28 March 2017
World Meteorological Day Celebrates Clouds, Hears Warnings of State of Climate
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
story highlights

For World Meteorological Day, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) launches a revised International Cloud Atlas.

The 2016 State of the Global Climate report shows 2016 broke records for high global temperatures, low sea ice, rising sea levels and warming oceans.

The WMO presented the report during the UN high-level event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda.

23 March 2017: The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) celebrated World Meteorological Day with two reports with diverging outlooks. The revised International Cloud Atlas includes hundreds of cloud images and targets scientists and enthusiasts. The WMO also issued a warning to the UN about the state of the global climate.

The 2017 edition of the World Meteorological Day was celebrated under the theme ‘Understanding Clouds’ aptly coming at a time when clouds are considered an integral, but poorly understood, factor in the global climate. WMO stressed the crucial role of clouds in the water cycle and shaping the global distribution of water resources, and therefore linked to SDG 6 (clean water).

To mark the Day, WMO launched a new edition of the ‘International Cloud Atlas,’ an authoritative resource for identifying clouds. It features hundreds of images of clouds, for poets and daydreamers, but also navigators and researchers, including a few newly classified cloud types. The Atlas also includes other meteorological phenomena such as rainbows, halos, snow devils and hailstones. For the first time, it is available digitally, bringing 21st century technology to a 19th century tradition of cataloging and mapping the clouds. [WMO World Meteorological Day 2017] [WMO Press Release]

Another authoritative statement issued to the UN had a much darker outlook. WMO presented its annual statement on the State of the Global Climate to UN Member States and climate experts at a high-level action event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda taking place in New York, US. It confirms 2016 as the warmest year on record – 1.1°C above the pre-industrial period and 0.06°C above the previous record set in 2015. According to WMO, the warming trend can be attributed to the powerful 2015/2016 El Niño event coupled with long-term climate change caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Globally, average sea surface temperatures were the warmest on record, leading to coral bleaching and mortality in many tropical waters. The statement also notes important impacts on marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries due to the warmer temperatures in the seas. This finding underscores the interconnected facets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While the statement speaks directly to efforts to address climate change and its impacts (SDG 13), the rise in global sea surface temperatures can diminish efforts to realize SDG 14 (life below water) and food security, which relates to SDG 2 (zero hunger).

Other trends point in equally dire directions, according to the statement. The extent of Arctic sea ice was well below the average for most of 2016. Globally, sea ice extent dropped more than four million square kilometers below average in November, in what the report calls an “unprecedented anomaly” for that month. Global sea levels rose to new record highs, particularly in early 2016.

The statement includes “noteworthy” extreme events in 2016, from severe droughts in southern and eastern African and Central America, to Hurricane Matthew, and heavy rains and floods in eastern and southern Asia. In the aftermath of these storms, was food insecurity, economic losses and widespread suffering, according to the statement.

WMO has issued statements on the State of the Global Climate as an authoritative reference for over 20 years. The statements are based on multiple international datasets that are independently maintained by global climate analysis centres. The statements also use information submitted by dozens of WMO Members National Meteorological and Hydrological Services and Research Institutes. For the first time, the report includes economic and social impacts, with information for these impacts derived in partnership with other UN organizations. [WMO Press Release] [WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate] [World Meteorological Day 2017 Website] [IISD RS Coverage of the High Level Event] [UN News Center, 23 March]

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