Harnessing Earth System Science, Technology and Services to reduce Disaster Risk – WMO contributions

Common Goals of the Hydrometeorological and Disaster Risk Reduction Communities

Sendai Framework

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 provides a roadmap for making communities safer and more resilient to disasters. Its seven targets and four priorities outline a structure for preventing and reducing hazard exposure and vulnerability to disasters, increasing preparedness for response and recovery, and thus strengthening resilience.

WMO Vision

By 2030, we see a world where all nations, especially the most vulnerable, are more resilient to the socioeconomic consequences of extreme weather, climate, water and other environmental events; and underpin their sustainable development through the best possible services, whether over land, at sea or in the air. While the overarching WMO strategic priority is to enhance preparedness in order to reduce the loss of life, critical infrastructure and livelihoods from hydrometeorological extremes.

Strengthened connections between the two communities are critical at all stages of the climate risk cycle to achieve these shared goals. The communities need to continue to work together to understand the complexities and trade-offs of risks, to better predict compound and, at times, cascading hazards, and, critically, to enable effective action to reduce the impacts of natural hazards and, thus, mitigate impending disasters. WMO and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) have strengthened their relationship in several areas of work, including the creation of a joint Centre of Excellence for Climate and Disaster Resilience. Collaboration between WMO and the Disaster Risk Management communities is becoming ubiquitous across WMO activities.

Over the past 50 years, (1970-2019), a weather, climate or water-related disaster has occurred on average every day – taking the lives of 115 people and causing US$ 202 million in losses daily. The number of recorded disasters increased by a factor of five over that 50-year period, driven by anthropogenic climate change, more extreme weather events and improved reporting. But thanks to improved early warnings and disaster management, the number of deaths decreased almost three-fold over the same period. The benefits to society of the long-standing cooperation between the hydrometeorological and disaster risk management communities is undeniable.

The hydrometeorological sciences that provide user-oriented early warning services for disaster risk reduction (DRR) are underpinned by infrastructure, data exchange, tremendous computer power and expert professional capacity across many fields. These are important pre-requisites for understanding disaster risks, providing useful warnings ahead of disasters and strengthening resilience. In 2015, 187 countries adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, which aims, as per its Target G, to “Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems” and as per its Priority 1 to gain a better “Understanding Disaster Risk.” Likewise, DRR has become an even bigger priority for the hydrometeorological community.


Complex disaster risks and the Earth system

Hydrometeorological hazards and disaster risks do not follow straight paths. Great opportunities and complex risks arise as populations grow, move and adapt to economic changes, such as globalization, and environmental challenges such as climate change. The global financial system, supply and demand chains, energy sector and digital economy have become more complex and inter-connected. And with it, the very nature and scale of risk has changed to such a degree that it surpasses established risk management approaches (GAR 2019). Within this “system-of-systems,” the impacts of natural hazards and other shocks have the potential to propagate, extending beyond the initial hazard footprint and resulting in cascading disasters. In addition, the impacts of hazardous events are being compounded by expanding urbanization, socioeconomic disparities and other factors. It is, therefore, essential that the WMO community consider a system-wide approach for DRR and resilience. Strengthening resilience requires collective actions through cooperation and partnerships with all levels of government, academia, business and civil society.

The WMO community’s priority is to ensure cooperation and coordination of activities across its focus areas – weather, water, environment and climate – to reduce disaster risks. Joint efforts are needed throughout the hydrometeorological community – science, technology, services and capacity development – and an integrated Earth system approach that looks at the physical planetary system as a whole (Figure 1). This approach is inclusive of the atmosphere, the ocean and hydrosphere, the terrestrial realm, the cryosphere and biosphere, breaking barriers and building comprehensive interdisciplinary teams with physical, behavioural, economic and social sciences. Such integration has been a priority for WMO for many years and one of the drivers of the recent WMO Reform. In 2019, the World Meteorological Congress endorsed a shift to an “Earth system approach” in parallel with its approval of the WMO Reform package.

Schematic showing physical aspects of the Earth System (NASA)Figure 1. Schematic showing physical aspects of the Earth System (NASA)

Interdisciplinary Earth system efforts are improving our understanding of complex risks and unlocking new opportunities to enhance hydrometeorological forecasts and prediction, allowing previously unforecastable hazards to be better understood and anticipated. For example, the improved integration of ocean observing data into numerical weather prediction models has brought better resolution of slowly evolving ocean circulations, leading to enhanced longer-term sub-seasonal and seasonal predictability and improved potential for downstream climate services.

