The WMO’s first female secretary-general, Prof. Celeste Saulo, makes a call for action to the entire meteorological sector to address the unequal impact of extreme weather worldwide.
It is no secret that climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather around the world. Scientific studies indicate that events such as heat waves and large storms are likely to become more frequent and more intense with human-induced climate change. Extreme daily precipitation events, for example, are projected to intensify by about 7% for each 1°C of global warming, notes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This link between climate change and extreme weather has been thoroughly documented, but what is not often addressed is that the world’s most vulnerable nations are suffering disproportionately. “Our world is becoming more and more unequal,” says Prof. Celeste Saulo, who will become secretary-general of the WMO on January 1, 2024, taking over from Petteri Taalas, who has completed two terms in the role.
“People in developing countries and small island developing states [SIDS] are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and extreme weather, and not enough is being done to address this,” she continues. “I am very, very worried about this. The climate and inequality crises need to be addressed at the same time so that no one is left behind.
“We are far from solving this right now and that is why I am taking this opportunity to make a call for action to the entire meteorological and hydrological sector, including public and private organizations, governments, individuals, academic and any other stakeholders, to come together now to address both the climate crisis and inequality in a collaborative way. If we don’t act now, the narrow window of opportunity to stop climate change, and the deadly impact it will have on vulnerable nations, will rapidly close.”
Career to date
Saulo’s call for action comes a few weeks ahead of her taking up her new role as SG of the WMO – one of the most important positions in the meteorological sector and one that has never been held by a woman in the organization’s 150-year history. “This is a great opportunity for me, for women worldwide and for the developing world,” she says. Saulo is currently a WMO vice president and has headed the National Meteorological Service of Argentina (SMN) since 2014. In June 2023 she won a landslide vote for the role of SG at the 19th World Meteorological Congress in Geneva.
“My ambition is to lead the WMO toward a scenario in which the voice of all members is heard equally, prioritizing those most vulnerable, and in which the actions it undertakes are aligned with the needs and particularities of each one of them,” she adds.
Saulo’s passion for addressing the inequality issue alongside the climate crisis is rooted in her career to date, which has been in the developing nation of Argentina. Her enjoyment of both physics and mathematics led her to study meteorology at graduate level. “During my studies I developed a great love for meteorology and the combination of physics and models to generate tangible results,” she says. “This love led me to join the academic sector, where I became a professor and researcher at the University of Buenos Aires.
“I have a love for teaching,” she continues. “I especially enjoyed being with the students and learning from them, too. While working as a professor and researcher I learned about numerical weather prediction, atmosphere dynamics and thermodynamics, mesoscale meteorology, cloud dynamics and cloud microphysics. I became really interested in how we can improve the quality of forecasts, especially at a local level.”
Following her professor role, Saulo became director of the Department of Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires. “I was then asked by my government to take up the position of head of the National Meteorological Service of Argentina,” she adds.
Under her leadership the SMN underwent a strong modernization process with sustained advances in observation, forecasting and communication methods, and the implementation of a new early warning system. Saulo has been involved with the WMO since 2015, when she was elected as a member of the Executive Council. Then in April 2018 she was elected as second vice president for the WMO and, in June 2019, was elected first vice president, becoming the first woman to hold the office.
She has also been a member of various WMO expert scientific panels, including the Scientific Steering Committee for the World Weather Research Programme, the Working Group on Seasonal to Interannual Prediction, and the World Climate Research Program’s Climate and Ocean Variability, Predictability and Change panel for the Variability of the American Monsoon Systems.
“The past 10 years have been a huge learning curve for me,” Saulo says. “I learned about the operational aspects of the meteorological sector and expectations from society and stakeholders. It has been a wonderful experience and my background in academia has really helped me to understand what we could do and what we couldn’t do with regard to forecasts. For example, I could identify tools that were available in academia, but they were isolated and not available for the national met service. I tried to build bridges and I believe I was rather successful at that.”
