17 December 2009

UN bodies want up to $60 billion to monitor ... everything

A recent article on Fox News reports on plans to spend at least $2.1 billion a year for the next five years — and as much as $60 billion overall during that period — to glean huge troves of still undiscovered climate information from the world's land, air and seas.

The information system aims to measure literally everything environmental, from the full amount of plant leaf material in the world's ecosystems to the differences in saltiness throughout the world's oceans to the discharge from every one of the world's major rivers, to the monitoring of water vapor and cloud distribution throughout the earth's atmosphere.

This immense store of information is urgently needed to gain a true picture of the vastly complicated climatic and environmental interactions of the planet, according to a draft version of an update report on the huge project, known as the Global Observing System for Climate, which is not expected to be finalized until April 2010. And according to the report's authors, the information to be gathered is too valuable to be left to any single nation.

As the report puts it, in typically opaque technocratic prose, the wellsprings of climate information "need to be recognized as essential public goods, where the value of global availability of data exceeds any economic or strategic value of withholding national data."

The document is specifically intended to support the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, although the report underlines that the observation system itself is not a formal U.N. body. Instead it's an effort by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), an obscure joint undertaking of a variety of international organizations, which does include such bodies as the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization, both U.N. institutions.

Read the full article

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