An interconnected and interdependent early warning system (EWS) value chain must be adopted to better understand how Earth system data, science, technology and services can best support risk reduction (Figure 2). The WMO Multi-Hazard Early Warning System Checklist advocates for individual EWS elements to be addressed as interacting components and considers the different relationships, processes, inputs, contributions, outcomes and operational contexts of each stakeholder in the chain. Warnings can and frequently do fail in both developing and developed countries if all elements of the value chain are not equally strong. From understanding disaster risks and detecting, monitoring and forecasting hazards to the dissemination of warning information and the ability to respond; each step must connect to ensure that value is realized. The overall system is only as strong as the weakest link, and the failure of any one element will lead to the overall failure of the entire EWS, increasing risks to lives and infrastructure. National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) must function as well-oiled machines to deliver valuable, timely early warnings and must fully integrate national DRR and climate change plans and processes to be effective. The role of WMO is to create an enabling environment within the Earth system community and across the hydrometeorological value chain to support resilience and DRR.

Hydrometeorological value chain (Fakhruddin, 2021).pngFigure 2. Hydrometeorological value chain (Fakhruddin, 2021)

Earth system scientific research for reducing disaster risk

Over the past decades, enormous scientific progress has been made in Earth system sciences leading to the delivery of more responsive user services and significant inputs to various United Nations DRR initiatives. This has been achieved through integrated and systematic research efforts addressing local, regional, national and global societal and community needs. Earth science research has advanced towards a better understanding of disaster risks, of disaster risk governance, of where further investments are needed for resilience, and of the enhancements required to improve disaster preparedness for effective response and to build back better (Alcántara- Ayala et al. 2021).

One of the Long-Term Goals of the WMO Strategic Plan 2020–2023 is to “advance targeted research by leveraging leadership in science to improve understanding of the Earth system for enhanced services.” Application of the best science in each component of the EWS value chain will improve the forecasts and warnings of all WMO Members. The full value chain includes disaster risk research, which provides systemic and multi-risk perspectives to manage and reduce risks, losses and damages due to natural hazards, then progresses to disaster risk management, improving decision-making, while also implementing effective, science-based disaster risk practices and policies (e.g. Shi et al. 2020) (Figure 3). The value chain also goes “the last mile” to effective communication and application of understandable and actionable knowledge by end users so that they take the necessary action to save lives.

Disaster risk science research – a root system diagram (from Shi et al. 2020).pngFigure 3. A framework of disaster risk science research – a root system diagram of the three-layered disciplinary structure (from Shi et al. 2020)

Towards the Perfect Warning: Bridging disciplinary gaps through partnership and communication, which will be published by Springer later this year in the context of the WMO World Weather Research Programme’s (WWRP) High Impact Weather project, offers fine examples of how the Earth system approach can be engaged throughout the early warning value chain. The publication, aimed at professionals from one end to the other of the early warning value chain, includes a specific chapter on early warning systems and their role in DRR.

The World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) links across to DRR on several timescales and in various study areas such as sea-level rise, droughts and flooding related to a changing climate. For example, its new “Lighthouse” activities on “Safe Landing Climates” look at understanding high risk events, including sea-level rise and water resources on multi-decadal and longer timescales. Another example is its “Explaining and Predicting Earth System Change” activity which is developing an integrated capability for quantitative observation, explanation, early warning and prediction of Earth system changes on global and regional scales, focusing on multi-annual to decadal timescales.

Earth system data, observations and infrastructure for reducing disaster risk

At the heart of the global weather enterprise, sits the machinery that allows the collection and exchange of observations, numerical prediction modelling and global product dissemination, without which anticipating weather, climate and water-related hazards that may lead to disasters would be impossible.

Observations from all over the world are fed into global numerical prediction models operated by WMO Members, including ten Members that operate as WMO-designated World Meteorological Centres. These highly advanced models use the laws of physics to build a global three-dimensional picture of the atmosphere, oceans, cryosphere, biosphere and land, and to simulate its evolution from minutes to decades. The advances in weather forecasts in the last decades have been tremendous thanks to more and better assimilated observations, higher computing power and scientific progress in the understanding of dynamics and physics.

