The World Meteorological Organization voted Thursday for Argentina's Celeste Saulo to become its first woman leader and steer the WMO's critical global role in tracking climate change.
Saulo, a WMO vice-president who has headed Argentina's national weather agency since 2014, won a landslide in a vote held behind closed doors at the UN climate and weather agency's congress in Geneva.
The WMO's role in climate change has become increasingly prominent and Saulo, 59, will likely become a well-known advocate on this pressing world issue.
"In these times when inequality and climate change are the greatest global threats, the WMO must contribute to strengthening the meteorological and hydrological services to protect populations and their economies, providing timely and effective services and early warning systems," she said following her election.
"My ambition is to lead the WMO towards a scenario in which the voice of all members is heard equally, prioritising those most vulnerable and in which the actions it undertakes are aligned with the needs and particularities of each one of them," added the director of Argentina's Servicio Meteorológico Nacional (SMN),
Early warning systems
Saulo, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and CONICET researcher, will take over from the outgoing secretary-general Petteri Taalas on January 1. The Finnish meteorologist is coming to the end of his second four-year term, the maximum he could serve.
The WMO brings together international efforts in monitoring greenhouse gases, sea levels, temperatures, glacier melting and other climate change indicators. The leadership election was held on the penultimate day of the World Meteorological Congress, the general assembly of WMO's 193 member states and territories, which takes place every four years.
The congress, which opened on May 22, voted to ensuring that everyone on the planet is covered by early warning systems for hazardous weather events by the end of 2027.
It put the cryosphere – the frozen world – high on the agenda, given the increasing impacts of melting sea ice, glaciers and permafrost on sea-level rise. WMO members also approved a new initiative aimed at boosting global greenhouse gas monitoring through an integrated system of space- and surface-based observations.
"The main goal is to work for the member countries and territories and bring their voice, the voice of the less developed world, the small island states, the developing world, working all together to achieve our priorities," Saulo told AFP. "Early warning for all is a key initiative, we will work on that, we will achieve that. I am definitely optimistic. This result shows that people are optimistic and we can change for the better."
'Passionate about meteorology'
Three other senior figures from within the WMO put themselves forward for the leadership.
They were the WMO's current number two, Russian-Swiss deputy secretary-general Elena Manaenkova; the number three, Chinese assistant secretary-general Zhang Wenjian; and second vice-president Albert Martis of Curaçao.
The pen-and-paper ballot was held in a Geneva conference centre. Saulo won the required two-thirds majority on the first ballot with 108 votes. Her closest competitor, Zhang, received 37, a diplomatic source said.
The director general-elect of the International Organization for Migration has made 21st-century drivers of migration, such as climate change, the focus of her leadership.
"WMO will have important data that is relevant to the work that we do... we can work together so that we get better outcomes for more people," she said. "There's a community of women that I've worked with here in Geneva and throughout my life who are very focused, not on ego but on getting the work done."
In applying for the job, Saulo said she was "passionate about meteorology and addressing the global challenges associated with climate change, natural hazards and the increasing vulnerability of peoples."
Amy Pope, the incoming head of the UN migration agency, told AFP that Saulo's appointment was "good news."
The WMO has had only five secretaries-general since 1956. The agency's roots go back 150 years to the foundation of the International Meteorological Organization in 1873, seeking to standardise weather observation systems used around the world and address the shortcomings in using Morse Code to transmit weather reports.
It was reformed as the WMO in 1950 and joined the UN fold a year later. It brings together the work done by national meteorological agencies, and now relies on satellites and thousands of weather stations to measure key parameters of the atmosphere, land and ocean.
Simon Manley, Britain's ambassador in Geneva, said Saulo was "a great choice for the WMO and another impressive female leader... one more glass ceiling shattered."
– TIMES/AFP [Reporting my Robin Millard]