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BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

How many of us get excited by the thought of World Meteorological Day? While the answer may be “not many”, this annual awareness day is worth us all giving a big whoop, because it’s all about the world we live in.

World Meteorological Day started in 1950. It’s a day dedicated to the World Meteorological Organisation for the work they have done to address climate change. To gain an appreciation for this day, we have to get to know what the World Meteorological Organisation is, what it’s done, and how it makes an impact.

 

What is the World Meteorological Organisation?

The World Meteorological Organisation is a specialist sector of the United Nations (UN). And their work is all about monitoring and responding to weather, climate and other environmental concerns on a global scale.

Simply put, these are the guys who tell us how hot it is today compared to 20 years ago, and whether we should be concerned or not.

 

A field guide looking out over the terrain with binoculars.

 

But how good a job could this organisation be doing if many of us haven’t heard of it before? 

Well, the World Meteorological Organisation has done so much in so many different locations across the world, that many of us may not have been able to keep track.

This unassuming operation has taken on our biggest global challenge – climate change – with a determination that can’t be played down.

Getting to know more about the causes of climate change can help us to focus on what the World Meteorological Organisation actually does.

And since the biggest driver of climate change is human activity, it’s probably best that we start there.

 

What are the top causes of climate change?

A hornbill perched in the bare branches of a tree.

 

Human activity is the biggest cause of climate change today, particularly the use of fossil fuels like natural gas, oil and coal.

Human activities contribute to climate change in the following ways.

 

1) Land degradation

The world depends on fossil fuels for its energy needs.

Extracting fossil fuels from the Earth often means digging deep, which affects the natural environments that house these natural resources.

An example of this is acid mine drainage. Mines house exposed sulphur-containing materials. When water from rain or rivers flows through or over these materials, it becomes acidic. This acidic water flows into the ocean where it can affect the health of marine ecosystems. 

 

A diver observing a school of fish swimming around an outcrop of coral.

 

And digging deep also requires heavy machinery like bulldozers and tractors. This type of machinery burns fossil fuels and these produce emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases, and up the impact of climate change.

The world is working on ways to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources – like sunlight – that can prevent further land degradation. But this move is not fast enough to keep up with global energy demands, so it’ll be some time before the world can stop extracting fuels from the Earth.

And, with the ever-increasing global population, we’re set to burn even more fossil fuels over the next few years.

So what does this mean for our weather?

 

The silhouette of trees in front of a red sky with a lion lying in the foreground.

Photo by: Vaughan Jessnitz

 

2) Increasing greenhouse gas emissions

Well, the weather we experience every day is affected by the by-products of burning fossil fuels – known as greenhouse gases.

But these gases aren’t just produced by burning fossil fuels. Many are produced naturally by different processes taking place on Earth.

For example, oxygen is essential for all living things on Earth. And after using that oxygen to fuel our bodies, we breathe out the by-product, carbon dioxide (CO2).

CO2 is one of the many greenhouse gasses that are needed to trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, instead of it being reflected back into space.

So greenhouse gases themselves aren’t a problem. On the contrary, they’re one of the reasons that Earth is a warm enough place for living things to survive.

 

Cars drivig along a road on a lush mountainside.

 

But processes that produce massive amounts of greenhouse gases are cause for concern.

With industrialisation and global population growth, the amount of greenhouse gases being produced by human activity is clogging up our atmosphere, and trapping too much heat.

And this is why global temperatures have soared over the last few decades, and literally changed the world we live in.

Further reading: Killer heat: how a warming land is changing Australia forever.

As the world heats up, more water evaporates off of the oceans, rivers and lakes, producing water vapour.

Today, water vapour accounts for most of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. And this is quite concerning since water vapour is also the most effective greenhouse gas, trapping more heat than any other.

 

3) Polluting the air and water

A leopard drinking from a pool of water in the wild.

 

Climate change means less water on the ground. But air pollution takes this even further.

Water vapour that mixes with abnormally high concentrations of other greenhouse gases – like carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides – becomes more acidic.

