World Meteorological Day 2010:
Six decades of service for safety and well-being
Every year on 23 March, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
and the international meteorological community join in celebrating World
Meteorological Day, to commemorate the coming into force of the WMO
Convention on 23 March 1950, precisely 30 days after the day when the
thirtieth instrument of ratification of the Convention was deposited by
countries wishing to join the new Organization.
The text of the Convention had previously been approved unanimously,
on October 11, 1947, by representatives of 31 countries at a Conference
of Directors of National Meteorological Services held in Washington,
Until then, international collaboration in meteorology had been the
mission of the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), which
resulted from a process launched at the First International
Meteorological Congress (Vienna, September 1873) to facilitate
coordinated observations and instrument standardization and which was
also responsible for the 1896 publishing of the first international
cloud-atlas. The IMO assumed its form through a sequence of decisions
adopted by an ad-hoc Permanent Committee presided by C.H.D. Buys Ballot
(Netherlands), during the period between the Vienna Congress and the
Second International Meteorological Congress (Rome, April 1879).
A key outcome of the Rome Congress was the establishing of the
International Meteorological Committee, firstly presided by Heinrich
Wild (Russia/Switzerland), with the responsibility to review IMO
progress periodically and to take any necessary actions. Thus was born
the predecessor of our WMO Executive Council. Moreover, although the two
congresses were Governmental meetings, the International Meteorological
Committee agreed that IMO would function more efficiently, at that time,
as a non-Governmental organization. Therefore, no further International
Meteorological Congresses were convened by IMO and a system of
Conferences of Directors of Meteorological Services was established
instead, on a non-Governmental basis.
In addition to its key role in the standardization of observations,
IMO made outstanding contributions to scientific research, in particular
by organizing the first two International Polar Years, during the
periods 1882-1883 and 1932-1933, on a scale that exceeded the
capabilities of any single nation.
IMO and WMO in fact coexisted for a very short period, before the
final IMO Conference of Directors gathered in Paris from March 15-17,
1951, and at its closure, IMO President Sir Nelson Johnson (UK) formally
declared that IMO ceased to exist and that WMO had taken its place. Two
days later, on March 19, 1951, the First WMO Congress opened in Paris
and at the end of the same year, on December 20, 1951, The United
Nations General Assembly adopted its Resolution 531 (VI) and WMO became
a specialized agency of the United Nations System.
WMO was therefore fortunate that its founders chose to erect it upon
the solid base laid out by IMO and through a Convention which, with
minor amendments, has succeeded in providing all the strength and the
flexibility needed by WMO to take appropriate initiatives and to face
the challenges it encountered over six decades.
From the start, WMO was recognized as the paradigm of successful
international cooperation and even the Cold War was no impediment, since
meteorology does not distinguish political boundaries, so cooperation
flourished during those difficult years. Observational networks were
extended to cover practically the entire globe and measurements were
expanded to include all traditional and even some non-traditional
WMO was however always aware of the risks and the 1986 WMO Technical
Document No 99 - Possible Climatic Consequences of a Major Nuclear
War-shall remain a historic reference for future generations.
The nuclear winter scenario has now ceased to be a major concern but,
by then, WMO had released its 1976 authoritative statement on the
accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the potential
impacts on the Earth's climate, which contributed to focus attention on
global warming and climate change, clearly seen today as a major threat
to sustainable development and even to human survival, and which United
Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has identified as "the defining
challenge of our era."
Following the First World Climate Conference, organized in 1979 to
consider the looming threat of climate change and its potential impacts,
WMO and ICSU established the World Climate Research Program (WCRP),
subsequently also joined by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic
Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, WCRP has been vital for science, in
particular by providing the scientific foundation of the assessments of
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which WMO and the
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have co-sponsored since 1988
and which at the end of 2007 received the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
Moreover, as a consequence of the Second World Climate Conference
(Geneva, November 1990), WMO joined forces with ICSU, UNEP and the IOC
of UNESCO to establish the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). In
addition, the Second World Climate Conference set in motion the process
leading to the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Another major challenge arrived in 1975 when WMO convened a group of
experts to release an authoritative statement alerting the world on the
thinning of our protective stratospheric ozone layer shielding us from
exposure to excessive ultraviolet radiation.
