The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) was founded to globally coordinate climate observation and thereby to provide users with the data and information needed to address climate-related concerns. In Switzerland, GCOS is implemented by a variety of national partner institutions coordinated by the Swiss GCOS Office at MeteoSwiss.

High quality, systematic climate observation builds the foundation to estimate the extent and rate of climate change and to infer climate trends. Such knowledge is crucial for informed decision making concerning the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. 

In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledged the need for climate monitoring and explicitly requested all its parties to cooperate in systematic climate observation.

In the same year, the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) was established as a joint initiative of the:

  • World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
  • Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)
  • International Council of Science (ICSU)
GCOS as a joint initiative of WMO, IOC, UN Environment and ICSU
GCOS logo and logos of the founding Organisations

For the purpose of defining common global requirements and standards for a systematic climate observing system, the UNFCCC requests GCOS to regularly revise its Implementation Plan (IP). The IP, first published in 2004, was last updated in 2016 (IP-16).

An important part of the GCOS IP is the specification of a list of Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) that should be observed systematically and adhering to the GCOS Climate Monitoring Principles (also defined in the IP).

The ECV list contains variables of the atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial domain that critically contribute to the characterization of the Earth’s climate. As part of the IP, also this list is regularly revised and today includes 54 ECVs.

GCOS is an international programme, but to be put into practice, its principles need to be applied also on a national level. In Switzerland, this is fulfilled within the framework of GCOS Switzerland.

GCOS Switzerland

Climate observation has a long-standing tradition in Switzerland. The longest lasting climate observation series dates back to 1808, when scientists in Geneva first started collecting phenological data on the timing of the chestnut bud burst. Since then, the number of systematically monitored climate variables has increased steadily, adding observational data from the terrestrial and atmospheric domain (as a land-locked nation, Switzerland does not monitor ocean related variables).

These long and continuous time-series lay the groundwork for the implementation of GCOS in Switzerland (see also: National Climate Observing System).

Today, within the framework of GCOS Switzerland, data on 33 Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) are continuously collected, processed and made publically available.

Today, Swiss GCOS data are widely used. As an example, they help to understand pressing climate-related concerns, such as the continuous melting of glaciers, and they also contribute to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC ). In addition, Swiss GCOS data are the basis for user-tailored climate services and thereby support the work of the National Center for Climate Services (NCCS).

“Measure locally, understand globally”

The systematic observation of ECVs and the operation of international data and calibration centres in Switzerland is facilitated by the common effort of 26 National Partner Institutions.

The Swiss GCOS Office - seated at the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwiss - coordinates climate observation in Switzerland in support of these National Partner Institutions. The Swiss GCOS Office was formally established at MeteoSwiss in 2006, following the Federal Council’s dispatch concerning the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

In carrying out its coordination activities, the Swiss GCOS Office is guided by an independent GCOS Switzerland Steering Committee.  

Further information