A History of Climate Activities

by John W. Zillman*


The third WMO (World Meteorological Organization)-convened World Climate Conference, which will be held in Geneva from 31 August to 4 September 2009, should be viewed both as an end and as a beginning. As an end, it represents the culmination of some 30 years of remarkable progress in climate research, monitoring, applications and impact assessment under the World Climate Programme, which was established in the wake of the First World Climate Conference in 1979 and reconstituted, underpinned and refocused following the Second World Climate Conference in 1990. It also seems likely to mark the beginning of a new and more integrated approach to the application of climate science to societal needs through the establishment of a new global framework for climate services which will focus powerful new scientific capabilities on the formidable social, economic and environmental challenges of living with the large natural variability of climate and mitigating and adapting to human-induced climate change.

It is surprisingly little understood how comprehensively and how well WMO and its predecessor and partner organizations have worked together to provide the framework for international cooperation on climate matters since the establishment of the International Meteorological Organization (IMO) in 1873. The non-governmental IMO provided essential international coordination and standardization of climatological practices for more than 70 years, especially, since 1929, through its Commission for Climatology, which was re-established as an intergovernmental body by WMO in 1951 and has been maintained, albeit with a brief change of name to enhance its focus on applications, to the present day. Many of the National Meteorological Services (NMSs) of WMO’s now 188 Member States and Territories owe their origins not so much to their more publicly visible role in daily weather forecasting as to their national responsibility for long-term observation, description and monitoring of climate.

In planning for a new global frame­work for climate service provision through World Climate Conference-3 (WCC‑3), it will be critically important to focus the established and emerging scientific capabilities for climate prediction on the burgeoning societal needs of a world now concerned with climate issues as never before. But it will also be important that the new framework be based not just on a recognition of what is already in place but on a measure of historical insight into the issues explored, challenges met and lessons learned in putting the present international institutional arrangements in place. While there is not space, here, to retrace the fascinating history of international climate science and services in any detail, it may be of interest, as a starting point, to identify a few of the highlights of the past 50 years and especially of the 30 years since the establishment of the World Climate Programme in 1979. Figure 1 provides a schematic, albeit greatly simplified, summary of the milestones in the emergence of climate as an international scientific and political issue since the 1950s.

Origin of the climate issue

While climatology has always been recognized as an important branch of the science and practice of meteorology (Landsberg, 1945) and the basic physics of greenhouse warming has been understood for more than a century (Houghton, 2009), the present global concern with climate issues really dates from the convergence of five important scientific, technological and geopolitical developments of the 1950s:

  • Post-World War II advances in basic atmospheric science that led to greatly increased understanding of the mechanisms of the large-scale circulation of the atmosphere;
  • Initiation of a number of new geophysical observations (especially the Mauna Loa measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide) during the 1957 International Geophysical Year;
  • Recognition of the potential meteorological observing capabilities of Earth-orbiting satellites;
  • The advent of digital computers; and
  • The willingness of countries, even in the developing Cold War environment, to use the institutions of the United Nations System for cooperation in addressing important global problems;

which shaped the transition of climatology from a descriptive to a physical science (Flohn, 1970) and opened up the prospect of diagnostic and predictive modelling of the global climate system (Bolin, 2007).

These influences were brought together in a 1961 United Nations General Assembly Resolution which called on WMO and the non-governmental International Council for Science (ICSU) to collaborate in developing the new scientific and technological opportunities for monitoring, predicting and eventually controlling, weather and climate and triggered the twin birth of the WMO World Weather Watch and the WMO/ICSU Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP). The World Weather Watch was aimed at providing the basic global infrastructure for supporting operational weather forecasting and for describing and monitoring climate, while GARP was focused on the dual objectives of improved weather forecasting and a scientific basis for climate prediction (Davies, 1990).

Figure 2
Figure 1 — The emergence of climate as an international scientific and policy issue: the five major scientific, technological and geopolitical developments on the left converged to inspire UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 1721 (XVI) which triggered the establishment of the WMO World Weather Watch (WWW) and the WMO-ICSU Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP) and, later and less directly, the convening of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE). The 1974-1977 WMO EC (Executive Committee) Panel of Experts on Climate Change, set up at the request of the sixth special session of the UNGA, triggered the convening of the 1979 World Climate Conference (WCC-1) and the establishment of the four-component World Climate Programme (WCP), including the WMO-ICSU World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). The 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), the 1988 Toronto Conference and the First Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shaped the agenda of the 1990 Second World Climate Conference (WCC-2), which led to the establishment of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and the negotiation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The chart also depicts the proposed evolution of the service-oriented components of the WCP into a more integrated World Climate Services System (WCSS), built on GCOS and WCRP, to produce a new Global Framework for Climate Services (see Figure 5).

