In December 2020, the Joint Scientific Committee (JSC) of the World Climate Research Program (WCRP), with strong support from the leadership of all major WCRP activities, made the decision to move towards a new programme structure. This move represents a major development in the history of WCRP, reflecting its evolution from 40 years of successful fundamental climate research into an era where we urgently require solutions to climate challenges in order to address the impacts of climate change on society and all life on Earth.

The new WCRP structure has been developed by the WCRP community to support the implementation of the WCRP Strategic Plan 2018 – 2028, which addresses the climate research priorities of the next decade and beyond. It was specifically designed with the recognition that many of the challenges that we will face in the future can only be solved in partnership with other programs, each bringing in its own expertise and value. The WCRP contribution is a deep insight into the functioning of the physical climate system, through decades of international collaboration between thousands of experts across many disciplines. Building on this reputation, fundamental research will remain at the forefront of WCRP's efforts. However, it will be combined with the need to develop climate information for decision-makers on a local to regional scale and, more generally, with bridging climate science and society.

Draft WCRP Structure

Above: The new WCRP structure. Details of the organization are provided below and will be finalized in June 2021.

In the new WCRP structure (above), scientific governance will continue to be provided by the Joint Scientific Committee (JSC), consisting of 18 leading researchers chosen for their scientific expertise and their geographic and gender diversity. The JSC is supported by the WCRP Secretariat, which sits within the World Meteorological Organization Headquarters in Geneva. Essential new elements of the WCRP structure are:

  1. Homes for WCRP Communities (yellow pillars) - Building on the WCRP Core Projects, WCRP will provide homes in which international climate research communities and their expertise can flourish and be sustained. The homes that were previously Core Projects will keep the same names, CLIC, CLIVAR, GEWEX, SPARC1. We also introduce two new homes, one bringing together integrated modeling and observational capabilities (including CMIP2) and the other providing regional climate information for society (including CORDEX3). Current WCRP working groups and core activities that were outside of the Core Projects will move into these two new homes from early 2021. Each community home will be supported by an International Office.
  2. Lighthouse Activities (teal box) - These Activities will address urgent problems in an agile and nimble way. The Lighthouse Activities will tackle climate risk from all sides, by (1) (Explaining and Predicting Earth System Change) building an integrated capability for observing, explaining, predicting, and gaining an early warning of changes in the Earth system, (2) (My Climate Risk) by developing a framework for assessing and explaining regional climate risk to deliver climate information that is meaningful at the local scale, and (3) (Safe Landing Climates) by exploring the routes to climate-safe landing 'spaces’ for human and natural systems. We also see the need to (4) (Digital Earths) blend models and observations in digital and dynamic representations of the Earth system that can be openly explored and accessed in new and innovative ways. Lastly, we recognize that (5) (WCRP Academy) our ambitions must be supported by ensuring that current and future climate scientists, and users of climate information, have access to the best possible training, in disciplinary and transdisciplinary science as well as in leadership, communication, and related skills.
  3. Additional activities and fora (blue boxes) - Aside from the community homes and Lighthouse Activities, there will be several activities and fora that support WCRP science goals and are cross-cutting. Fixed-term projects, rapid updates, syntheses, assessments, and gap analyses may be set up within the community as required. Reference datasets, evaluations, and benchmarking exercises may be established in the same way. Cross-community conferences, workshops, early career support, regional initiatives and forums, and communication and outreach activities, are all ways in which the community can work together in a more interactive way. In all cases, collaboration with external partners is encouraged.

The new WCRP will have many new faces and facets. It will be more transparent and will have a simpler structure. It will experience enhanced communication and coordination and will build on strong interactions with partners to address the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There will be mechanisms built in to ensure truly global, diverse participation involving researchers from every corner of the world, linked together by the new Climate Research Forums and the networks that these forums are building and strengthening. We will use these Forums to enhance the Programme’s reach to our research and user communities from around the world and to improve our diversity and inclusion. The Programme depends on early career researchers and will ensure that they have opportunities to thrive and grow and influence our science direction. From the feedback that we have received, we know that WCRP's new structure and its science priorities resonate with both scientific communities and funding agencies.

How will we continue?

We will move into the new WCRP structure by way of a soft transition. This essentially means that we will take some time to establish the structure and governance of the new homes, to develop the Lighthouse Activity science plans, and to work out the best mechanisms to support the various elements. We need to establish methods to communicate and collaborate in a way that adds value to our science, both internally and with partners. We will revise the governance of the Programme to establish adequate oversight, without excessive bureaucracy. 

In June 2021 we will take the last steps towards finalizing the new WCRP structure and elements. The implementation plan will be completed, although this will be a living document that will be adaptable to future needs. The WCRP Grand Challenges will sunset by the end of 2022, when a WCRP Open Science Conference will be held to celebrate their success and showcase the latest climate science from across the Programme and around the world.

We extend our thanks to the WCRP co-sponsors – the International Science Council (ISC), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) – for their strong support during this process. The new WCRP strategy and science reflects the future directions of all three co-sponsors and we look forward to working with them closely in the years to come.

If you would like more information or would like to subscribe for updates on our progress, please see the WCRP Implementation Plan webpages.

Detlef Stammer and Helen Cleugh

  1. WCRP Core Projects are Climate and Cryosphere (CliC), Climate and Ocean Variability, Predictability and Change (CLIVAR), Global Energy and Water Exchanges (GEWEX), Stratosphere-troposphere Processes And their Role in Climate (SPARC).
  2. Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP)
  3. Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX)