92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012: 12:00 AM
Environmental Governance, UNEP and WMO: Building Global Networks and Coordinating Environmental Action
Room 346/347 (New Orleans Convention Center )
David G. Hirst, Univ. of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in 1988 were jointly tasked with initiating the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Through historical analysis of both the WMO and the establishment of UNEP this paper seeks to unpick the roots of an emergent political concern for the environment, alongside the promotion of endeavours in cooperative scientific internationalism in providing the foundation out of which concerns over climate change emerged.

The WMO was established in the aftermath of WWII with the World Meteorological Convention being signed in 1947 as a direct offshoot from the International Meteorological Organization (IMO). The WMO was born into the complex geopolitical world in which Cold War superpowers promoted scientific cooperation in conjunction with secret military projects. Within the Cold War context and in response to UN resolution 1721 (XVI) 1962, which called for international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, the WMO began preparations for the World Weather Watch (WWW). The WWW was “intended as a global meteorological observing and prediction system designed to avoid duplication in preparing analyses and prognoses, while still providing each meteorological service with the data to carry out its responsibilities.” Preparations for, and work extending the WWW involved a great deal of international cooperation, but also acted to standardise many meteorological practices. At the push of a combination of Cold War politics and Cold War technology –satellites –the WMO was in a position to extend meteorological networks that would provide a global picture of weather and climate. The WWW became the fundamental function of the WMO, but significantly provided the infrastructure onto which the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP) large scale weather and climate experiments were grounded. Scientific cooperation was conducted through an ideologically neutral language of science, as a set of discrete national interests combined enabling the WMO to fulfil its stated aims of “worldwide cooperation in the establishment of networks of stations for the making of meteorological observations” in addition to promoting rapid data exchange and the “standardization of meteorological observations” .

Whilst the WMO was primarily engaged in promoting and facilitating meteorological and climatological research UNEP was established to serve a catalytic function coordinating and promoting action on environmental problems. UNEP was created as a direct result of recommendations from the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment held in 1972, the first time world leaders met in significant numbers to address environmental issues. Geopolitical fissures erupted in the build-up to the conference, with both Global North-South conflict over development and aid as well as East-West divisions over the national status of East Germany. Despite the geopolitical obstacles the conference took place and in UNEP governments brought into existence an intergovernmental body that would provide a focal point of attention for international environmental problems, with a mandate to assess and coordinate action on environmental problems.

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