Improving climate information services in the countries that need them most

Today we launch Sustainable Earth, a community-focused, open access journal where researchers, policy makers and citizens can read, discuss and promote ideas around sustainability and innovation. To mark the launch we invited Fortunate Machingura, author of one the first published articles, explains why, when it comes climate information services, we need to act globally to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable countries aren’t left behind.

Climate experts continue to warn that extreme weather conditions will become more frequent and harsher in new ways. Recently, every new year seems like a brutal wake-up call to nature’s extraordinary power, and the disconcerting possibilities of this warmer world. In essence, the past few years have given us more clues about the importance of climate information services which provide climate information in a way that assists decision-making by individuals and organizations.

Climate information services are helping us to learn more about why some weather is exceptionally harsh, how much climate change is to blame and what to expect in the world to come – hints that hopefully will help countries to prepare to reach and deliver progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the SDGs commitment, all countries pledged to help those who are furthest behind first, promising to ‘leave no one behind’ as a prerequisite for achieving Agenda 2030. Our seminal paper highlights that putting the worst off first and making the extremely poor reach their full potential is not just a foundational equity principle to ending all forms of poverty everywhere, but should also be seen as a commitment to a climate-smart development narrative which places emphasis on inclusive stewardship of climate information services, particularly among the most vulnerable and marginalized social groups.

Climate information services availability and application remain weakest in countries that need them most – low-income, climate-vulnerable developing and least developed countries.

However, as our paper reveals, climate information services availability and application remain weakest in countries that need them most – low-income, climate-vulnerable developing and least developed countries. These countries, owing to their geographic and socio-economic circumstances, represent the most vulnerable. They have an increased exposure to disasters and a heightened risk of death while also being least capable of coping with climate-related extreme events such as (flash) floods, (mud) storms, droughts, and floods.

Poor climate information services can expose vulnerable groups to new risks and worsen pre-existing vulnerabilities and drivers of marginalization resulting in more profound exclusion, poverty and inequalities. People caught in climate vulnerabilities – those living in conflict, and those who are immigrants or those displaced – often fall through the cracks of climate planning or are explicitly excluded from climate information.

Also, at the center of this narrative is the weak integration of indigenous, cultural and historical integrated knowledge systems that adequately address the interlinked challenges of climate risks. As our research shows, these integrated knowledge systems present opportunities for addressing the needs of the global poor, including informing agricultural decision-making in rural communities to reduce malnutrition, facilitate disaster preparedness, and tackling human diseases linked to climate change.

Without the concerted efforts of stakeholders at the national level to address the needs of people caught up in various forms of climate vulnerabilities, we will not achieve the SDGs for all, and the gap between marginalized groups and the rest of the world will continue to grow.

What governments need to do now

Targeted efforts focused on people caught in climate vulnerabilities can spur delivery for these populations as well as their countries and host communities. Thus, making decisions in the context of Agenda 2030 will mean actively integrating the diverse knowledge systems which underpin them to close the persistent gap between climate information production and use. Decision makers should take three critical steps recommended in our paper to prepare the groundwork necessary for tackling gaps present in climate information services:

Establish and support institutions that spearhead vital climate information services research, advisory and tailored products for government, private and public sector players. Investments are needed particularly in most LDCs to build the necessary technical and scientific capabilities such as observation networks, training of research personnel and the establishment of effective early warning systems.

Develop and promote inclusive non-hierarchical feedback and engagement mechanisms and forums that will enable providers and users (especially socially excluded and marginalized groups) of climate information to work together in co-designing and co-generating climate information products and dissemination channels. Targeting the worst off first entails the engagement of inclusive, iterative, interactive and flexible mechanisms of knowledge exchange between players subscribing to different knowledge systems, including climate scientists, resource users and practitioners, towards building mutual respect, trust, climate information products and dissemination channels that are acknowledged, accepted, accessible and used across knowledge boundaries.

Prioritize those most at risk of climate vulnerabilities, orient integrated climate information systems towards them, and provide better data. To leave no one behind, as our research has shown, government policies should foster improved access to essential climate information services, as well as institutional reforms that seek to explore the kinds of climate information that are useful in different contexts and for different groups (especially the excluded and disadvantaged).

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