Sustainable development:
Social issues & the environment

Michel Jarraud

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General, WMO

Michel Jarraud was appointed Secretary- General of WMO for a four-year term beginning 1 January 2004. He was Deputy Secretary-General from 1995 till 2003, and devoted an earlier part of his career to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).


New social applications for meteorology

WMO provides the backbone of the Earth's weather-forecasting and climate prediction services, which are drawing closer as technology and cooperation expand meteorology's capabilities.

On 1 March 2007 began the largest internationally coordinated scientific research effort in 50 years. The International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008, an initiative of WMO and the International Council for Science (ICSU), was launched to involve thousands of individuals from over 60 countries to carry out 220 research and outreach projects. Its aims: to advance our understanding of the globe - particularly its polar regions, to educate and involve the public, and to help train the next generation of engineers, scientists and leaders.

This triple goal is typical of WMO's work. IPY 2007-2008 initiated a new era in polar science with a stronger emphasis on interdisciplinary research including physical, ecological and social sciences, and strong partnerships with indigenous communities and educators.

Our watchwords are coordination, dissemination, outreach and capacity building. Meteorological data is collected and exchanged among all countries of the planet in near real-time from more than 15 satellites, 700 buoys, 3,000 aircraft, 7,300 ships and some 10,000 land-based stations. One result is that a five-day weather forecast in 2007 is as reliable as a two-day forecast 20 years ago.

The World Weather Watch (WWW) is the core of the WMO Programmes. It combines observing systems, telecommunication facilities, and data-processing and forecasting centres - operated by Members - to make available meteorological and related geophysical information needed to provide efficient services in all countries.

Meteorology is being increasingly used to improve decisions on sustainable development.

World Meteorological Day, 23 March 2007, saw the launch of a new Website,, providing an easy-tounderstand snapshot of where severe and potentially dangerous weather might occur in Europe over the following 48 hours. It was developed by Eumetnet, the European weather services network, with the support of WMO. The warnings, provided by the various National Weather Services in Europe, cover a vast amount of weather phenomena such as strong storms, heavy rainfall with flooding, drought, coastal storm surges, thunderstorms, extreme heat or cold, snow and avalanches.

As part of our outreach, WMO held an International Conference in Madrid, Spain, in March 2007 on the social and economic benefits of weather, climate and water services. The backbone of the meteorological and hydrological community offering these services is formed by the national services of WM members. As questions of climate change and variability play an increasing role in government decisions, WMO aimed at helping governments to make crucial decisions by bringing together decision-makers, users and service providers.

There is no doubt that we stand at a crossroads for the planet's future. The evidence for human-caused global warming is now unequivocal. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created by UNEP and WMO, reported in February 2007 that major advances in climate modelling and the collection and analysis of data now give scientists «very high confidence» (at least a 9 out of 10 chance of being correct) in their understanding of how human activities are causing the world to warm.

Polar regions are highly vulnerable to rising temperatures. Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Large areas of the Arctic Ocean could lose year-round ice cover by the end of the 21st century. However, it is essential to further strengthen observing systems in the polar regions to gain a better overall picture of how rapidly these areas are changing and the global impact of these changes. IPY 2007-2008 could not have been staged at a more critical time.