The WMO Global Data-processing and Forecasting System (GDPFS) facilitates the development, operation and enhancement of worldwide systems for the generation and dissemination of analyses and forecast products over all timescales and for the dissemination severe weather advisories and warnings. Given the importance of this infrastructure, WMO works continuously to advance and improve all its aspects. WMO is currently establishing a new GDPFS activity for sub-seasonal predictions to enable a seamless approach from nowcasting through to decadal prediction and to develop GDPFS activities for hydrological services.


Data policy and exchange

Global numerical predictions of hydrometeorological events cannot be reliable without global Earth system data and effective exchange and use of that data. Even beyond improving the accuracy of severe event forecasts, data providers have the greatest interest in exchanging data as previously inaccessible data from other sources will make them more effective and sustainable – they can only sample a small portion of the Earth on their own. Numerical prediction requires a combination of data from all possible data sources – from standard in situ to satellite and new technological measurements as well as from a rapidly growing number of private and academic data providers – while there is a constant pressure to reduce data production costs. The best way to leverage these challenges and increase the benefit/cost ratio is to share more data: greater use also increases the value of the data.

The sharing of Earth system data requires policies, standards, regulatory materials and technology to allow assimilation of different data types and technical solutions for data management, discovery and sharing. In October 2021, the World Meteorological Congress took three historical decisions to that effect:

1. The establishment of the Global Basic Observing Network (GBON) as part of the WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS): GBON will implement a new set of standards that will enhance the global real-time observing system thanks to an approach that will address major observational data gaps and allow data accessibility to all stakeholders. The initial priority for GBON is numerical weather prediction, but an extension to ocean, cryosphere and hydrology will follow.

2. As institutional support to GBON, Congress adopted the WMO Unified Data Policy, which enables the sharing of all Earth system data in a transparent and consistent manner (WMO, 2021).

3. The Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) (WMO, 2020b) was set-up together with major funding partners: SOFF aims at supporting Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDSs) in developing and operating their monitoring networks.

Congress further adopted an action plan for hydrology and established the Water and Climate Coalition, enabling the concretization of the Earth system approach in a new collaborative framework to support the reduction of climate, weather and water risks.


Supporting disaster risk management with satellite data

As noted in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5): Climate Change 2014 and emphasized in AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, “the characteristics of what is called extreme weather may vary from place to place in an absolute sense. When a pattern of extreme weather persists for some time, such as a season, it may be classed as an extreme climate event, especially if it yields an average or total that is itself extreme (e.g., drought or heavy rainfall over a season)." However, there is a need for near-real time monitoring of pre-conditions and emerging and ongoing extreme events at the global level. The operational use of the satellite data and products, in conjunction with surface-based observations, are essential for successful DRR. A unique advantage of satellite observations is their larger scale spatial coverage, which complements potentially more accurate but spatially sparse surface-based observations.

There is a need to better use and to improve the monitoring of weather and climate extremes from space. Satellite operators, WMO Regional Climate Centres (RCCs), NMHSs and other stakeholders are pursuing that objective. WMO has a pivotal role to play as is reflected in the Space-based Weather and Climate Extremes Monitoring (SWCEM) project approved by the Eighteenth World Meteorological Congress (Cg-18) in June 2019. SWCEM has already started to monitor drought and precipitation over relatively short periods from pentads (5-day) up to a month. Additionally, WMO is pursuing related initiatives such as the Satellite Analysis of Tropical Cyclones workshops that aim to increase the accuracy and reliability of satellite analysis of tropical cyclones through the sharing of knowledge and technologies between operational forecasters and researchers.

The WIGOS Vision for 2040 (WIGOS2040) provides a forward-looking view of the space-based capabilities required for Earth observation, including in support of DRR. Space agencies are responding to WIGOS2040 and coordinating their observations to provide critical data and products covering application areas like drought, flood, fire and air quality monitoring.

In order to link the needs of disaster and relief organizations with space technology solutions to help mitigate the effects of disasters, space agencies have adhered to The International Charter Space and Major Disasters. The Charter makes satellite data available for disaster management. By combining Earth observation assets from different space agencies, the Charter allows resources and expertise to be coordinated to create products which inform rapid response in major disaster situations; (Figure 4) thereby helping civil protection authorities and the international humanitarian community. This unique initiative mobilizes agencies around the world and benefits from their know-how and satellites through a single access point that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and at no cost to the user.