This water vapour is part of the Earth’s water cycle. When this water vapour precipitates and falls back down – most often as acid rain – it affects the environments it enters. Marine life in oceans, rivers and lakes can also be affected by this polluted water.

And we’ve even seen the freshwater stored in glaciers melting away more rapidly due to global warming. This water enters the ocean, causing sea levels to rise. But it also means that there is less freshwater available to support life on land.

 

A herd of wildebeest resting in long green grass.

 

With a global population that’s growing at an increasing rate every year, the impact of these causes of climate change is expected to steadily increase.

And the World Meteorological Organisation is trying to keep things under control.

How are they doing this?

 

Studying the impacts of climate change

A huge chunk of what we know about climate change the causes and the consequences is thanks to the work of the World Meteorological Organisation.

This isn’t just because they follow weather patterns, it’s because they’ve been able to do so on a global scale.

They’ve helped us to understand Earth’s climate in a comprehensive way. This understanding helps us to pinpoint concerns, focus global efforts, and make our efforts more impactful.

 

Original video: “WMO Corporate Video 2018 (English)” by World Meteorological Organization – WMO is licensed under CC0

And their contribution to keeping an eye on climate change became clear with their press release in 2019.

 

Communicating the impacts of climate change

The 2019 World Meteorological Organisation press release alerted the world to the fact that we had just experienced a decade of exceptional global heat and high-impact weather.

This press release also emphasised the strong impact of climate change on water, leading the organisation to launch a focused theme for World Meteorological Day 2020: Climate and Water.

Without the rich supply of research and analysis that the World Meteorological Organisation has to offer, will the global community really know where to start when it comes to curbing the causes of climate change?

And the World Meteorological Organisation doesn’t just talk the talk. They’ve set up programs all over the world to assist countries in building their climate change resilience.

 

Building climate change resilience

Original video: “WMO for the 21st Century – Animation (English)” by World Meteorological Organization – WMO is licensed under CC0

 

By collaborating with countries all over the world, to collect data, compile findings and develop recommendations, they assist vulnerable countries in responding to climate and weather concerns in the best ways possible.

These programs focus on agricultural and flood management, capacity development, and disaster risk reduction, to name a few.

And they’ve produced some great results.

In many cases, this has meant invaluable progress. Take for example the way they assisted Haiti in 2010.

 

How global collaboration got Haiti back on track

Haiti – one of the countries with limited economic resources in the western hemisphere – experienced a major earthquake in 2010.

This earthquake caused serious damage, particularly to the infrastructure on the island, which included the Haitian National Meteorological Centre (CNM).

 

Haitian men boarding a rowing boat in the ocean.

Original photo:“fishing-boat” by rezendi is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

 

As a country with high vulnerability – likelihood of exposure – to severe weather conditions, Haiti depended on its meteorological centre. Without it, the country wouldn’t have been able to forecast adverse weather conditions and respond to them timeously.

But with the assistance of the World Meteorological Organisation, the global meteorological community collaborated to re-establish meteorological services in Haiti.

The organisation also partnered with Environment and Climate Change Canada to develop a project called Climate Services to Reduce Vulnerability in Haiti.

This project busied itself with setting up a new CNM headquarters, providing training programs for CNM forecasters, and supplying the technical equipment needed to make the CNM function successfully.

The World Meteorological Organisation then established a project office in Haiti, to assist with the running of the project and coordinate with local project partners.

 

What would the world be like without the World Meteorological Organisation?

A field guide squatting on a rock and looking t the view.

 

Without an organisation with this amount of global clout, we may not have recognised the true impacts of climate change, and the urgency with which it needed (and still needs) to be addressed.

We may not have been able to respond in the wake of natural disasters, and we probably wouldn’t be able to cope with the rapid amount of change caused by global warming.

Bushwise Field Guides offers courses that can help you to wrap your head around meteorology. By learning about meteorology, you can gain a new appreciation for World Meteorological Day 2020, and the organisation that’s keeping its eye on our climate.