towards the development needs of the many sectors of our national economy.

FMS' climate services has been very proactive towards the development of new products and services for the fulfilment of its role in ensuring Fijians, including the many sectors of our economy, are well serviced and can understand the linkages of our weather and climate and its associations to the "climate drivers" in our region.

It attempts to seek the extent and manner of the association of the atmospheric teleconnections like the El-Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), the strength and variability of the Walker Circulation and the Hadley Circulation, with our national and regional weather and climate and its areal and temporal variation on seasonal, annual and even decadal basis.

Fiji, like other small island developing states, is vulnerable to the effects of global warming, climate variability and climate change. Severe TC Winston in February 2016 was a stark reminder of the profound impacts a single disaster could have on Fiji. It is mandatory for stakeholders to have focal points, where in-house qualified personnel deal with these sensitive issues to mitigate impacts nationally, in their area of operation.

National climate services (NCS), not only in Fiji but globally at all national meteorological centres (NMCs) have great responsibility to mankind especially nowadays with the great emphasis, expense and seriousness being placed upon climate variability and change issues.

Because of these concerns and in order to guide effective development and applications of climate services around the world, the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) was established in 2009 at the World Climate Conference-3 organised by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) with other United Nations (UN) agencies, governments and partners.

The vision of the GFCS is to enable society to better manage the risks and opportunities arising from climate variability and change, especially for those who are most vulnerable to such risks. It does this through the development and incorporation of science-based climate information and prediction into planning, policy and practice.

Effective implementation of the GFCS should improve the quality, consistency and application of climate services in Fiji and will help manage the risks and opportunities arising from climate variability and change. GFCS implementation is achieved by strengthening national observation networks, information management systems, and improving national capabilities for climate services development and applications.

GFCS also supports focused climate stakeholder interaction, and capacity building at the national, regional and global levels. The fourth Pacific Meteorological Council (PMC) and the Second Pacific Ministerial Meeting on Meteorology at their meetings in July 2017 adopted the Pacific Roadmap for Strengthened Climate Services (PRCS). The PRCS prioritises key actions for the implementation of the GFCS in the Pacific.

The Government of Fiji, recognising the importance of the GFCS and PRCS, is now in the process of developing a National Implementation Plan for Enhanced Climate Services. This will support decision making in climate sensitive sectors, and drive the development and application of climate services at the national level. The national implementation will benefit from existing best practices elsewhere in the region and globally.

As such, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Meteorological Services, with funding support from the WMO, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program and the Canadian Fund, organised a national consultation workshop for developing Fiji's National Implementation Plan for Enhanced Climate Services and the National Climate Outlook Forum, in Suva from February 21-23, 2018.

As part of the program for implementing GFCS at the national and regional scale, the forum aimed to link climate information being generated by the FMS with stakeholder institutions and users of climate information, and their decision-making processes to improve application of climate information, particularly the seasonal climate outlooks.

The consultation brought together key stakeholders including the FMS and decision makers from climate sensitive sectors. These stakeholders developed a plan for implementing climate services in Fiji.

The Ministry of Disaster Management & Meteorological Services expected the participation of key stakeholders and decision makers in the three day-forum would facilitate the identification of appropriate mechanisms to improve and sustain the flow of climate information to different users in Fiji.

Attending the workshop as a stakeholder representing an education institution and as a scientist who could look from both vantage points, as I was previously also the FMS Climate Services, Research and Development manager, it was quite clear that some of the information was very specialised and stakeholders required their focal point person to be technically savvy, and have some understanding of FMS' products and services.

It was very evident that stakeholder focal points would require to co-ordinate with the technically skilled and scientific savvy staff of the FMS Climate Services should have qualifications in climatology/meteorology at least, so as to ensure the maximum understanding of how to decipher the technical information, for maximum benefit.

My personal suggestion is that similar to many large commercial companies having own in-house lawyers for their legal work, large entities in particular should have their focal point staff who are fully qualified scientists with a Bachelor of Science in degree meteorology at least, with one-two persons as an understudy, with a very good succession planning.

This should be the case, if stakeholders are sincerely desirous of some serious R&D work in association with the FMS National Climate Services. This would achieve more fruitful results for the stakeholders, as part of capacity development needs to implement the Pacific Roadmap for Strengthened Climate Services at the national levels, then by organisations who fail to capture the maximum benefit by not having scientifically qualified specialists in their fold to help them.

The Fiji National University (FNU) has developed a Bachelor of Science in meteorology and the sciences as a double major program and is in the process of having an industry advisory committee formed where all the relevant stakeholders, who would benefit from this opportunity, can get together and oversight the program so it can be finetuned, to fit the individual requirements of each stakeholder.

Graduates will do attachment work at a meteorological service, most likely at the FMS, after an MOU. They will be employer-ready from day one.

Staff education and training needs via this program will acquire the maximum benefit for stakeholders, with full familiarity and understanding of the FMS data, products and services.

This effort will greatly support our government's National Implementation Plan for Enhanced Climate Services.

Trained and well qualified staff as scientific focal points in each of the stakeholder organisations, will support decision making in climate sensitive sectors, and help drive the development and application of climate services at the national level, more efficiently then we are doing at the moment.

Further by having one or more in-house scientific experts — depending on the size of the organisation — each entity will not only be able to adequately understand and gauge their scientific needs, but be able to represent their own organisational interests in R&D work and when seeking further funding for their development needs.

n Dr Sushil K Sharma BA MA MEng (RMIT) PhD (Melb) is a WMO accredited class 1 professional meteorologist and a former employee of the FMS. He is an associate professor of meteorology at the Fiji National University. Views expressed are his own and not that of FNU or this newspaper.

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