In addition to the space agencies that form the Charter, national and regional disaster monitoring organizations also support the Charter's efforts as co-operating bodies. Together, they provide support to those in need following major disasters, and benefit from the wide distribution of data that the Charter offers.

Mozambique UN Satellite Centre (UNOSAT, 2022) .pngFigure 4. Example of a satellite detected water extent map product illustrating flooding extent in Mozambique following Tropical Storm Ana, published by the UN Satellite Centre (UNOSAT) on 28 January 2022.

Earth system services for reducing disaster risk

An integrated system that considers the past, present and future and recognizes that all living and non-living things are interconnected and interrelated is necessary to build a resilient and sustainable future. The system would also have to acknowledge the importance of collective community voices to fashion workable solutions. Such transdisciplinary integrated engagement is critical to the success of EWS and early actions to support DRR.

WMO is dedicated to improving hydrometeorological services to support decision-making and disaster resilience. The currently in development WMO Global Multi-hazard Alert System (GMAS) will offer a framework for enhancing the availability of authoritative warnings and information related to extreme and/or potentially high-impact weather, water and climate events regionally and globally. (Full details on the activities which sit within the GMAS framework can be found in an article on page 19.)

The GMAS Framework and the aforementioned Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems Checklist build on the outputs and activities of the WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme and other related programmes. The DRR Programme works to enhance cooperation and the cost-effectiveness of the EWS of NMHSs to make them more systematic and sustainable. WMO publishes and regularly updated technical standards and guidelines to help strengthen NMHSs capacities to support preparedness through EWS, to provide hazard information for understanding and mitigating risk, and to engage with disaster risk governance structures at all levels. Recent publications include the newly extended WMO Guidelines on Multi-hazard Impact-based Forecast and Warning Services (WMO-No. 1150), and the WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019) (WMO-No. 1267). Meanwhile complementary initiatives, such as the Call to Action on Emergency Alerting issued jointly with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Telecommunications Unit (ITU), help to raise awareness and galvanize political support for critical technical requirements to reduce disaster risks.

People centred EWS (Fakhruddin, 2021).pngFigure 5. Co-production and co-creation of people centred EWS (Fakhruddin, 2021)

The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), a partnership of many governments and organizations, aims to develop and promote the use of climate information and services. It builds on existing initiatives and infrastructure to evolve the full climate services value chain from observations, research, development and delivery of products and services to the applications of these services in support of decision-making in climate sensitive sectors. The vision of GFCS is to “enable better management of risks of climate variability and change and adaptation to climate change, through development of science-based climate information and prediction and their integration into planning, policy and practice on global, regional and national scales.” GFCS supports countries to design weather, water and climate services for multi-stakeholder structures – from agriculture, energy, health, water and DRR – to promote economic development and the delivery of such services at the country level.

GFCS also provides implementation support for the co-creation of operational products (Figure 5). Collaborative co-design and co-production are vital to address climate change and non-climatic hazards. It engages users and sectors for greater alignment and consistency of hazard definitions, which increases community resilience. This collaborative approach has proven effective in reducing loss of life and damage to property.

Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs), an initiative of WMO, NMHSs, regional institutions and other international organizations, serve as a platform for establishing links between NMHSs and WMO Global Producing Centres (GPCs) for long-range forecasting. National, regional and global level practitioners and decision-makers from various sectors – agriculture and food security, water resource management, energy production and distribution, public health, DRR and response, and outreach and communication – participate in RCOFS. Following RCOF reports, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, for example, has released food security outlooks based on RCOF products, which have been critical in planning food-grain reserves and distribution (Figure 6). Similarly, based on the RCOFs products, seasonal river runoff have been predicted to reduce associated climate-related risks to water and hydroelectric resources in certain regions.

IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) Food Security Network Working Group (FSNWG) Food Security Alert, November 2021.png

Climate Risk and Early Warnings Systems (CREWS) Initiative

As mentioned in the outset of this article, over the last 50 years, there has been a downward mortality trend though the recorder number of weather, climate and water-related disasters has increased fivefold. Yet, casualty risks are increasing in LDCs and SIDSs. Studies have shown that most of the countries in question have limited capacity to access and process global and regional forecasts and predictions and to issue timely warnings that are understood and acted upon by populations at risk (UNDRR Global Assessment Report 2015, UNDP Human Development Report 2020, WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019) (WMO-No. 1267)). Closing the capacity gap also requires financing mechanisms that address specific needs, recognize the full value chain approach, and are sufficiently flexible to address the weakest links in national systems. In 2015, the Climate Risk Early Warning System (CREWS) initiative, with WMO, UNDRR and the World Bank as its three implementing partners, was established by several countries for this purpose.

