The Associated Press, April 2y, 2004
Dozens of nations and international organizations have endorsed a 10-year blueprint for a global climate watch system that would let governments share information about the Earth to assess climate change, forecast natural disasters and fight disease.
The Earth Observation Summit assembled 47 nations and more than two dozen international scientific and humanitarian organizations in Tokyo to discuss forming a monitoring system by 2005. Details aren't expected to emerge until next year, but the plan through 2015 seeks to save billions of U.S. dollars and lives lost due to drought or diseases such as malaria.
"The international community has to accurately evaluate what is happening around the globe before we can take appropriate steps," Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the delegates.
Nations already have technology such as satellites, ocean buoys, fixed weather stations and high-altitude balloons to monitor the oceans, forests and atmosphere, and collect data about the world's climate patterns.
But there is currently no way for nations to exchange the information or piece it all together for a broader picture of how the globe's climate is changing.
Sunday's agreement sets goals ranging from creating disaster early warning systems to improving energy management while keeping tabs on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. A follow-up meeting will be held in Brussels, Belgium in 2005 to work out standards for data collection and transmission and decide on a governing body.
So far, none of the participants including the United States, the European Commission, Japan, China and Russia as well as nations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East has pledged new funding for the plan.
Scientists said money hasn't been the problem.
"This has been discussed for decades but it wasn't on the political agenda. At last, it's on the political agenda," said Thomas Rosswall, executive director of the Paris-based International Council for Science.
Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said linking precipitation data from satellites and ocean temperature readings from buoys along the equator to on-the-ground soil moisture readings, for example, could give farmers a better idea about crop yields and future market price trends.
"There's this ability to connect what the science world provides to the practical world that the average person cares about," Lautenbacher said. It could also be a potential windfall for U.S. aircraft maker Boeing and other companies entering the field, he said.
The United States has drawn fire from other countries for rejecting the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reduction as based on flimsy evidence and harmful to the economy.
But Washington has led the push for a free exchange of worldwide climate and environment-related data, saying it hopes to save at least US$1 billion a year in energy costs once the monitoring system is operating. The world's Group of Eight richest nations vowed to promote the system in June, last year.
"This system is bigger than just climate change," said Andrew Matthews, of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. "It's also about food security, disaster management and water resource management."
International Council for Science's Rosswall said many gaps have to be filled.
Scientists still can't say for sure how carbon dioxide fluctuations affect weather patterns because there isn't enough data collected, particularly from areas where people don't live, Rosswall said.