The ozone-hole issue demonstrated the importance of long-term
measurements, without which ozone destruction would have continued
unabated and might not have been detected until more serious damage was
evident. The ensuing Montreal Protocol to the Vienna Convention has been
an outstanding example of collaboration among scientists and
As we look back over these six decades, several developments opened
exceptional scientific and technological possibilities for the
Organization; for example, the launching of artificial satellites and
the unprecedented possibilities which they offered in terms of
observations, in coincidence with the thriving development of computers
These initially individual factors soon converged to facilitate
real-time international exchange of data and products and the
implementation of the World Weather Watch, a key WMO program, which
became the basis for the others.
WMO sponsored research flourished. After the Organization assumed IMO
responsibilities, it joined forces with the International Council for
Science (ICSU) to launch the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year
and, more recently, the International Polar Year 2007-2008, which is
still producing exceptional scientific results.
WMO and ICSU organized in 1967 the Global Atmospheric Research
Program and its famous experiments, among which the GARP Atlantic
Tropical Experiment, the Monsoon Experiment and the 1978-1979 First GARP
Global Experiment, or Global Weather Experiment.
Marked improvement in weather forecasting soon followed: whereas in
1950 we only could hope for 24 - to 36-hour forecasts, today we have
useful seven-day predictions, an achievement of WMO's international
coordinating role in observations, research, analysis and modelling, and
also led to longer-range predictions, from a season to a year ahead.
This would not have been possible without the free and unrestricted
international exchange of data and products, a concept so implicitly
structured in the spirit of the WMO Convention that it had not been
formally included initially.
By the 1990s, however, the international services-delivery structure
had substantially evolved from its form of the 1950s, and at one point
this situation developed enough for it to become a major challenge,
which was addressed by WMO Members with foresight and determination,
within the traditional spirit of cooperation and satisfactorily resolved
through World Meteorological Congress Resolutions 40 (Cg-XII) and 25
Natural hazards pose very serious threats to human security, so WMO
has devoted substantial efforts to develop operational warning systems
and effective preparedness measures, which have contributed to a
significant decrease in the associated loss of lives. To ensure that
these benefits reach its Members, WMO has devoted considerable attention
to the development needs of the National Meteorological and Hydrological
Services, in particular in the least developed countries, to warrant
that they have ready access to advanced products and the capacity to use
them according to their national requirements and their global
commitments, an objective driven by WMO's fundamental mission.
During these 60 years, the map of the world has changed
substantially, and today WMO's Membership comprises 189 countries and
territories, following the recent incorporation of the Democratic
Republic of Timor-Leste on December 4, 2009.
However, at the time of joining WMO some of our newer Members lack
the experience and the resources to establish even the most fundamental
weather services in support of their sustainable development, so
technical cooperation and education and training are areas in which WMO
accomplishments have clearly made a difference.
The resolution to incorporate hydrology within the scope of WMO
developed between the Second (1955) and Third (1959) World
Meteorological Congresses. The latter established the Commission for
Hydrological Meteorology, which by 1971 had evolved into the present CHy.
Thanks to these key decisions, surface and ground water monitoring and
quality controls have enabled WMO to issue authoritative warnings
against dwindling water supplies, especially in view of mounting
population pressure and water pollution, while WMO integrated water
resources management is showing the way to optimize the exploitation of
our limited fresh water resources.
It is today traditional of focus the annual World Meteorological Day
celebration an a special theme and at its sixtieth session the WMO
Executive Council decided that in 2010 this theme would be "the World
Meteorological Organization - 60 Years of service for your safety and
well- being", a specially appropriate theme at a time when communities
around the globe are striving to achieve the United Nations Millennium
Development Goals, in particular concerning health, food and water
security and poverty alleviation, as well as to improve their resilience
in the face of recurrent natural disasters and to assist them in
proactively responding to the mounting impacts of climate variability
Several other WMO programs and activities have provided exceptional
examples during these six decades of the socioeconomic, benefits that
can be achieved by many sectors through cooperation in meteorology,
especially in terms of human safety and well-being. Obvious examples
include agriculture and food security, health, transportation, tourism,
construction and energy, among others. It might be impractical and even
inequitable to give credit to all of them in this short message, so they
are considered far more fittingly in the 2010 World Meteorological Day
booklet "World Meteorological Organization - 60 years of service for
your safety and well-being".