The timing and accuracy of weather, water and climate forecasts has increased substantially over the last decades. In the Indian Ocean, for example, the current average 3-days official forecasts errors are below 200 km. This is lower than the average 2-day track forecast errors of previous seasons up to 2010 (Figure 7). As a result, decisions leading to early action can now be taken 24 hours earlier than previously. More accurate forecasts imply more effective warnings. For example, more precise tracking of tropical cyclones results in clearer indications of the coastal areas requiring evacuation (Review for the Forty Years of WMO Tropical Cyclone Programme (1980–2020)).

Time-evolution Southwest Indian Ocean (Meteo-France La Réunion, 2022).pngFigure 7. Time-evolution of Southwest Indian Ocean five-year rolling cyclone mean track forecast errors (km) (Meteo-France La Réunion, 2022).

NMHSs require sustained capacity to support the value chain from monitoring weather, water and climate parameters through to forecasting extreme events and providing related services. The WMO Strategic Plan 2020-2023 states the Organization’s clear ambitions to “close the capacity gap of NMHSs in developing countries and enhance their service delivery capacity.” However, accountability for the loss of life and livelihoods to extreme events does not rest exclusively with NMHSs. As already mentioned, the effectiveness of NMHS services depend on their integration in broader national strategies and systems to manage disaster risk and adapt to climate change.

CREWS aims to support LDCs and SIDS by strengthening their capacity to access the most advanced forecasts and predictions and to develop the institutional ties and standard procedures required to communicate warnings to the people who require them the most. Through CREWS, the ambition of WMO is to reduce the number of lives lost to disasters in LDCs and SIDS by 2030.


First requirement: recognizing need to improve

Accepted principles, such as the need for impact-based forecasts, predictions and warnings drive the work carried out by WMO and its partners. However, certain principles of what constitute effective climate services and EWS, while well established and generally understood, are difficult to operationalize in LDCs and SIDS. Building long term capacity and resilience is a challenging endeavor, requiring continuous learning and adapting by all the actors involved and a backing of solid science and research. The building of systems and capacity to ensure that forecasts and warnings inform those at risk of the potential impacts of an event is can only be achieved by working together with a wider set of institutions that are responsible for monitoring loss and damages and carrying out risk analysis for extreme events.

A central aspect of efforts to close the capacity gap and to better integrate hydrometeorological products and services into DRR is the recognition that progress needs to be measured against the national targets set by the Sendai Framework, agreements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).



Laura Paterson, Dominic Berod, Estelle de Coning, John Harding, Kenneth Holmlund, Yuki Honda, Jürg Luterbacher, Mike Sparrow and Bapon Fakhruddin, WMO Secretariat


WMO, 2021: WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019) (WMO-No. 1267).

UNDRR, 2015: Chart of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

WMO, 2019: WMO Strategic Plan 202–2023.

WMO, 2018: Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems: A Checklist.

UNDRR, 2019: 2019 Global Assessment Report.

Alcántara-Ayala, I. et al. 2021: Integrated Disaster Risk Management: From Earth Sciences to Policy Making. Front. Earth Sci.

Shi, P., Ye, T., Wang, Y. et al. 2020: Disaster Risk Science: A Geographical Perspective and a Research Framework. Int. J. Disaster Risk Sci. 11, 426–440. 

WMO, 2021: Bulletin Vol. 70 (2), WMO Unified Data Policy.

WMO, 2020b: Establishing the Systematic Observations Financing Facility: a new way of financing basic observations.

Fakhruddin, B. (SHM), P. Gluckman, A. Bardsley, G. Griffiths, A. McElroy, (2021): Creating resilient communities with medium-range hazard warning systems. Progress in Disaster Science, Volume 12, 2021,100203, ISSN 2590-0617, https://doi. org/10.1

WMO, 2021: Guidelines on Multi-hazard Impact-based Forecast and Warning Services (WMO-No. 1150), Part II: Putting Multi-Hazard IBFWS into Practice

WMO, 2020: Review for the Forty Years of WMO Tropical Cyclone Programme (1980–2020).

UNDP, 2020: Human Development Report 2020.

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