International Organizations and Environmental Policy

By Robert V. Bartlett; Priya A. Kurian et al. | Go to book overview
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The World Meteorological Organization as a Purveyor of Global Public Goods

Marvin S. Soroos and Elena N. Nikitina

Weather has always been a concern of human civilizations, whose survival and prosperity have depended upon their ability to adapt to the prevailing climate where they resided. Numerous civilizations have declined and disappeared through the ages because they were unable to adjust to climate changes, including some they unwittingly brought upon themselves by their land use practices ( Hughes, 1975). Traditional civilizations improvised mythologies to explain the vicissitudes of the weather, in particular the more extreme events such as storms and droughts. The scientific study of weather can be traced to the fourth century BC, when Aristotle and his pupil Theophrastus sought to explain weather by replacing fantasy with observation and reason ( Davies, 1990:1).

International cooperation on monitoring weather and climate was among the first subjects to be addressed by international organizations. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a critical actor in contemporary international environmental policy, carries on many of the traditions and functions of the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), which dates back to 1873. Since it came into being in 1950, WMO has greatly expanded its monitoring and research activities aimed at improving weather forecasts and understanding the physical processes of the atmosphere that determine weather and climate. The past fifteen years have brought significant new challenges for the organization, as scientific evidence mounts that the world's human population is altering the chemistry of the atmosphere in ways that could trigger other massive environmental changes with profound implications for human communities worldwide.

WMO has been regarded both by itself and by outside observers as one of the most effective specialized agencies in the United Nations (UN) system, one that offers a model for facilitating international cooperation on scientific matters (e.g., WMO, 1990:2; Cain, 1983:97). The mission of WMO has evolved in


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