Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Building a Value Proposition for Climate and Weather Services

By Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, Alan Miller, and Robert K. Rutaagi

Climate change, including extreme weather events compounded by ineffective risk management systems, threaten to derail efforts to build resilient nations in Africa.

Without improved weather and climate information and effective early warning systems, droughts will put livelihoods at risk, floods will wipe out infrastructure, lightning will take more lives. In Uganda for instance, many lives have been lost and properties destroyed by floods and landslides in Bududa in Eastern Uganda and Kasese in Western Uganda. Recently, one soldier was killed by lightning at The Statehouse in Entebbe, and 10 people were killed in Kabale District. These are but few examples of the many disasters caused by weather and climate phenomena for which the countries in Africa are ill-prepared.

The absence of accurate data will mean that high-priced investments in energy and economic development will be less effective, more risky, and more prone to failure. Opportunities for widening the service offering of public-sector-based Meteorological Services will be foregone, posing the real risk of rendering such fragile institutions to be regarded as even more redundant across a number of countries.

Decision makers, lacking the essential information, enabling policies, latest technology, funding and bandwidth required to anticipate, plan, respond and react to the effects of climate change, will be left standing in the mud.

Across much of sub-Saharan Africa, efforts in the past have failed to create sustainable public sector based climate and weather services. These investments have failed to promote lasting results, potential revenue streams have been left largely untapped, and hard-to-maintain-and-service technologies have been abandoned. Decision-makers have continued the all-too-familiar pattern of looking to the sky to inform their risk-management processes.

On a global level, a lack of climate information in Africa that specifically targets the needs of real-time decision-making – be it in agriculture, water management, urban planning, road and housing construction, defense and security facilities, plans for the tourism sector and the like – has created a continental-sized blind spot. World leaders, private-sector investors, climate negotiators, national decision makers and farmers simply do not know what short- and medium-term weather or long-term changes in climate are coming their way, and have too little information to accurately make decisions. 

Real time data forecasting prduct from Uganda Met Network
There is, however, a silver lining. While challenges remain, a number of African countries are attempting to learn from past mistakes and are proactively taking incremental steps to build more efficient and effective systems. The development and sustainability of these systems requires new ways of thinking. This starts with building and supporting the policies, laws, programmes, strategies, procedures, technologies, finance and capacities required to build a true value proposition for weather and climate services.

Rethinking the problem: New ideas to address old problems.
  • Policy. The value proposition starts with creating an enabling environment to support the sustainable adoption of alternative technologies and business models that can more effectively be used to generate and share accurate climate and weather information. 
  •  Finance. Entry barriers, including allowing for critical incubation periods necessary for the testing and up-take of new technologies, requires the provision of basic seed financing. International public finance has a key role to play to incentivize both public- and private-sector institutions to invest in improving climate information data generation and disseminations to end users. Counterpart funding by beneficiary governments is a fundamental sine qua non for success.
  • Partnerships. The challenge of finance is complex as business opportunities expand for private-sector alternatives that lay beyond the scope of traditional public-sector provision of climate information. It calls for the efficient and effective engagement of public and private weather service providers to collaborate on generating, calibrating, packaging and distributing information so that decisions with clear value propositions can be made. Revenue sharing agreements between the public and private sector need to be formulated, and need to be done within a fit-for-purpose context. Revenue sharing and market dynamics for weather and climate services will play a vital role. For many years, in Uganda, public-private partnerships were non-existent. The Department of Meteorology – later transformed and modernized to become the current Uganda National Meteorological Authority [UNMA] – provided meteorological services to the Civil Aviation Authority without payment. Very few private-sector companies paid for any consumed meteorological services. Effective in mid-2016, the public-private partnership concept and strategy is firmly taking root in Uganda, with technical and financial support from the United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility for a Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warnings Systems Project, as well as a recently approved project funded by the Green Climate Fund to support wetlands restoration and climate information in Uganda. Based on meteorological services commercialization studies done in Uganda and 10 other African countries, Memos of Understanding have been signed between UNMA, the public Civil Aviation Authority and the private enterprise Fit Uganda. The Civil Aviation Authority made its first payment to UNMA in August 2016. These payments will be repeated on a quarterly basis, according to the signed Memo of Understanding. Payment from Fit Uganda is in advanced stages, while more Memos of Understanding have been signed or are being negotiated. While some challenges persist, all these new positive steps indicate that engaging the public and private sector to finance climate change adaptation in Uganda has started in earnest and is expected to improve in the coming months.
  • Technology. New technologies are now available that make it easier to deploy cost-effective, accurate and easily maintained weather and climate monitoring systems. Learn more about advances in technologies
  • Incremental Approaches. We are now entering the phase where we start to package products to reach end users, further engage with civil society, create effective cost-recovery mechanisms, and monitor, evaluate and re-adjust these approaches. Discover recent steps Uganda is taking toward the finish line.  
  • The Last Mile. Weather information, climate data and early warning systems should remain largely a public good in Africa. After all, weather data saves lives and exclusivity of the raw data may not be possible. However, by looking at the gaps that have hindered the effectiveness of past efforts to modernize weather and climate services across the continent, there is an opportunity to un-tap revenue generating products, increase new revenue streams, deliver more actionable services by individuals, lower climate-related risks and prepare ourselves for an uncertain climate future. Discover new approaches to reaching the last mile with weather and climate services.
If done right, these services will not only inform risk-management practices – and empower nations that are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change to take proactive, rather than reactive approaches to climate change – but they will also help reach the “Last Mile.”