Already by the late 1960s, as the implementation of the World Weather Watch and GARP was getting underway, scientific concern was beginning to mount, reinforced by the increasing carbon dioxide concentrations evident from the early observations at Mauna Loa, that human activities could, in fact, already be starting to impact on the Earth’s climate at global scales (SMIC, 1971). Then, in the 1970s, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, a counter view emerged, quickly sensationalized by the media (Calder, 1974) that, rather than just a manifestation of the large natural variability of climate superimposed on the expected slow greenhouse warming trend, the devastating Sahelian drought of the 1960s and the series of extremely cold winters in the northern hemisphere in the early 1970s could be the harbingers of the Earth’s imminent descent into a new ice age.

They served to bring the implications of climate variability and change back to the attention of the United Nations, however, and, in 1974, the sixth special session of the General Assembly called on WMO to undertake a study of climate change. WMO established an Executive Committee Panel of Experts on Climate Change which, in its final report (Gibbs et al., 1977), largely dismissed the speculation on global cooling and reaffirmed the general scientific expectation of greenhouse warming but stressed the importance of making better use of existing climate knowledge in learning to live with the large natural variability of climate. It inspired the early WMO planning for an inter-agency World Climate Programme and triggered the WMO decision to convene a World Climate Conference in 1979.

The 1979 World Climate Conference

The 1979 World Climate Conference, now usually referred to as the First World Climate Conference (FWCC or WCC-1), was organized by a Committee chaired by Robert M. White of the USA and held in the International Conference Centre in Geneva from 12 to 23 February 1979 (Figure 2). It was convened by WMO, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), ICSU and other scientific partners, as “a world conference of experts on climate and mankind”. The first week was attended by some 350 specialists from 53 countries and 24 international organizations and from a wide range of disciplines including agriculture, water resources, fisheries, energy, environment, ecology, biology, medicine, sociology and economics (White, 1979).

Figure 2   Figure 2 — The opening of the World Climate Conference in February 1979. From the left: R. Schneider, Deputy Secretary-General of WMO; F. Mayor, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO; R.W. Phillips, Deputy Director-General of FAO; M.K. Tolba, Executive Director of UNEP; H. Mahler, Director-General of WHO; K.K.S. Dadzie, Director-General for Development and International Economic Cooperation of the United Nations; D.A. Davies, Secretary-General of WMO; R.M. White, Conference Chairman; Ju.A. Izrael, Acting First Vice-President of WMO; E.K. Fedorov; Sir John Kendrew, Secretary-General of ICSU; O. Vasiliev, Deputy Director of IIASA; and H. Taba, Director, Programme Planning and UN Affairs in the WMO Secretariat

At the end of the second week of deliberations in a smaller group of 100 invited experts from all parts of the world, the organizers issued a World Climate Conference Declaration as an appeal to nations in the following terms:

Having regard to the all-pervading influence of climate on human society and on many fields of human activities and endeavour, the Conference finds that it is now urgently necessary for the nations of the world:

(a) To take full advantage of man’s [sic] present knowledge of climate;
(b) To take steps to improve significantly that knowledge;
(c) To foresee and prevent potential man-made changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity.

The WCC-1 Declaration (WMO, 1979(a)) called on all nations to strongly support the proposed World Climate Programme and suggested immediate strategies to assist countries to make better use of climate information in planning for social and economic development.

Establishment of the World Climate Programme

Following the Conference, WMO moved swiftly to give effect to the call for a World Climate Programme. Eighth World Meteorological Congress (Geneva, April/May 1979) agreed that, as the UN specialized agency for meteorology embracing both weather and climate, WMO should take the lead in promoting studies of climate variability and change and their implications for society and the environment (WMO, 1979(b)).

It thus formally established the World Climate Programme with four components: the World Climate Data Programme (WCDP); the World Climate Applications Programme; the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) (initially entitled Climate Change and Variability Research Programme); and the World Climate Impact Study Programme (WCIP), following fairly closely the recommendations of the World Climate Conference.

