From Climate Science to Climate Service — Three Considerations

A new paper in Science argues that the most effective climate services consider three key factors.

Every day, weather services help people decide what to wear, how to how to get to and from work and how to spend our weekends. We take such services for granted — they’re ubiquitous and often just a tap or click away.

Some decisions, however, require us to consider time frames that go beyond a day or a few days of weather — siting a dam, for example, or building a new highway, or planning food production to meet a country’s growing population. These decisions are best served by understanding the potential climatic changes that may play out over months, years and decades.

The relatively new field of climate services aims to inform decision making, policy and planning through the production, translation, transfer and use of climate information.

In a commentary published in this week’s Science, Lisa Goddard writes that while robust climate services are crucial to help societies successfully adapt to current and future climate conditions, “considerable confusion remains about what climate services are or what they should provide.”

To bring some clarity to the issue, Goddard, a climate scientist and the director of Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, outlines three considerations that are necessary for the making of good climate services:

Clearly define the role of climate. Climate is often one of many factors influencing decisions and actions, even in sectors such as agriculture, which have a strong climate connection. And in some cases, the climate information needed to address the problem is simply too uncertain to justify its use.

Know your data. Reliable meteorological observations enable us to understand past, present and future changes. They form a critical foundation to any climate service. As Goddard writes, “not all observational data sets are created equal.”

Understand the relevant time scales. The relative importance of climate on different time scales depends on the variable (e.g., temperature vs. rainfall), location and time of year. Understanding the magnitudes of climate variations and trends and their relative influences can help guide what information is most needed for planning and resilience.

“What is clear is that climate services require more than just climate science,” writes Goddard. “To work, they depend on a solid understanding of how climate fits into the broader decision context as well as the political will to foster multidisciplinary research and practice.”

Here’s our take on how climate services can help lead to climate resilient communities:

Learn more about IRI’s work in climate services

Special Issue: Shaping the Landscape of Climate Services

Climate Services Partnership

Innovative Weather Model Helps Millions in Caribbean Prepare for Drought

New Climate Services Program in Rwanda Aims to Reach One Million Farmers

INFOGRAPHIC: What are Climate Services?

A model for improving climate services in Africa

About IRI
The International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, aims to enhance society’s ability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve human welfare and the environment, especially in developing countries. Visit iri.columbia.edu and follow @climatesociety on Twitter.