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Background on Systematic observation
Image The ongoing cycles of assessments, reports and guidance in regards to systematic observation under the UNFCCC*

Long-term, sustainable systematic observation of the Earth's climate is the foundation for our understanding of climate change and its associated impacts, and helps scientists determine future trends. Information from Earth observation provides the fundamental basis upon which the Convention was founded, the Paris Agreement was adopted, and decision-making at all levels on climate change mitigation and adaptation depend.

SBSTA plays a central role in implementing systematic observation under the UNFCCC, liaising with important partner programmes, including the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) and other organizations

The WMO and its member states operate the global observing system (GOS). A subset of this is used by the GCOS for climate observations. The GOS comprises observing facilities on land, at sea, in the air and in outer space.  These facilities are owned and operated by the Member countries of WMO each of which undertakes to meet certain responsibilities in the agreed global scheme so that all countries can benefit from the consolidated efforts.

The figure above shows the cycles of assessment and identification of requirements for systematic observation under the Convention: IPCC assessment reports, composed of the full scientific and technical assessment of climate change and advancement in possible solutions to address climate change, link into the GCOS assessment cycles of the climate observing system, and GCOS implementation plans and status reports (particularly describing actions and updates in regards to the Essential Climate Variables (ECVs)), all of which are supported by decisions and conclusions from the COP, SBI and SBSTA . CEOS contributes to the GCOS implementation plans and provides reports to SBSTA  on progress made by space agencies.

  1. In the first cycle, which followed the IPCC Second Assessment Report (SAR 1995), COP asked SBSTA in 1997, in consultation with the IPCC, to provide an adequacy report on the global observing system on climate. This was prepared and delivered by GCOS in 1998;
  2. In the second cycle, following the IPCC third assessment report (TAR 2001), GCOS provided its second adequacy report in 2003, at which time COP asked GCOS to provide an implementation plan that identified the actions needed to remedy the reported deficiencies in the climate observing systems (IP 2004).
  3. In the third cycle, following the IPCC fourth assessment report (AR4 2007), the CEOS response to IP 2004, leading to the Satellite Supplement 2006, and the GCOS progress report to SBSTA 31 (2009) prepared the way for the update of the GCOS Implementation Plan in 2010 (IP 2010) and its Satellite Supplement in 2011;
  4. We are now in the forth cycle of this process, with the IPCC fifth assessment report (AR5) being finalised in 2014, GCOS submitted the GCOS SR 2015 to COP 21, which incorporates updates and reviews from CEOS and a large range of other contributors, and fed into the new GCOS IP 2016 (pdf-icon gcos-200 (5441 kB) ).  

National Communications

At COP 5, the COP invited all Parties to provide detailed reports on systematic observation in line with reporting guidelines on global climate observing systems, as part of their national communications for Annex I Parties and on a voluntary basis for non-Annex I Parties.

At COP 11, by decision 11/CP.13 (page 45) on Reporting on global observing systems for climate, the COP adopted revised UNFCCC reporting guidelines on global climate change observing systems and decided that these guidelines be used for the preparation of detailed technical reports on systematic observation in accordance with the provisions of decisions 4/CP.5 and 5/CP.5. Annex I Parties provide these reports as part of their national communications.

At SBSTA 33, the SBSTA encouraged Parties when preparing their national communications to take into consideration the new requirements identified in the 2010 updated GCOS implementation plan, in particular the new essential climate variables (ECVs). The SBSTA noted that any future revision of relevant UNFCCC reporting guidelines, in particular those on global climate change observing systems, should take into account the new elements identified in that plan (see FCCC/SBSTA/2010/13 paragraph 44).



*Abbreviations from figure
CEOS = Committee on Earth Observation Satellites; CGMS = Coordination Group for Meteorological Satellites (CGMS); COP = Conference of the Parties; EO = Earth Observation; GCOS = Global Climate Observing System; GEO = Group on Earth Observations; GTOS = Global Terrestrial Observing System; IP = Implementation Plan; IPCC = Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; IPCC FAR = IPCC First Assessment Report; IPCC SAR = IPCC Second Assessment Report; IPCC TAR = IPCC Third Assessment Report; IPCC AR4 = IPCC Fourth Assessment Report; IPCC AR5 = Fifith Assessment Report; SBSTA = Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice; SO = Systematic Observation; WGClimate = CEOS-CGMS Working Group on Climate