In the first in a series of blogs on the role of hydromet services in decarbonizing economies, we highlight the economic opportunities and societal benefits of strengthening the resilience of our basic infrastructure to the weather and climate. There is an immediate need, which goes hand in hand with the infrastructure investments in decarbonizing societies, to improve meteorological and hydrological information on all timescales and to blend this information with many other data sources in an integrated system that can greatly enhance the day-to-day functioning of society. The basic message is – decarbonizing society depends on strengthening hydromet services.
David Rogers, Vladimir Tsirkunov, Alan Thorpe, Boram Lee, Makoto Suwa, and Anna-Maria Bogdanova | June 2021
Societies have always been exposed and vulnerable to a variety of meteorological and hydrological hazards. In this century it is evident that these risks are growing due to climate change. Minimizing these threats has been and remains a tenet of the global weather enterprise, which is an engagement between public, private and academic sectors that share the common goal to provide accurate and reliable information and services that save lives and protect infrastructure . Another, increasingly important principle is the need to strengthen the wider economy – that is provide meteorological and hydrological services to inform the planning and operation of economic activities that are weather-, climate- and water- sensitive.
The renewed political momentum to decarbonize economies to tackle global climate change aligned with the Paris Agreement creates new technological and information challenges that the global weather enterprise must help to address quickly. For example, weather information has always been an integral part of the electricity supply, primarily focused on demand and mitigating the impact of hazards on infrastructure. The new economies, fueled by renewable energy, are much more sensitive to day-to-day weather and hydrological conditions. Powering up alternative sources – if the wind fails to blow, the sun fails to shine or water levels limit hydropower availability – is a critical concern for the future energy grids. Siting wind farms, dams, and solar energy facilities challenge the level of detail available in existing climate records and demand new tools to reassess and update local climatologies.
The entire energy production, distribution, and consumption process will increasingly depend on integrated information services that blend information on consumers, operations, and the natural environment to ensure uninterrupted, efficient, and cost-effective supply. Similar information services are needed in transportation, infrastructure management, and many other sectors that must adapt to a decarbonized economy (see textbox for further examples).
In each of these instances, weather and climate information must be combined with other types of data to create decision support tools within an integrated service. This is already being applied in the maritime sector where, for example, shipping and logistics knowledge is fused with weather forecasting technology, operations research techniques, and data analysis technology to reduce the carbon footprint of large cargo vessels, reducing costs and increasing efficiency in shipping and logistics . The aim of the International Maritime Organization is to reduce CO2 emissions on average across all international shipping by at least 40% by 2030 rising to 70% by 2050 .
The level of collaboration needed to achieve these efficiencies across the whole-of-society is significant and will draw on the entire global weather enterprise and the wider economy. There are a number of challenges:
- Bringing the right stakeholders to the table from a diverse community of experts, investors, governments and communities,
- Convincing governments and investors that the future economy will be much more sensitive to the impact of the weather,
- Building new business models, potentially across public and private sectors and within government and business sectors, and
- Providing sufficiently accurate and reliable weather information at high spatial and temporal resolutions to inform hour-to-hour and day-to-day decisions.
The last challenge is within the grasp of the weather enterprise today. The observational, modelling, and analytical solutions exist but access by all remains limited and must be solved by increasing the rate of exchange of data and information throughout the enterprise and removing barriers to collaboration among all actors. Underinvestment perpetuates the technological poverty trap will be an even bigger constraint on future development.
Decarbonization applies everywhere and may prove highly beneficial especially in low- and middle-income countries with access to the basic ingredients for renewable energy supply and capital for infrastructure investment. Nevertheless, the same operational issues will exist and will need to be carefully managed through better use of local and global meteorological and hydrological data and information incorporated into integrated operational decision support systems.
Decarbonizing the economy is synonymous with the development of the digital economy . Data and information-rich societies will develop rapidly. Ensuring that all economies can transform as quickly and effectively as possible requires an immediate assessment of the future economic need for meteorological and hydrological information across all sectors and in all countries. Future blogs will offer some ideas for better-integrated services in developing countries.
 Thorpe, A. and Rogers, D., 2018: The Future of the Global Weather Enterprise: Opportunities and Risks. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 99, 2003–2008. https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/bams/99/10/bams-d-17-0194.1.xml
 Rogers, D.P, V. Tsirkunov, A.-M. Bogdanova, H. Kootval, M. Suwa, 2021: Innovation in Public and Private Weather Services, World Bank, Washington, DC. http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/756191614351406589/pdf/Innovation-in-Public-and-Private-Weather-Services.pdf
 Rogers, D.P. and V. Tsirkunov, 2021: Open data: A path to climate resilience and economic development in South Asia? World Bank, Washington, DC. http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/342901614809536537/pdf/Open-Data-A-Path-to-Climate-Resilience-and-Economic-Development-in-South-Asia.pdf