The need for an integrated operational global greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure

30 January 2023
A roof view at the Izaña Atmospheric Observatory, an ICOS Atmosphere station

The mounting pressures due to climate change and the demand for actionable data have increased the urgency for more accurate and comprehensive information about the Earth's climate. WMO, the World Meteorological Organisation, plans to set up an operational integrated global greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure modelled on the global weather system that would enhance climate data quality, consistency and availability, opening opportunities for researchers to improve significant uncertainties in our knowledge of the global greenhouse gas cycle. It also allows parties to the Paris Agreement to track their emissions better, see what ends up in the atmosphere, and assess the efficiency of their climate actions in near real-time. Setting up such an infrastructure is a global challenge requiring better cooperation and interoperability.

An operational instrument based on science
Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation, an operational integrated Global Greenhouse gas Monitoring Infrastructure (GGMI) would contribute to directly addressing uncertainties. "To take successful mitigation actions, we need to monitor and understand all greenhouse gas fluxes, natural and anthropogenic. There are still many uncertainties regarding carbon cycles in land use and ocean sinks," said Lars Peter Riishojgaard, deputy director of the WMO Infrastructure Department, during a panel at COP27. "WMO is developing a framework for a multi-model, coordinated system providing continuous delivery of consolidated, top-down, monthly estimates at a 100 by 100 km resolution."
By providing high-resolution data at a high frequency, the future GGMI would contribute to creating new research paths for scientists, aiming at reducing knowledge gaps about the Earth's climate. The densification of the in situ observation network needed to achieve the high resolution would increase data availability from currently uncovered areas. This newly available data would serve as reference points for remote observation systems, as input to improve data-driven models, and as validation data for model predictions, increasing the actionability of the model data and helping scientists to understand the Earth's carbon cycles better. "We should monitor greenhouse gases using the World Weather Watch as a paradigm", added Lars Peter Riishojgaard at COP27. 
The future global operational greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure would also bolster FAIR data management and TRUST climate data worldwide. It would harmonise the entire data chain, from the initial measurements to the availability of processed datasets for remote, in situ observations and models. The infrastructure would significantly increase process transparency and contribute to unifying practices.

Tracking emissions, assessing climate action and feeding the Global Stocktake
Countries depend on the latest available science to take appropriate climate mitigation actions and assess their progress. By providing climate data at a monthly scale and high resolution, the GGMI would increase the accuracy of national inventories and create an entirely new climate value chain, putting science at the centre of climate action and making data truly actionable. Countries could draft their climate mitigation actions using high-resolution, month-old data that accurately reflects the state of the climate. Authorities would use the most recent data to track the progress of the implemented policies and adjust them to fit the current climate's needs. This whole value chain would bring tremendous support for the parties to limit global warming within the boundaries of the Paris Agreement.
The infrastructure would also provide authoritative and timely input to the Global Stocktake (an assessment taking place every five years to evaluate the progress made by the parties to the Paris Agreement on the implementation of their emission reduction measures) by providing data to track progress towards nationally determined contributions (NDC) and identify areas where further efforts are needed. The timely data provided by the future GGMI will support the assessment of the NDC implementation reports, an essential component of the Global Stocktake process.

The role of WMO
Implementing an integrated global greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure is an utterly complex process at the confluence between science, policy and diplomacy. With years of experience in weather and climate observations, WMO possesses an aura of legitimacy, neutrality and universality that makes it the ideal support system for the future integrated global greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure. Through its Global Atmosphere Watch program, the WMO already acts as a collaboration platform, teaming with greenhouse gas emission experts worldwide and fostering cooperation between existing regional monitoring networks and entities.
Concretely, WMO is taking up the challenge posed by the 2022 Global Carbon Observation System Implementation Plan (GCOS IP) that provides a roadmap for the next 5 to 10 years on improving global observations of the Earth's climate system and its changes. "The idea of the WMO initiative is to coordinate, expand and operationalise a global greenhouse gas observation network to the same level as the global meteorological network," explains Alex Vermeulen, Director of ICOS Carbon Portal. "This would be a breakthrough for both science and policy."

The role of ICOS
As laid out in the 2022 GCOS IP, the integrated operational greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure would not be built from scratch. The system would require in places new infrastructure but also will rely on existing national or regional observation and modelling structures that are, though currently in research mode, already globally coordinated. The proposed global infrastructure will shift this to an operational model, much like the work of meteorological offices coordinated by WMO within the World Weather Watch. With its background as an operational network structure, ICOS has a pivotal role as a blueprint for the future integrated greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure. "The return of experience from existing monitoring entities to help WMO develop the integrated operational greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure is invaluable," says Werner Kutsch, Director General of ICOS. When ICOS was built, he explains, the iteration process eventually fostered several insights that could be applied to the upcoming integrated operational greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure: the need for standardisation, common procedures, practices and protocols, the importance of preparedness, the central role of open science and data FAIRness, the need to share experiences, the importance of core-skills focusing and the essential role of coalitions.
"The scientific community has the willpower to move mountains to make science more efficient in the fight against climate change," concludes Werner Kutsch. "And the future integrated global greenhouse gas monitoring infrastructure embodies exactly that."