The WMO building in Geneva © Shutterstock

Getting to know the World Meteorological Organization inside out
WMO is the specialized agency of the United Nations for meteorology – weather and climate – operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences
1 Feb 2024

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), established on 23 March 1950, coordinates the gathering and synthesizing of observational data that is the scientific basis for decision-making and policy development in areas such as climate change, disaster risk reduction, and sustainable development. It is science that is part of our daily lives: the instantly updated daily, weekly and seasonal forecasts that influence how we dress and that permit us to plan ahead – as well as delivering the life-saving early warnings that alert us of potential danger.

Despite its reach, WMO retains a lean and agile governance and Secretariat structure because its 193 member states and territories who – 24/7, 365 days-a-year – observe and monitor the Earth system, process and exchange the resulting data and forecast as well as predict the weather and climate. WMO members also contribute the expertise of their staff to the Secretariat’s core work of developing standard and technical guidelines that are in turn applied by those members. Thus, due to the technical nature of its mandate, only the heads of the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of WMO members can be appointed as Permanent Representatives to the WMO.

The Permanent Representatives meet every four years at the World Meteorological Congress, the supreme governing body of WMO. Congress is complemented by the Executive Council, which implements its decisions. Though all Permanent Representatives are invited to participate in Congress, only 48 are elected to represent all members at annual Executive Council sessions. Congress elects the President and three Vice-Presidents who preside over Congress and Executive Council sessions for a four-year period. Dr Abdulla Al Mandous of the United Arab Emirates was elected as the President in May 2023 with Mr Daouda Konate of Côte d’Ivoire as First Vice-President, Mr Eoin Moran of Ireland as Second Vice-President and Mr. Mrutyunjay Mohapatra of India as Third Vice-President. All of them immediately started their four-years terms at the Executive Council session that followed Congress.

In addition to Congress and Executive Council, WMO has six Regional Associations that are responsible for the coordination of meteorological, hydrological and related activities within the respective WMO regions. The Regional Associations meet every two years to define their priorities and activities. The president of each Regional Association is an ex officio member of the Executive Council.

The Secretariat has some 350 staff, mostly at WMO headquarters in Geneva, but the organization maintains small regional offices in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. The Secretariat’s Executive Office is composed of a Secretary-General, appointed by Congress for a four-year term, a Deputy Secretary-General and an Assistant Secretary-General. Following her appointment in May 2023, Celeste Saulo of Argentina started her four-year term as Secretary-General on 1 January 2024. She is the first female Secretary-General of WMO. Over the coming weeks, she will select the Deputy Secretary-General and an Assistant Secretary-General, who will be confirmed by the Executive Council in June.

WMO was one of the first agencies of the United Nations to carry out a successful governance reform when the 2019 Congress approved the replacement of eight technical commissions, with two technical commissions and a research board. The Commission for Observation, Infrastructure and Information Systems facilitates the development and implementation of globally coordinated systems for acquiring, processing, transmitting and disseminating Earth system observations, and related standards. The Commission for Weather, Climate, Water and Related Environmental Services and Applications coordinates the development and implementation of globally harmonized weather, climate, water, ocean and environment-related services and applications to enable informed decision-making. The Research Board on Weather, Climate, Water and the Environment implements and coordinates research programs to achieve WMO priorities.

The Secretariat structure follows that of the reformed governance structure: an Infrastructure Division, a Services Division, a Research Division and a Member Services Division that coordinates capacity development in the first three areas. Administrative functions are grouped together in the Governance Services Division.

Both Congress and Executive Council have advisory and coordination bodies: the Technical Coordination Committee, Policy Advisory Committee (PAC), Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), Joint WMO-IOC (UNESCO) Collaborative Board and several panels.

This streamlined Secretariat and Governance structure has given WMO the agility to quickly implement the United Nations’ Early Warning for All initiative by 2027. 

* Sylvie Castonguay is an Editor at WMO
Read more articles about FOCUS ON