Global greenhouse gas monitoring plan endorsed by WMO Executive Council

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Executive Council has endorsed plans for a new Global Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Infrastructure to fill critical information gaps and support action to reduce heat-trapping gases which are fuelling temperature increase.

The Executive Council resolution recognizes the “growing societal importance of greenhouse gas monitoring in support of improving our scientific understanding of the Earth System, and the urgent need to strengthen the scientific underpinning of mitigation actions taken by the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement.”

It seeks to build on WMO’s experience in coordination [sic] international collaboration in weather prediction and climate analysis and on long-standing activities in greenhouse gas monitoring, research and provision of related services under the auspices of the Global Atmosphere Watch established in 1989 and its Integrated Global Greenhouse Gas Information System (IG3IS).

WMO would coordinate efforts within a collaborative international framework, to leverage all existing greenhouse gas monitoring capabilities – space-based and surface-based observing systems, all relevant modelling and data assimilation capabilities – in an integrated, operational framework, according to the resolution.

“We know from our measurements that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at record high. The increase in CO2 levels from 2020 to 2021 was higher than the average growth rate over the past decade and methane saw the biggest year-on-year jump since measurements started,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof Petteri Taalas.

“WMO’s decision to bring its experience and expertise in the coordination of numerical weather prediction and climate analysis to bear on a generational challenge like climate change mitigation will be seen as a historic step”, said Dr Lars Peter Riishojgaard, Deputy Director, WMO Infrastructure Department.

Many of the existing international and national activities dealing with greenhouse gases are supported mainly by the research community. At present, there is no comprehensive, timely international exchange of surface and space-based greenhouse gas observations or modelling products.

”There is very strong support from the science community and private sector for the concept of the global greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure. WMO has been contacted by both philanthropies and venture capitalists who are seeking opportunities to catalyze a major global extension of greenhouse gas monitoring capabilities, and by a variety of entities involved in the trading of carbon offsets who are looking at the top-down monitoring approach as a way to stabilize the carbon trading market by helping to provide a robust and realistic assessment of impact of offsetting,” said Dr Riishojgaard.

The resolution was approved during the Executive Council session 27 February to 3 March. It seeks further approval of this initiative by World Meteorological Congress which takes place in May 2023.

Technical Background

The EC resolution was informed by the outcomes of an international symposium in January 2023 which brought together more than 170 experts from research and operational communities, space agencies, meteorological services, the ocean and climate observing communities, academia, and UN partners.

The concept of the new monitoring infrastructure envisages a top-down approach to the flux evaluation which builds on existing capabilities in surface- and space-based observations and modelling and ensures timely exchange of all observations and data.

Global coordination efforts of the type that is needed for the development of these infrastructure has proved successful in weather prediction and climate monitoring and is embodied by WMO’s 60 year-old World Weather Watch and its acclaimed Global Atmosphere Watch.

In its initial configuration, it is envisaged that the Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Infrastructure will consist of four main components:

  • A comprehensive sustained, global set of surface-based and satellite-based observations2 [sic] of CO2, CH4 and N2O concentrations, total column amounts, partial column amounts, vertical profiles, and fluxes and of supporting meteorological, oceanic, and terrestrial variables, internationally exchanged as rapidly as possible, pending capabilities and agreements with the system operators;
  • Prior estimates of the GHG emissions based on activity data and process-based models;
  • A set of global high-resolution Earth System models representing GHG cycles;
  • Associated with the models, data assimilation systems that optimally combine the observations with model calculations to generate products of higher accuracy.

As an output the infrastructure will produce gridded net monthly fluxes of CO2, CH4 and N2O at the special resolution of 100 km by 100 km with a minimum possible delay. These outputs can drive multiple applications from contribution to the global stocktake to assessment of the fluxes from individual facilities or landscapes.

Between 1990 and 2021, the warming effect on our climate (known as radiative forcing) by long-lived greenhouse gases rose by nearly 50%, with carbon dioxide accounting for about 80% of this increase.

CO2 is [sic] remains in the atmosphere for many decades. Methane is more potent but has a shorter life-span of about 10 years. Nitrous oxide (from natural sources and agriculture) is the third most important gas.

* “WMO Executive Council endorses global greenhouse gas monitoring plan,” Mar. 6, 2023 World Meteorological Organization press release.

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