Congress recognized, however, that climate issues were already becoming highly interdisciplinary and that implementation of the proposed World Climate Programme would require the involvement of many other UN bodies such as UNESCO, FAO, WHO and UNEP, as well as the scientific community through ICSU.

It thus sought their co-sponsorship of the WCP as a whole and invited UNEP to take lead responsibility for the WCIP. It also agreed that WCRP should be implemented as a joint initiative of WMO and ICSU under the terms of an agreement that would follow seamlessly from the WMO-ICSU joint sponsorship of GARP, which had dated from 1967. The WCDP responsibility was passed to the Commission for Special Applications of Meteorology and Climatology (CoSAMC), the successor and predecessor of the WMO Commission for Climatology (CCl).

The Congress considered con­vening a ministerial conference and establishing an overall inter­governmental and interagency coordination mechanism for the WCP but concluded that this would be premature. It decided, instead, to foster prompt implementation of the four components with liaison through a WCP Office. It urged countries to establish their own national climate programmes under the overall umbrella of the WCP. It mapped out an ambitious implementation schedule for the WCP as a whole (Zillman, 1980).

The 1985 Villach Conference and the SCOPE report

The international and national planning and implementation of projects and activities within the framework of the four components of the WCP proceeded vigorously through the early 1980s with a particular focus in the research community on the role of increasing atmospheric concen­trations of greenhouse gases in producing global warming. In October 1985, UNEP, WMO and ICSU convened an international assessment of the role of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in climate variations and associated impacts. Now widely referred to as “the Villach Conference”, it was attended by scientists from 29 countries who produced a highly influential statement foreshadowing temperature rises in the first half of the 21st century greater than any in human history (WMO, 1986). It drew heavily on a major scientific assessment then underway under the auspices of the ICSU Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) (Bolin et al., 1986)

The Villach Conference Statement included a set of recommendations to governments and funding institutions on the monitoring and research needed to further clarify the nature of the threat and, importantly, it also called on UNEP, WMO and ICSU to, inter alia:

  • Ensure periodic assessments were undertaken of the state of scientific understanding and its practical implications; and
  • Initiate, if deemed necessary, consideration of a global convention.

The 1987 WMO Congress

Tenth World Meteorological Congress in May 1987 considered both the outcome of the Villach Conference and an advance briefing on the conclusions of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) which had drawn heavily on the Villach findings in highlighting global warming as a major threat to sustainable development (WCED, 1987). There were many calls from national delegations for WMO to provide authoritative information on the state of knowledge of human-induced climate change. Congress agreed with the Villach recommendation for periodic assessments of scientific knowledge but considered that the assessment mechanism should operate under the overall guidance of governments rather than solely through scientists serving in their personal capacities (WMO, 1987). It, and the immediately following session of the WMO Executive Council, authorized the Secretary-General to consult with the Executive Director of UNEP to establish what was soon to become the joint WMO-UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Toronto Conference

The World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security (the Toronto Conference) was held in Toronto, Canada on 27-30 June 1988 with the participation of more than 300 scientists and policy-makers. The Conference called upon governments, the United Nations and its specialized agencies, industry, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations and individuals “to take specific actions to reduce the impending crisis caused by the pollution of the atmosphere”.

The Toronto Conference Statement called, in particular, for increased resourcing for the research and monitoring efforts within the WCP, support for the work of the proposed IPCC and development of a comprehensive global convention as a framework for protocols on the protection of the atmosphere (Pearman et al., 1989; WMO, 1989).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The first session of the WMO-UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva in November 1988 elaborated its basic concept of operation as an intergovernmentally supervised expert assessment mechanism, established its three working group structure and initiated the work programme which was to lead to its highly influential First Assessment Report approved after long and difficult negotiation at its fourth session in Sundsvall, Sweden, in August 1990.

Under its three successive Chairmen and using increasingly rigorous and comprehensive assessment and review processes, the IPCC produced its Second Assessment Report in 1996, its Third Assessment Report in 2001 and its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, as well as a number of Special Reports and Technical Papers along the way. It is now working on its Fifth Assessment Report.