This bridging of the academic and met service sectors has been one of Saulo’s key achievements to date, she believes. “Being elected secretary-general of the WMO is certainly another highlight that I would never have dreamed of,” she adds. “Besides this, however, bridging gaps between the different stakeholders in the meteorological sector is something I am very proud of, and I think this approach should be replicated around the world. After all, no one person can solve the climate crisis on their own.
“I also believe that national met services need to be more transparent with stakeholders and invite them to work with them,” she continues. During her time at the National Meteorological Service of Argentina, for example, Saulo encouraged closer collaboration with sectors such as renewable energy and agriculture to address interdisciplinary problems.
“Thanks to this work we found that the met service in Argentina actually got more support from other government ministries than we did from our own. We built strong partnerships with the ministries of culture, transportation, agriculture, energy, etc, and with many other industries, and we gained the respect of colleagues, partners and stakeholders who were previously reluctant to work with us.”
This idea of co-production led to the development of a new department the SMN called Meteorology and Society. “This provides a clear link between our services and information with general society and what they expect from us. Sometimes these two worlds can speak different languages, so the development of this new department was a great move to bridge the met service with the outside world,” Saulo adds.
WMO key priorities
At the 19th World Meteorological Congress in Geneva in May/June 2023, three key priorities were identified for the WMO’s Strategic Plan 2024-2027. The groundbreaking international campaign to ensure that everyone on Earth is protected against hazardous weather by life-saving early warning systems by the end of 2027 was recognized as the overriding priority, according to Saulo.
The Early Warnings for All initiative is being conducted by the WMO alongside the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Telecommunication Union. According to the WMO, currently only half of countries worldwide report having adequate multihazard early warning systems (see Early Warnings For All, page 13). “Meeting the 2027 deadline will be a huge challenge and one that will require coordinated action,” Saulo says.
“Another priority for the WMO is the strengthening of the global observing system, which is currently weak. We need more observations. To achieve this, we need to make use of the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF), which is a financing mechanism that supports countries with the most severe shortfalls in observations to close the basic weather and climate data gap. SOFF is also a foundational element and delivery mechanism of the Early Warnings for All Initiative.
“We will also be working on the new Global Greenhouse Gas Watch (GGGW) initiative, which was approved at the 19th congress in Geneva,” she continues. The GGGW aims to fill critical information gaps and provide an integrated, operational framework that brings under one roof all space-based and surface-based observing systems, as well as extensive modeling and data-assimilation capabilities.
The GGGW envisages a top-down approach to the flux evaluation, which builds on existing capabilities in surface- and space-based observations and modeling and ensures timely exchange of all observations and data, according to the WMO. In its initial configuration it is envisaged that the initiative will consist of four main components.
First will be a comprehensive, sustained, global set of surface- and satellite-based observations of CO2, CH4 and N2O concentrations, total column amounts, partial column amounts, vertical profiles and fluxes, and of supporting meteorological, oceanic and terrestrial variables, internationally exchanged rapidly, pending capabilities and agreements with the system operators.
The other three components are prior estimates of GHG emissions based on activity data and process-based models; a set of global high-resolution Earth system models representing GHG cycles; and associated with the models, data assimilation systems that optimally combine the observations with model calculations to generate products of higher accuracy.
As an output, the infrastructure will produce gridded net monthly fluxes of CO2, CH4 and N2O at a spatial resolution of 100km by 100km. These outputs can drive multiple applications, from contribution to the global stocktake to assessment of the fluxes from individual facilities or landscapes.
“On top of the key WMO priorities I also hope to empower the national meteorological and hydrological services providers,” says Saulo. “We need to build capacity at local and regional levels so that all these high-level initiatives, such as Early Warnings for All and GGGW, can be successful. The 2027 target for Early Warnings for All, for example, will only be met if the local meteorological services are equipped with the tools and knowledge to produce and communicate timely warnings for extreme weather. A bottom-up approach is essential across all these initiatives.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of Meteorological Technology International. To view the magazine in full, click here.