World Climate Research Programme presents advances and challenges in climate sciences

Co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, the World Climate Research Research Programme (WCRP) has worked since its creation in 1980 to facilitate analysis and prediction of Earth system variability and change. Its Joint Scientific Committee meets annually to provide scientific guidance. From 25 to 27 April 2016, the WCRP Joint Scientific Committee held its 37th Session in Geneva, Switzerland.

WCRP seeks to achieve two main objectives: determine the predictability of climate as well as the effects of human activities on climate, and use this information in a wide range of practical applications of direct relevance, benefit and value to society. The programme – motivated by the demand for improved understanding of climate – encompasses studies of the global atmosphere, oceans, sea and land ice, and the land surface, which together constitute the Earth’s physical climate system.

The 37th Session of the WCRP Joint Scientific Committee presented an update on the actions taken since the 36th Session (2015). Reports on the major activities were also presented throughout the meeting, notably on WCRP’s five core projects:

  • CLIVAR (Climate and Ocean: Variability, Predictability and Change): understanding the dynamics, interaction, and predictability of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system;
  • SPARC (Stratosphere-troposphere Processes And their Role in Climate): promoting and facilitating international research activities on how chemical and physical processes in the atmosphere interact with a changing climate;
  • CORDEX (Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment): coordinating global partnerships to advance the science and application of regional climate downscaling, that is to say projections of climatic changes;
  • GEWEX (Global Energy and Water cycle Exchanges): observing, understanding, and modelling the hydrological cycle and energy fluxes on the Earth’s atmosphere and surface;
  • CliC (Climate and Cryosphere): improving understanding of the cryosphere – Earth’s surface where water is in a solid form – and its interactions with the global climate system, and enhancing the ability to use parts of the cryosphere for detection of climate change.

An important issue on the 37th session of the Joint Scientific Committee, the increasing demand for regional climate information calls on the WCRP to revitalize its regional activities. As an entity largely focused on climate issues that transcend national boundaries and require multinational and multidisciplinary approaches, WCRP seeks in-depth understanding of regional processes in a context that will help develop knowledge transferable to similar regions and allow upscaling of the information to global levels. The Committee entertained discussion on a proposal to create a WCRP Regional Advisory Council (WRAC) to oversee regional activities across the programme, promote its activities in regions, and serve as an interface to external partners.

Emerging scientific questions, or “Grand Challenges”, tackled by the programme – such as sea level change, extreme weather events, water availability and melting ice –, constitute areas of emphasis in scientific research, modelling, analysis and observations for WCRP and its affiliate projects in the coming decade. WCRP intends to promote them through community-organized workshops, conferences and strategic planning meetings as well as to advocate further for international partnership and coordination.

The Session concluded with an overview of the main actions and recommendations to be implemented. Reaffirming its mission, WCRP highlighted the need to enhance the relevance of climate science to society as well as to build capacity on both regional and global scales to sustain the climate community, particularly through a strategic approach based on key partnerships.

WCRP is co-sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization, the International Council for Science, and since 1993 by IOC-UNESCO. The Joint Scientific Committee consists of scientists selected by mutual agreement between the three sponsoring organizations, representing climate-related disciplines in atmospheric, oceanic, hydrological and cryospheric sciences.