Though criticized by some as too cautious and by others as too political and too alarmist, the IPCC has been widely accepted by its sponsors, governments and the competent bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (see below) as the authoritative source of information on the science and impacts of climate change (Bolin, 2007; Zillman, 2007). Though formally constituted as a joint subsidiary mechanism of WMO and UNEP, and reporting regularly to the governing bodies of both its sponsors, it now oper­ates essentially as an independent intergovernmental organization.

The Second World Climate Conference

The Second World Climate Conference (SWCC or WCC-2) took place, under the sponsorship of WMO, UNESCO, UNEP, FAO and ICSU, in Geneva from 29 October to 7 November 1990. It consisted of two parts: six days of scientific and technical presentations and discussions involving 747 participants from 116 countries; and two days of ministerial sessions attended by 908 participants from 137 countries. The Conference was held in the Geneva International Conference Centre but the opening of the ministerial sessions was held in the Palais des Nations with addresses from two Heads of State and four Prime Ministers (Jäger and Ferguson, 1991).

Figure 3 Figure 3 — The Secretary-General of WMO, G.O.P. Obasi, addressing the opening of the ministerial sessions of the Second World Climate Conference in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on 6 November 1990. Behind him (left to right) are the Hon. E. Fenech-Adami, Prime Minister of Malta; the Rt Hon. M. Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; HM King Hussein I of Jordan; Federal Councillor A. Köller, President of the Swiss Confederation; M. Rocard, Prime Minister of France; and the Rt Hon. B. Paeniu, Prime Minister of Tuvalu.

The original purpose of WCC-2, as envisaged when its planning began in 1986, was to review the first decade of progress under the WCP and the Conference programme included some excellent reviews of the WCP as a whole (Bruce, 1991) and its individual components (Boldirev, 1991) including major achievements in the application of climate information to the challenges of food, water, energy and urban and building design. The second purpose of the Conference, which emerged relatively late in the planning, was to undertake an initial international review of the First Assessment Report of the IPCC (Bolin, 1991; Coughlan and Nyenzi, 1991) as a lead-in to the negotiations for a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which were scheduled to begin in Washington DC in February 1991 and to conclude in time for signature at the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992.

The scientific part of WCC-2 included five specialist scientific panels and 12 task groups which produced recommendations for action in areas such as food, water, energy and land use. The resulting seven-page Conference Statement picked up many important issues that emerged from the group discussions, including a recommendation for the urgent establishment of a Global Climate Observing System (GCOS).

The five-page Ministerial Declaration from WCC-2, which was adopted by consensus, after lengthy negotiations on the final day, represented the most broadly based call thus far for cooperative international action on the climate change issue. It set the essential parameters for negotiation of the UNFCCC and invited the forthcoming Eleventh World Meteorological Congress to strengthen the WCP research and monitoring programmes in consultation with UNESCO, UNEP, FAO, ICSU and other relevant international organizations.

Establishment of the Global Climate Observing System

In the light of the WCC-2 Conference Statement and Declaration, the then Chairman of the Joint Scientific Committee (JSC) for the WCRP moved immediately to convene a meeting of experts to formulate a prospectus for the Global Climate Observing System. The meeting was hosted by the UK Meteorological Office at Winchester in January 1991 (Winchester Group, 1991), the concept and sponsorship arrangements were elaborated and agreed by the governing bodies of the proposed sponsors and, by early 1992, a Memorandum of Understanding was in place between WMO, IOC, UNEP and ICSU for the establishment of GCOS. A Joint Planning Office was established at WMO Headquarters in Geneva, a Joint Scientific and Technical Committee was appointed and, by mid-1995, a comprehensive GCOS plan had been finalized (GCOS, 1995).

The fundamental design concept for GCOS was that it be built as a system of climate relevant components of the established observing systems based on the WMO Global Observing System and Global Atmosphere Watch for the atmosphere and the then emerging Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) which were also co-sponsored by several of the co-sponsors of WCC-2. The basic purpose of GCOS was to provide observational support for all components of the WCP, the IPCC and the UNFCCC.

GCOS has continued to evolve over the intervening years with a particularly strong focus on support of the UNFCCC (see below) since 1998 (GCOS, 2004). Although its concept of operation has been widely misunderstood and its implementation seriously under-resourced in both developed and developing countries, it is now widely seen as the appropriate international framework for ensuring the availability of all observations required for climate purposes at both the national and international levels and on all time and space scales (Sommeria et al., 2007).

