World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is the agency of the United Nations responsible for meteorology, operational hydrology, and related geophysical sciences. It serves as the UN's authority on the state of Earth's atmosphere and climate.
Historical Background and Scientific Foundations
Originating from the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), which was founded in 1873, the WMO was established in 1950. The following year it became the United Nations' specialized agency for meteorology, operational hydrology, and related geophysical science.
The organization facilitates global cooperation in the exchange of meteorological information and related data. In cases of extreme and hazardous weather conditions, the WMO often provides the first warning. The WMO serves as the standardizing body for meteorological observations and ensures the uniform publication of observations and statistics. It provides information on the state of the atmospheric system and oceans. It also monitors the interaction of the atmosphere with Earth's surface, ecosystems, and human activity.
The most publicly visible of the WMO's actual functions is the World Weather Watch (WWW). Launched in the early 1960s, it is a complex global observing and forecasting system that coordinates and processes data from a network of satellites, ships, ocean data buoys, commercial aircraft, computers, and traditional Earth-based observational methods. Using information from these sources, it produces data on temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, and other meteorological parameters. The WWW claims responsibility for many of the inroads made in modern weather forecasting. It states that a five-day forecast now is more accurate than a twoday forecast twenty years ago.
In the context of climate change, the WMO sponsors several scientific organizations that have been very influential in the global warming debate. These include the World Climate Program (WCP); the World Climate Impacts Assessment and Response Strategies Programme (WCIRP); the World Climate Research Programme
(WCRP); and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The WCP was set up to study the climate and its variations in 1979 following the First World Climate Conference, staged in Geneva, Switzerland, in February of that year. At the time, the very notion of global warming was still in its early stages and the WCP represented the first internationally concerted effort to improve knowledge of possible human influence on climatic change.
The same year the WMO co-founded the World Climate Impacts Assessment and Response Strategies Programme (WCIRP) to assess the impacts of climate variability on social and economic activities. In a way this can be regarded as a forerunner of today's extensive review bodies, vested with the responsibility of assessing the economic consequences of climate change.
A year later, in 1980, the WMO co-founded, with the International Council for Science (ICFS), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) to study the predictability of climate and to determine the effect of human activities on climate.
To further develop knowledge on climate change, in 1988 the WMO and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) jointly founded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its assessments of the impact of greenhouse gases were used to support negotiations for the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and have been highly influential since then.
In 1992, the WMO co-sponsored the establishment of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) to ensure that the observations and information needed to address climate-related issues were readily available to all potential users.
Impacts and Issues
The assessments and reports of the WMO and all its agencies have played an important role in providing data for the debate on climate change, but none have been more influential than those published by the IPCC. Its Second Assessment report, published in 1995, found “a discernible human influence” on global climate change. Its Third Assessment Report, issued in 2001, concluded that the 1990s were the warmest decade since record-keeping began, with 1998 being the warmest year, while the increase in the Northern Hemisphere's surface temperature over the twentieth century is likely to have been greater than for any century in the last thousand years. Critically, it attributed warming over the last 50 years to human activity.
The findings of its fourth report, published in 2007, were the most shocking to many observers. It stated that climate change was now “unequivocal.” Eleven of the twelve years after 1995 ranked among the top 12 warmest years since people began keeping records. Average Arctic temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past 100 years. While sea levels rose at an average rate of 0.07 in (1.8 mm) annually during the years 1961 to 2003, from 1993 to 2003 the average rate was 0.12 in (3.1 mm) per year—a clear indicator of melting polar ice caps.
WORDS TO KNOW
GEOPHYSICAL SCIENCE: Scientific field that studies Earth as a physical system comprised of energy flows, energetic processes (e.g., radiation), and material flows such as currents and winds. Does not study biological phenomenon as such, but only their effects on the large-scale physical properties of Earth and its climate and other systems.
INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE IPCC): Panel of scientists established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1988 to assess the science, technology, and socioeconomic information needed to understand the risk of human-induced climate change.
OPERATIONAL HYDROLOGY: Study of water movements (precipitation, surface flow, groundwater flow) in order to manage water resources for human use.
WORLD WEATHER WATCH: Program established by the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization in 1963. Combines ground and satellite observing systems, telecommunications, and computerized data processing and forecasting to make meteorological information freely available to all countries. The global equivalent of the National Weather Service provided by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
These reports (based in part on WMO data and carried out by its related bodies), more than any other source, have strengthened the cause of environmentalists and diminished the arguments of those who dismiss climate change as a fallacy. In October 2007, the IPCC jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in recognition for its work in bringing global attention to the issue of climate change.
Gareis, Sven Bernhard, and Johannes Varwick. The United Nations: An Introduction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Edwards, Paul N. “Beyond the Ivory Tower: A Vast Machine: Standards as Social Technology.” Science 304 (May 7, 2004): 827–828.
“Composition of the WMO.” World Meteorological Association. <http://www.wmo.ch/pages/governance/compo/composition.pdf> (accessed November 21, 2007).