Address delivered during the FORUM III
by Professor Godwin O. P. Obasi
It is a great honour and indeed a privilege for me to address this important World Conference on Science. On behalf of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and on my own behalf, I would like to express my appreciation to Dr Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, for inviting me to address this historic Conference.
The challenges of the next century, among others, include how to stabilise the fast-growing global population, sustain food production, avail of sufficient fresh water, minimise the impacts of natural disasters and address environmental concerns. This will require new commitments in science and technology. In this regard, the field of geosciences, relevant to the expertise of WMO, can contribute to addressing the concerns and challenges of society.
Recent developments in science and technology, such as computers, communication and information technology, satellites and new numerical methods, have greatly contributed to the monitoring, collection, processing and distribution of geophysical data and products for operational and research activities. For example, intensive monitoring and data collection of the equatorial central and eastern Pacific Ocean, carried out during the Tropical Ocean and Global Atmosphere (TOGA) Project, resulted in a breakthrough of knowledge in El Niņo prediction and in the improvement of the coupled ocean-atmosphere climate models.
In addition, improved understanding of the physics and dynamics of the atmosphere has enabled the issuance of increasingly accurate weather forecasts of up to about 10 days in advance. Skilful prediction of El Niņo and the associated extreme events is now possible, from seasons to over one year in advance in some regions where El Niņo signals are strong. Such advances have enabled improved early warning of natural disasters, which claim more than 250,000 lives and cause losses of between US$50 to US$100 billion in property damages yearly.
Today, fresh water has already become critically scarce in 22 countries. The demand will continue to increase in the foreseeable future and it is estimated that, by the year 2025, if no measures are taken to address the situation, one-third of the worlds population will live in countries with inadequate supplies of fresh water. Water problems of the next century require interventions from geophysical sciences. WMO is working with UNESCO and the other relevant United Nations organizations to address this challenge and to develop strategies for the reliable assessment of water resources and for optimizing their rational use. To support this process, progress in hydrological sciences and satellite technologies is being used to develop appropriate databases to support research and operational activities through initiatives such as the World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS).
Another important area where WMO has lead responsibility is climate. WMO coordinates data from its long-standing network of climate stations that are crucial in diagnosis, prediction, detection and attribution of any modes of climate variability or change. These observations were fundamental in the recent scientific assessment of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of WMO/United Nations Environment Programme, which, for the first time in the history of humankind, identified that the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate. WMO and its Member countries are also operating 342 stations under the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) for monitoring, among others, transboundary air pollution including radioactivity, changes in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and ozone depletion.
Other important areas where WMO has long-standing experience is in capacity-building and in the transfer of appropriate technology. WMO has 23 regional meteorological training and research centres, networked closely with the major research centres worldwide. The WMO centres assist, in particular, the developing countries in the training of operational personnel and research scientists, and in the dissemination and use of research outputs.
In order for the geosciences to fully contribute to the developmental needs of society, WMO has taken a lead role in ensuring free and unrestricted international exchange of meteorological and hydrological data and products, and it is desirable that the same be adopted for other geophysical data. We also propose to strengthen capacity-building in all scientific fields and ensure the availability of scientific journals - and other research results related to geosciences - to the developing countries. The roles of basic sciences as well as geosciences in the management of natural resources should be promoted, and commitments and investments in the further development of the geosciences should be strengthened. In this regard, climate diagnosis and inter-disciplinary research, regional modelling capacity and long-range climate prediction should be enhanced.
In addition, I wish to emphasize the need to further develop, among others, space technology, computer science, telecommunication and information technologies, so that the geosciences could harness the new advances for developing relevant areas.
Finally, I would like to express my satisfaction with the content of the draft Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge and the Science Agenda Framework for Action and wish to lend my support for their adoption by the Conference.