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Background on Systematic observation

High quality systematic observations of the Earth’s climate and other variables are the foundation for solid decision-making on future action on climate change. Systematic observation of past and current conditions allows clear projections of future changes and prediction of impacts, so as to inform decision making and action.

The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) has identified a set of 50 Essential Climate Variables (ECVs), which are feasible for global implementation and needed to understand, predict and manage countries’ responses to climate change. The World Meteorological Organisation (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.

SBSTA plays a central role in implementing systematic observation under the UNFCCC, liaising with important partner programmes, including WMO, GCOS and CEOS and other organizations. GCOS has provided an implementation plan for the global climate observing system (pdf-icon gcos-138). CEOS contributed to the GCOS satellite supplement of this implementation plan (pdf-icon gcos-154). GCOS  and CEOS provide regular reports to the SBSTA on the implementation of this plan and its satellite supplement (see chronology for links to reports).

At SBSTA 41 2014, Lima, Peru, the SBSTA reemphasized the importance of systematic observation for the UNFCCC process at large and the continued need to secure funding to meet the essential needs for national, regional and global climate observations under the Convention on a long term basis (see FCCC/SBSTA/2014/5).

Earlier decisions by COP identified deficiencies in climate observing networks. Decision 14/CP.4 (FCCC/CP/1998/16/Add.1, page 56) urges Parties to undertake action on all aspects of systematic observation and data exchange and support observation systems and meteorological services.

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).