Can we commercialize climate information just as we did with weather information?

Published on
November 17, 2015

A lot of work has been done lately on the concept of climate services, mainly in order to provide climate information to assist decision-making by governments, businesses and other organizations. Now the time is ripe for a debate about the objectives, scope and content of such services, Rob Swart, Hasse Goosen and colleagues write in a comment in Nature Climate Change, published this week.

Climate research provides us with an ever-growing knowledge base, a more informed appreciation of the importance of climate for decision-making, and a greater demand for all sorts of climate-related information. Rob Swart: “Yet there are still plenty of questions left about what climate services actually constitute, who their users are, how they relate to research, and what their value is for innovation and economic development. Are the users of climate change research and of climate services necessarily the same? And to what extent should the future of climate change research and of its researchers be inspired by the needs of climate service clients?”

The historical evolution of climate services is much the same as that of weather services. It started with an observation-based emphasis and expands to predictive services as capabilities increase and demands are more clearly articulated. “But until now,” Rob Swart says, “the climate services offered are mainly dominated by a supply-side perspective. As researchers we still focus our efforts on climate observations and modelling. Translation of this knowledge into information that can effectively be used by stakeholders is still in its infancy. However, we expect a considerable market could develop in the near future. Just as it did for weather forecasting services. We expect in the near future the upcoming of private consultancies that provide business-to-business climate services, for example for media, farmers, city planners, public utility companies or the shipping and air traffic industry.”

The main question now is: can we commercialize climate information just as we did with weather information? Comprehensive information about existing climate services is not readily available, suggesting that a market for such services and products may be growing slowly or not at all. Potential users (clients) are often less interested in long-term climate change than in managing short-term goals such as profit or business continuity. Hasse Goosen: “So climate services need to move from science-driven and user-informed to demand-driven and science-informed practices. This requires connecting climate information to other, non-climate objectives of users, and adjusting our language to theirs.”

For a climate services market to develop, more intensive and different means of collaboration and communication between users, service providers and scientists need to be adopted, setting additional challenges for climate change researchers. Tiago Capela Lourenço, Rob Swart, Hasse Goosen and Roger Street write in their comment in Nature Climate Change: “It is our view that a consistent research agenda remains essential to improve the understanding of climate change science, but that an intermediate (or boundary) group of researchers and entrepreneurs will need to focus on use-inspired research. Such a move should ensure that service clients receive their money's worth of salient and sound knowledge, but also that the expected positive societal impact of climate research is firmly realized.”

> Read more: full article: ‘The rise of demand-driven climate services’