Crossing the Last Mile will provide farmers and vulnerable communities with the information they need to climate-proof their futures, make more money on their farms so that they can send their children to school, and break the cycle of resource-poverty, capacity-poverty and information-poverty that keeps much of Africa trapped and struggling to break through. 

Useful Resources

Dr. Pradeep Kurukulasuriza is Head of UNDP's Climate Change Adaptation Portfolio.

Alan Miller is an independent consultant on climate change policy.

Dr. Robert K. Rutaagi is Chairperson of the Board of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority; Senior Associate Consultant and Governance Advisor for Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (ECASA) Group Consultants. Dr. Rutaagi's residence was recently struck by lightning twice, destroying the meter box and nearby electric pole. According to some sources Uganda has as much as 70 lighting strikes per km per year. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A New Vision for Weather and Climate Services in Africa

UNDP Report Calls for Enabling Actions by African Leaders
Public-Private Partnerships, New Technologies, Regional Cooperation, Capacity Building Key to Resolving Sub-Saharan Africa’s Persistent Challenges in Maintaining Sustainable Climate Information and Early Warning Systems

Marrakesh, Morocco, 10 November 2016 – During today’s climate talks in Marrakesh, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a report that focuses on a new approach adopted by African leaders to proactively support the sustainability of investments in weather and climate services across the continent.

The report, “A New Vision for Weather and Climate Services in Africa,” highlights new technologies and new approaches that will enable sub-Saharan African countries to support the sustainability of investments in the weather and climate services sector, and improve efforts to adapt to a changing climate in Africa.

“As we move further into the 21st century and the average global temperature increases, we are likely to witness more frequent and severe weather, droughts, floods, and sea level rise around the globe. If not addressed, as committed to by world leaders in Paris, climate change will be a major challenge to efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Bonizella Biagini, Programme Manager for UNDP’s Programme on Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA). “Providing accurate, reliable, and timely weather and climate information is central to building resilience to climate change, empowering nations, saving lives and strengthening livelihoods across Africa’s most vulnerable communities.”

On a macro-economic and global policy level, a failure to accurately provide warnings on fast-acting storms and other extreme climate events not only takes lives, it also affects production levels and hinders economic development, according to the report. Citing a joint study from the World Meteorological Organization and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the report concludes that “from 1970 to 2012, there were 1,319 reported weather-related disasters in Africa that caused the loss of 698,380 lives and economic damages of US$26.6 billion.”  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also identified Africa as the continent most vulnerable to climate change, with projected reductions in agricultural yield as much as 50 percent and net crop revenues dropping by up to 90 percent by 2100.
Investing in weather and climate services is a smart investment, according to report authors. World Bank estimates indicate that “upgrading all hydro-meteorological information production and early-warning capacity in developing countries would save an average of 23,000 lives annually and would provide between US$3 billion and US$30 billion per year in additional economic benefits related to disaster reduction.”
“While people in Africa have contributed the least to human-induced climate change, they are among the most vulnerable to its effects. Every year, thousands of lives and countless millions of dollars of livelihoods, crops, and infrastructure investments are lost due to severe weather, contributing to a poverty trap,” said Biagini. “Timely and effective early warnings and improved climate information can help minimize these losses by improving decision making in government and communities.  Businesses, from the large to the micro, benefit from access to quality and localized weather information.”

The report is a learning product from the UNDP’s CIRDA Programme, a four-year programme supporting climate information and early warning systems projects in 11 African Least Developed Countries with $50 million from the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). The peer-reviewed publication builds on the expertise of world-renowned experts in meteorology, hydrology, new technology and sustainable development, as well as a cross-continental UNDP market study on “Revenue Generating Opportunities Through Tailored Weather Information Products.”

Addressing Persistent Challenges
The report begins with an in-depth analysis of the persistent challenges facing Africa’s National HydroMeteorological Services (NHMS) in providing sustainable, long-term weather and climate services.

Citing a study on climate change adaptation from the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, the report underlines that “Since the mid-1980s, donor support for modernizing weather and climate services in developing countries has conservatively totalled almost $1 billion, with the majority of commitments since 2000. Nevertheless, a recent World Meteorological Organization (WMO) monitoring survey showed that ‘54% of the surface and 71% of the upper air weather stations in the region did not report data.”

“This often is due to the lack of technical expertise and experience, together with minimal budgets that limit the capacity to invest in novel solutions for weather and climate services in Africa. The solutions, however, exist and can be affordable,” Biagini said.  
Many of the challenges arise from attempts to utilize weather monitoring systems originally created for use in developed countries, such as radars, which, according the report, can be costly and difficult to maintain.