Restructuring of the World Climate Programme

Eleventh World Meteorological Congress (May 1991) responded to the recommendations of WCC-2 by broadening and restructuring the WCP, establishing a broadly based Coordinating Committee for the World Climate Programme (CCWCP), institutionalizing the essential underpinning role of GCOS and foreshadowing an intergovernmental meeting to review the coordination arrangements and identify a resourcing strategy for both WCP and GCOS.

The four restructured components of the WCP became:

  • The World Climate Data and Monitoring Programme (WCDMP);
  • The World Climate Applications and Services Programme (WCASP);
  • The World Climate Impact Assessment and Response Strategies Programme (WCIRP); and
  • The World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

with the former Advisory Committee on the World Climate Applications and Data Programmes (ACCAD) broadened to embrace all agencies involved with climate aspects of socio-economic development and IOC invited to join WMO and ICSU as co-sponsors of the WCRP (WMO, 1991).

The sponsorship and organizational arrangements for the re-structured World Climate Programme and associated activities following the 1991 Congress (Zillman, 1995) are shown schematically in Figure 4.

Figure 4
Figure 4 — Organizational structure and sponsorship arrangements for the World Climate Programme (WCP) following the Second World Climate Conference, showing also the underpinning role of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and the link to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Negotiation of the UNFCCC

On the basis of the scientific evidence summarized in the First Assessment Report of IPCC and in line with the guidance from WCC-2, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for a Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was established by the 1990 (45th) session of the UN General Assembly, commenced two years of hectic negotiations which ended with an agreed text for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on 9 May 1992. The Convention, whose Articles 4 and 5 include specific commitments to systematic observation and research in support of its ultimate objective (“…..stabilization of greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”), was signed by 155 countries at the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992 and came into force on 21 March 1994 (Mintzer and Leonard, 1994).

The first session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC reached agreement on the establishment of its subsidiary bodies, including the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, which serves as the main link between the scientific and technical work of GCOS, WCRP and IPCC and the international policy role of COP. The Article 4 and 5 link between GCOS and UNFCCC was greatly strengthened following the response of the 1997 third (Kyoto) session of the COP to the findings of the 1997 International Conference on WCRP. This was then further reinforced, in conjunction with the research role of WCRP, by the requirements of the 2007 COP‑13 Bali Action Plan for comprehensive scientific information in support of both mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.

The Climate Agenda

The April 1993 Intergovernmental Meeting on the World Climate Programme, which had been called for by WMO Congress in 1991 to put in place a broadly based intergovernmental framework for the further development and resourcing of WCP and GCOS (WMO, 1993), was co-sponsored by the established sponsors of WCP (WMO, UNESCO and its IOC, UNEP, FAO and ICSU) along with the United Nations Development Programme. It was attended by 360 delegates from 134 countries and 83 experts from 37 intergovernmental and non-governmental international organizations. It endorsed the concept of The Climate Agenda and, through its nine-page “Statement on the Climate Agenda”, called for development of an integrated proposal to governments with four key thrusts on:

  • Dedicated observations of the climate system;
  • New frontiers in climate science and prediction;
  • Studies for climate impact assessments and response strategies to reduce vulnerability; and
  • Climate services for sustainable development.

It called especially for the establishment of National Climate Programmes in all countries as a basis for accelerated implementation of WCP and achievement of the agreed objectives of The Climate Agenda.

As part of its follow-up to the Intergovernmental Meeting, Eleventh World Meteorological Congress (1995) authorized the establishment of an Interagency Committee for the Climate Agenda (IACCA), which served as the peak coordination mechanism for GCOS, IPCC, WCP and other international climate-related programmes and activities through the remainder of the 1990s. The development of detailed proposals for resourcing GCOS, WCP and The Climate Agenda, was, however, largely left in abeyance, pending agreement on a new framework for international coordination of climate activities and consideration of proposals for the organization of a third World Climate Conference.

The call for a third World Climate Conference

Already in the second half of the 1990s and in response to growing concern at the failure of the 1993 Intergovernmental Meeting to mobilize the additional resources that were urgently needed for strengthening climate observing networks and climate research and service provision in support of both the specific needs of the UNFCCC and the broader global challenge of living with climate variability and change, pressure developed in WMO and other circles for WMO to convene a third World Climate Conference towards the end of the decade. This did not, however, find universal support and several of those who had been instrumental in shaping the earlier WMO-convened conferences moved instead to support the preparations for the World Climate Change Conference which was held in Moscow in September/October 2003 (Izrael et al., 2004). But, eventually, under the leadership of its Advisory Group on Climate and Environment, which had been established by the WMO Executive Council in 1999, specific proposals were developed for consideration by Thirteenth World Meteorological Congress in 2003.

