Realizing the WMO Vision for 2030: An interview with Secretary-General Petteri Taalas

The Seventeenth World Meteorological Congress in 2015 appointed Petteri Taalas as Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and gave him a strong mandate to reform the WMO governance structure. Climate change, an increasing number of disasters, population growth, urbanization, uneven development of countries and new technologies were the main drivers for the reform.

Many United Nations agencies, including WMO, have attempted to reform their constituent bodies 1 WMO Secretariat and working practices – often without success. The motivation of Prof. Taalas to apply for the Secretary General post was to modernize WMO. The Eighteenth World Meteorological Congress (Cg-18) in 2019 approved a historic reform package that includes a reduction in the number of technical commissions from eight to two to favour Earth System weather, climate, water and ocean infrastructures and the development of a wide range of multi-hazard services. Cg-18 also decided to establish a Scientific Advisory Panel of world leading experts to give strategic guidance for WMO. In addition, it established a Research Board to support Members in the science to services process.

CG-18 also approved a new Geneva Declaration for coordinated engagement of the private sector in WMO activities. A Technical Coordination Committee and Policy Advisory Committee were set up to prepare and streamline decisions of the Executive Council and Congress.

The goal is to ensure that WMO remains fit-for-purpose, becomes more nimble and uses its intellectual and financial resources more cost-effectively. There is a desire to engage more experts from the least developed countries in core WMO activities. It was also decided to organize an extra Congress in the middle of the current WMO four-year cycle.

However, other big challenges lie ahead. One of the most formidable relates to data sharing – a core tenet of WMO that is once again under threat. International cooperation under the (mostly non-governmental) International Meteorological Organization (IMO), whose origins date to 1873, and the (intergovernmental) WMO was built on almost universal sharing of observational data and scientific knowledge. Today, the WMO community faces opportunities and threats from new technologies – one of those threats is to the free and open sharing of data. There is a need to re-examine the policy foundations of current practices. There is also urgency for action to bring down barriers between public and private sector components of the weather enterprise, scientific fields, policymakers and society as a whole to ensure “that the best and most effective services, forecasts and warnings are provided” as per the Geneva Declaration. In order to facilitate an open, constructive dialogue among all players toward achieving this end, WMO launched an Open Consultative Platform in June. How the Platform will achieve this goal, the next steps to be taken towards a greater integration of private and academic sectors in the work of WMO and other questions are answered by Secretary-General Taalas in the interview below in which he outlines the way ahead for his second term in office from 2020−2023.

The timeline for the reform transition is ambitious. How do you plan to roll out the reform without disrupting the work of WMO? Where do you start?

Taalas: Reform processes are always challenging. In our case, we have been lucky to mobilize large amounts of WMO Secretariat staff, as well as national experts and directors, to design the transition process and to ensure the success of the reform. In addition to what is outlined in the introduction, the challenges ahead concern the reform of the WMO Secretariat structure and working practices. The Secretariat structure and staffing are supposed to be finalized by the end of 2019. Cg-18 tasked me as Secretary-General to streamline, modernize and improve the efficiency of administrative work. WMO has already advertised and selected a top management team. Broader job descriptions will be drafted, where necessary, for professional staff members and rotation will be encouraged. The use of administrative resources will be more centralized, and administrative staff will be offered new duties following technological advancements.

What are the main hurdles you foresee in implementing the reform into the structure and culture of WMO? How will you tackle these?

Taalas: In addition to changing the constituent bodies and Secretariat structures, it is essential to pay attention to the cultural changes. There is a chance to promote the Earth System, multi-hazard services and seamless predictions on all scales, where weather, climate, water, oceans and atmospheric composition are handled in unity instead of in silos. Those wider perspectives are great opportunities for the whole WMO community as well as for individual experts.

Organizations and individuals are resistant to change. Four years is a short period to anchor changes in order to avoid WMO slipping back into its old silo mentality. What tactics and tools will you use to achieve longlasting change?

Taalas: The whole process has been run as a large community effort. The enthusiasm and commitment of WMO staff and Members has been impressive. I am convinced that no one will want to turn back once they have started to enjoy the fruits of the reform processes. The demand for weather, climate and water expertise, services and science is currently growing considerably. Our new business models will offer us great opportunities to respond to that demand.

Above we highlighted the data challenge, the breaking down of barriers and other major challenges. How will you address these in your next term?

Taalas: By widely engaging the Secretariat and Member experts in the planning and implementation process, which is already taking place. One of our challenges and opportunities is to engage more experts from all of the WMO Member States and Territories in the work of the new technical commissions and research bodies. That is one of the goals of the reform. Another is to join forces with development partners, like the World Bank, the Green Climate Fund and UNDP as well as with sister organizations, such as WHO, FAO, UNESCO, ICAO, IMO and UNEP, to enhance the impact of WMO expertise and to support Members in the developing and least developed countries.

Are there other challenges that you would like to address in your next term?

Taalas: The United Nations has been successful in promoting a wide global development agenda: health, crisis mitigation, education, economic growth, gender, etc. Today, the main challenge for the UN is climate mitigation and adaptation as well as population growth control. WMO is the key player in climate mitigation and adaptation inside the UN family.



Sylvie Castonguay, WMO Secretariat

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