“The design and materials in such equipment are often inappropriate for the arid and tropical environments found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa,” said report co-author John Snow, Dean Emeritus at Oklahoma University’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. “Such equipment is difficult to maintain in these harsh environments. Equipment is often bought without allowance for the true costs of operation and maintenance, or without consideration of the costs associated with the inevitable technological changes that require regular updates and continuous staff retraining.”

The poor service and consequent loss of NHMS credibility resulting from failure to adequately address such challenges often produces a non-virtuous cycle of continually weakening political and financial support, according to report authors.

A New Vision for Technology
The report looks to promising advances in technologies, along with more effective coordination with the private sector to improve the sustainability of investments in the weather and climate services sector in sub-Saharan Africa. The approach proposed also builds on the rapid extension of mobile phone services throughout Africa, which provides both tower sites with power and security for weather stations, and real-time communication critical for delivery of data to central meteorological offices and of products from the central offices to users.

“This new vision goes beyond the simple procurement and installation of new technologies, to an end-to-end systems approach,” said Uganda Minister of Water and Environment Sam Cheptoris. “There is no silver bullet, but with effectively structured public-private partnerships, new technology and services, strengthened institutions, increased regional cooperation and continued capacity building, sustainable hydromet solutions are a realistic and attainable goal.”

According to report authors, the technological basis for this new vision is relatively recent innovations in weather and climate monitoring, analysis and forecasting technologies, as well as parallel advances in computing and cellular telecommunication services.
The new technologies described in the report include low-cost All-in-One Automatic Weather Stations, lightning location sensors, automatic water level and stream gages, and central automated systems for data collection, integration and analysis.

“These technologies, together with modern forecaster workstations, comprise a end-to-end hydromet monitoring and forecasting system well suited to the constraints and capabilities of developing countries,” Snow said.

A New Vision for Public-Private Partnerships
While the hardware is relatively straightforward, it can only be applied fully and effectively if the public sector takes the lead to engage a new group of private-sector actors that are working in the climate and weather services space, according to the report.

“From a big picture perspective, these partnerships provide the enabling environment necessary to foster long-term economic stability, support maintenance and integration of monitoring systems, improve value propositions, enhance public support, and support sustainable revenue generation,” Biagini said.

According to the report’s analysis, a number of sectors, such as aviation, agriculture, banking, energy, insurance, resource extraction and telecommunications are willing to pay for high-quality weather and climate information products. In order to produce these products, the report authors suggest National HydroMeteorological Services engage with private sector weather service providers and establish revenue-sharing agreements.

“Substantial market dynamics are stimulating our partner countries to redefine the way they think about climate and weather services,” said Biagini. “What becomes clear is that the status quo is not working enough as too many lives are lost every day. African governments are therefore taking the lead – with the support of the international donor community, the private sector, and organizations like UNDP, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Bank, among others – to find a more effective way to deploy climate and weather services and look to an integrated approach that focuses on sustainability, end-to-end services, and bespoke country-driven approaches.”

Extended Report Findings
  • Investment in hydromet services is said to have a fivefold or greater return in economic development for every dollar spent. Decision makers can use this information to build National Adaptation Plans, strengthen production and local economies, lower migration caused by climate change, and build climate-smart infrastructure designed to withstand the risks due to a changing climate. Private sector enterprises can also use the information to inform their own climate adaptation strategies, while on the community level, village leaders can develop climate-resilient strategies to improve local enterprises and protect productive assets.
  • Providing vulnerable farmers and communities with improved hydromet services has the potential to increase farm production and lower risk. With better information on impending weather events and likely characteristics of the upcoming season, together with actionable information on what to do in each case, farmers can protect property and human lives, access risk-management mechanisms like index-based insurance, and create long-term plans for a future that will be highly dependent on rainfall patterns, droughts, floods and other natural disasters.”
  • The capabilities of modern Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) and water gauging stations, and innovative passive sensors such as lightning detectors, are sufficient for these technologies to play central roles in local-scale observing networks. An approach being promoted in the UNDP’s CIRDA Programme is to use the cell network and modern computers to exploit these devices’ capabilities to provide sustainable local observing networks for the 11 sub-Saharan African countries partnered with the support programme. A network of All-in-One AWS, automated gauging stations, and lightning detectors does not, in and of itself, constitute an early warning system or a climate monitoring system. The data streams from such a network are processed and converted to hydrometeorological information that allows the monitoring of current conditions while driving weather and climate prediction processes that must fold in model output and satellite information as well.

The CIRDA Programme
UNDP’s Programme on Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA) supports Climate Information and Early-Warning Systems Projects in 11 of Africa’s Least Developed Countries in their missions to save lives and improve livelihoods. By building capacity to issue extreme weather warnings, sharing new technological advances in weather monitoring and forecasting, and facilitating innovative partnerships with the private sector, the programme works to foster regional cooperation, support strong institutions and build resiliency to climate change.