The Systematic Observations Financing Facility: Filling the data gaps for effective adaptation investments

Over the last two days, more than 30 global leaders joined the Climate Adaptation Summit calling for urgent action to drive a decisive shift towards climate resilient development.

The climate crisis threatens to push 130 million people into extreme poverty by 2030 while the world is confronted with the COVID-19 crisis. To reach adaptation action at scale, it will need to be at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery.

Among the several challenges and urgent needs highlighted in the Summit, early warnings and climate information were deemed as a priority.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for “a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience”. “Today, one person in three is still not adequately covered by early warning systems, and risk-informed early approaches are not at the scale required. As illustrated by the Global Commission on Adaptation, just 24 hours warning of a coming storm or heatwave can cut the ensuing damage by 30%. We need to work together to ensure full global coverage by early warning systems to help minimize these losses.”

However, adaption efforts and early action interventions can only be as good as the data they are based on.

Currently, there are significant data gaps in basic observations from developing countries. These data are the backbone of all weather and climate services. During the anchor event on Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Meteorological Organisation’s Secretary General, Petteri Talaas noted that “At the moment there are severe gaps in the observing system, especially in Africa, Caribbean, Pacific Islands and in some parts of Latin America. This means that the quality of the early warning services is poorer and has a negative impact on weather forecasts worldwide. […] That’s why we are creating a financing mechanism to improve the situation called SOFF, the Systematic Observations Financing Facility”.

SOFF will support the most vulnerable countries to fill the observations data gaps and to maintain the observing systems in the long term. By doing so, SOFF will ensure the benefits of investments in observational capacity are sustained over time.

As Austrian Minister Leonore Gewessler stated during the Ministerial segment that SOFF will “support countries to generate and exchange observational data critical for improved climate services”. Indeed, the implementation of SOFF will improve global weather and climate prediction and provide benefits for all countries in designing the most effective approaches to adaptation.

World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development, Juergen Voegele also emphasised the Bank support for SOFF as an innovative and “creative” financing mechanism and mentioned the importance of having a system in place “so that stations are maintained and operative”.

The creation of SOFF is spearheaded by the WMO in collaboration with more than 30 international organisations. SOFF is a commitment of the Alliance for Hydromet Development and has the strong support of the major European meteorological institutions.

SOFF will address a perennial problem that is undermining adaptation and development efforts worldwide, in particular in the most vulnerable countries.

SOFF has a particular focus on Africa, where climate change is dramatically compromising economic growth and observational data are in decline. In December 2020, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) at the 8th special session identified key policy actions for an effective green COVID-19 recovery in Africa, including “The availability of appropriate data and information [which] will be fundamental to supporting the implementation of the green stimulus programme”

Antonio Guterres called for “50 per cent of the total share of climate finance provided by all donors and multilateral development banks to be allocated to adaptation and resilience.” Investing in SOFF would contribute to achieve that target, while maximizing the impacts of all adaptation investments.

Filling the observations data gaps in Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) over an initial 5-year period is estimated to require USD 400 million. The intention is to announce SOFF at COP26 in November 2021 with a commitment of at least USD 200 million and another USD 200 million to be raised subsequently.

As the leaders reiterated during the Summit, this is the time for visionary, bold and innovative actions. It is not enough to raise ambition on adaptation, there is a need to translate ambition into concrete action. SOFF is a foundational building block of such action.