By: Sue Grimmond
Climate services provide climate information to help individuals and organizations make climate smart decisions. Climate services work by integrating high quality meteorological data (temperature, rainfall, wind, soil moisture and ocean conditions); as well as maps, risk and vulnerability analyses, assessments, and long-term projections and scenarios; with socio-economic variables and non-meteorological data (such as agricultural production, health trends, human settlement in high-risk areas, road and infrastructure maps for the delivery of goods). The data and information collected is transformed into customized products such as projections, trends, economic analyses and services. The aim is to equip decision makers in climate-sensitive sectors with better information to help society adapt to climate variability and change. At the core are users and their needs.
The demands for such services are wide ranging – for public health; for disaster risk reduction and response; the prediction of energy and water demands or food production; or the operation of climate sensitive infrastructure. These services though need to go further, they need to be developed for a wider range of time scales and conditions (for weather and climate) and to integrate other elements of the environment and human behaviours and responses.
Nowhere is this more important than in cities. Increasingly dense, complex and interdependent urban systems leave cities particularly vulnerable to extreme weather and to changes in climate. Through domino effects, a single extreme event can lead to a wide-scale breakdown of a city’s infrastructure (Figure 1).
Figure 1: The ‘domino effect’ partially shown for a typhoon or hurricane event, which produces multiple hydro-meteorological hazards (blue) that have immediate effects (green) and follow-on impacts (purple) that can be both short- and long-term. Source: Grimmond et al. 2020)
Integrated Urban Systems (IUS) are needed (Baklanov et al. 2018, Grimmond et al. 2020), yet globally there are few (if any) fully operational systems (e.g. Baklanov et al. 2020). Those systems that do exist often were developed because of a major event (e.g. Olympics; Pan-Am games, Expos) or a significant weather-related disaster (hurricane Sandy. New York City; heat waves in Paris and London in 2003). Recognising this need, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is advocating for the development of Integrated Urban Weather, Environment and Climate Services (IUS) for safe, healthy and resilient cities. The concept and methodology for developing these systems was adopted by the 70th WMO Executive Council in 2018 (WMO 2019). The need for Demonstration Cities was adopted by the 71st WMO Executive Council in 2019.
The research community, working collaboratively with others, has an important role to play across the many activities required. This includes contributing to and identifying critical research challenges, developing impact forecasts and warnings, promoting and delivering IUS internationally, and supporting national and local communities in their implementation (Figure 2).
Figure 2: An Integrated Urban Hydrometeorological, Climate and Environmental Service (IUS) System has several components. Here a generic framework is shown for impact-based prediction systems. Integration may occur in the various boxes with a mature IUS aiming for integration in all components. Source: WMO (2019)
At Reading, we have been working with a range of collaborators and stakeholders to develop UMEP (Urban Multi-scale Environmental Predictor), a city-based climate service tool, that combines models and tools essential for climate simulations (Lindberg et al. 2018). Alongside climate information transformed for the urban context, detailed information about the materials and morphology of the city are integrated through GIS, with information about residents and their behaviour through agent-based models and tools (e.g. Capel- Timms et al. 2020). UMEP has been used to identify heat waves and cold waves; the impact of green infrastructure on runoff; the effects of buildings on human thermal stress; solar energy production; and the impact of human activities on heat emissions. It has been applied in many cities across the world, from London to Shanghai (Google Citations 2020).
UMEP includes tools to enable users to input atmospheric and surface data from multiple sources, to characterise the urban environment, to prepare meteorological data for use in cities, to undertake simulations and consider scenarios, and to compare and visualise different combinations of climate indicators. An open-source tool, UMEP is designed to be easily and widely used. This summer we offered the international urbisphere UMEP workshop, that was planned to be in person in Reading, online.
Much more work is needed in this realm. IUS need to be developed to meet the special needs of cities through a combination of dense observation networks, high-resolution forecasts (weather, climate, air quality, hydrological), multi-hazard early warning systems, disaster management plans and climate services. Such an approach will give cities the tools they need to reduce emissions, build thriving and resilient communities and implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This focus on urban environments is particularly important given the large and ever increasing fraction of the world’s population that live in cities (more than 3.5 billion) and the importance of cities, not only regionally but nationally and globally, to the world’s economy.