The convening of a third World Climate Conference was, however, strongly opposed by some countries and the Congress decided, instead, simply to request the Executive Council to keep the matter under consideration.

The growing emphasis on adaptation

Under the influence of the 2001 Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development and the growing realization in UNFCCC and other circles that the global challenge of climate change would have to be addressed through a balance of mitigation and adaptation, international awareness began to increase rapidly of the need for comprehensive climate information in support of national and international strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to unavoidable climate change. The focus moved strongly to the need for “downscaling” climate change projections in support of adaptation at the regional, national and local levels.

This, in turn, underscored the con­tinuing importance of such earlier international initiatives as the Climate Information and Prediction Services project of the World Climate Applications and Services Programme as a framework for meeting the expanding need for the full range of climate services in all countries. The scientific and practical challenges of making better use of climate information to live with climate variability and change were comprehensively addressed in two important WMO-sponsored Conferences in 2006 and 2007:

  • The July 2006 Espoo (Finland) Conference on Living with Climate Variability and Change: Understanding the Uncertainties and Managing the Risks (WMO, 2009(a)); and
  • The March 2007 Madrid Conference on Secure and Sustainable Living: Social and Economic Benefits of Weather, Climate and Water Services (WMO, 2009(b));

and the information needs for adaptation have been comprehensively identified through a series of initiatives under the Nairobi Work Programme of the UNFCCC.

Figure 5
Figure 5 — The proposed new Global Framework for Climate Services consisting of a strengthened Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) supporting closely coupled Information and Application components of a World Climate Services System to complement and support the climate change assessment and policy roles of the IPCC and UNFCCC in achieving mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change

Planning for WCC-3

In the light of the growing international pressure for more detailed and more reliable climate prediction and information and nearly a decade after the need was first identified within the WMO community, Fifteenth World Meteorological Congress (2007) endorsed the organization of World Climate Conference-3 (WCC-3), by late October 2009, around the theme “Climate prediction for decision-making, focusing on seasonal to interannual time scales, taking into account multi-decadal prediction”.

At the request of Congress and the Executive Council, the Secretary-General of WMO established a WCC-3 International Organizing Committee (WIOC) of some 24 members supported by representatives of 27 co-sponsoring and partner organizations. The Committee met in February and September 2008 and March 2009 to develop the concept and guide the planning, for WCC-3 with a Conference vision for “an international framework for climate services that links science-based climate predictions and information with the management of climate-related risks and opportunities in support of adaptation to climate variability and change in both developed and developing countries”.

The UN System delivering as one

Following the December 2007 UNFCCC adoption of the Bali Action Plan and a series of UN General Assembly and other resolutions, the UN Secretary-General, through the UN Chief Executives Board and its High-Level Committee on Programmes initiated a process to ensure a coherent and coordinated UN System response to the challenge of climate variability and change. In the first instance, this involved the identification of five focus areas (adaptation, capacity-building, finance, reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, and technology transfer) and four cross­cutting areas of UN System action, one of which, to be co-convened by WMO and UNESCO, was identified as “science, assessment, monitoring and early warning” (“climate knowledge”).

As the first major initiative of the “UN System delivering as one on climate knowledge”, WCC-3 has been designed to guide the establishment of a new global framework for climate services to meet the rapidly growing needs for information in support of the 21st century response to the challenge of climate variability and change. WMO successfully established and operates the international framework for provision of a wide range of meteorological and related services. The successes and lessons learned will motivate and guide the establishment of a wide range of new and improved climate services to support adaptation to climate variability and change.


The new global framework for climate services proposed as the significant concrete outcome from WCC-3 is well placed to build on the remarkable scientific progress of the past 50 years and the solid institutional foundation provided by the international climate observation, research and assessment mechanisms put in place by WMO and its partner organizations over the 30 years since the historic First World Climate Conference of February 1979.


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* Chairman of the International Organizing Com­mittee for World Climate Conference‑3; former President of WMO (1995-2003) and former President of the International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (2005)


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