Published December 04, 2008
As more than 10,000 delegates and observers gather in Poznan, Poland, to discuss the next phase in the battle against "climate change," a U.N. agency at the center of that hoopla badly needs to do some in-house weather-proofing.
The Poznan conference, seen as a major step toward a negotiated successor to the Kyoto Accord on greenhouse gases, is taking place until Dec. 12 under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a subsidiary of the World Meteorological Organization, a global association of scientific weather forecasters.
But the WMO, the $80 million U.N. front-line agency in the climate change struggle, and the source for much of the world's information in the global atmosphere and water supply, has serious management problems of its own, despite its rapidly expanding global ambitions.
The international agency has been sharply criticized by a U.N. inspection unit in a confidential report obtained by FOX News, for, among other things, haphazard budget practices, deeply flawed organizational procedures, and no effective oversight by the 188 nations that formally make up its membership and dole out its funds.
The inspection was carried out by a member of the United Nations Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), a small, independent branch of the U.N. that reports to the General Assembly and is mandated to improve the organization's efficiency and coordination through its inspection process.
The investigations took place in late 2006 and extended through at least May 2007, and subsequently were presented to the WMO's ruling bodies and its secretary general, Michel Jarraud, in December 2007. It was forwarded to the U.N. General Assembly only in November 2008.
The confidential document was a follow-up to an earlier examination in 2004, which also led to suggestions for greater internal controls of the WMO. (That inspection followed the discovery in 2003 of a multi-million-dollar embezzlement of WMO funds by an employee who subsequently disappeared.)
According to the more recent report, the WMO still has a lot of changing to do — starting with the agency's far-flung regional offices, which the WMO touts as key units in the climate change struggle, especially in helping the world's poorest people. But in the report, the regional offices are described as being of "questionable" value, and the organization's plans to bolster its scientific programs in poor countries are said to be based on "ad hoc demands" rather than carefully examined needs.
Moreover, the report says, "there is no systematic, regular reporting by the offices in the regions to headquarters regarding their activities, achievements, performance or lessons learned." The JIU inspector declared it "imperative" that the WMO get better reporting from its local offices.
Similar quality-control problems apparently infect the WMO's Geneva head office, where, the report dryly notes, "a results-oriented culture is lacking among staff." Among other things, the report notes that WMO "suffers from the lack of a set of internal procedures, guidelines and instructions regarding work processes, departmental responsibilities and workflow" — administrative lapses that were "particularly the case in the budget preparation process."
In a survey done by the JIU inspector, more than 58 percent of the WMO's staff found the level of coordination and cooperation in their organization "inadequate." (And elsewhere, the report notes, "it is a cause for concern that 30% of staff had seen conduct in recent months that they thought violated the WMO Code of Ethics.")
While the WMO has unveiled a 2008-2011 strategic plan that envisages new levels of international coordination in "monitoring, assessing and forecasting weather, air quality, climate, oceanic conditions, the global water cycle, and hydro-meteorological hazards," the inspection report declares that the U.N.'s own forecast on how to get to that level of achievement is disturbingly hazy. (Among other things, the WMO has declared its intention to "modernize" the meteorological infrastructure in at least 40 countries its four-year plan, "with a particular focus on developing countries.")
As the document puts it, there is not "a sufficiently clear or measurable link" between the goals of the WMO plan and the way that the organization's top bureaucrats propose to achieve them.
When it comes to spending, the WMO's murky situation is even worse. According to the inspection report, the organization's supreme legislative Congress, which meets every four years, does not approve formal budgets, only four-year maximum spending caps.
Budgets are instead approved by a 36-member WMO Executive Council — but only for two out of every four years of the organization's financial cycle. For the first two years after the quadrennial legislative meeting, the Executive Council approves only "a short list of appropriations." The ostensible reason: the council session comes too soon after the legislative Congress meeting for such detailed work to be done.
With other U.N. organizations, the report notes, a four-year gap between legislative Congress sessions has been discovered to be "an impediment to effective decision-making," but the WMO apparently saw no immediate need to change its ways. The inspection report delicately suggests that the WMO's members "should consider the issue in the future."
But that appears to be only the beginning of WMO's budgetary strangeness. Thereafter, the report declares, many WMO budgetary spending decisions covering up to 3 percent of the four-year total are approved, if at all, by the organization's president — the elected head of the Congress — only after the actions have been taken.
That procedure is described by the report as "useless." Moreover, the delayed approval procedure "gives cause for concern that there can be significant deviations from the approved program and budget without the knowledge or consent of the Executive Council."
But even the full knowledge and consent of that council about some WMO activities doesn't remove all of the inspector's disquiet. The report notes that as part of its 2008-2011 strategic plan, the WMO and its various regional and technical subsidiaries intend to hold no fewer than 366 meetings of various sizes and scopes around the globe, or more than 80 per year. The JIU inspector, says the report, "has concerns related to the number of meetings and their productivity." He suggested "as a matter of priority" that the WMO cut back on meetings, "releasing resources for programming."
It is precisely for its programming — in global and regional climate prediction, natural disaster risk reduction, water resource monitoring and ostensibly definitive statements about the health of the earth's atmosphere — that WMO is now claiming a central role for itself in the U.N.'s anti-"climate change" crusade, which is emerging as the world body's most far-reaching attempt at international regulation.
Through programs like its Global Atmosphere Watch, World Hydrological cycle Observing system, Climate Variability and Predictability Project, and its WMO Space Program (using European Union weather satellites), and a welter of new partnerships around the world, the organization has positioned itself as the central monitor of climate change, and the source of most hard climatic information about its hazards.
In its latest ambitious plans, the organization wants to push further into micro-climate observation and prediction, with more immediate implications for agriculture, disaster-warning services, and public health campaigns against scourges such as malaria — and for global public and private profit.
WMO did not respond to a series of questions from FOX News regarding its future programs, sent on the eve of the Poznan meeting.
Most of WMO's scientific work is carried out by scientifically dominant national organizations, like the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which join together as WMO's 188 members. (As the JIU report notes, however, the member associations sit in the legislative Congress as representatives of WMO, rather than of their home nations, a situation the report describes as "not in line with the practice of most United Nations specialized agencies," and suggests "should be changed accordingly.")
But WMO also sees its mission as "capacity building," or adding expertise and technology to less developed nations, with the aim of developing full-scale WMO Regional Climate Centers that will offer highly specific predictions and push the broader U.N. agenda of greenhouse gas control and other "sustainability" measures, including more precise information for the world's poorest farmers.
As the WMO opaquely puts it in one of its many public relations brochures, as nations in the wake of the Kyoto Accord "increasingly embrace the need to develop effective adaptation policies, the importance of high quality, long-term climate observations, at all scales, for adaptation needs has become obvious."
Less obvious is the fact that WMO programming is also being used to create the elements of a number of potentially huge and lucrative climate-based financial service industries.
In one hefty promotional document, WMO extols the possibility of new weather insurance products, based on finely-tuned WMO data, that could ease financial credit for developing world farmers and also expand the world weather reinsurance market. Pilot projects for such schemes have been established, the brochure says, in Thailand, Nicaragua and Vietnam, among other locales.
The same document extols "tailored climate information" that can "help enhance exploitation of sustainable natural sources such as wind and solar energy, biomass and hydraulic energy." It also hails the "development of new financial instruments for hedging weather risk, as well as advances in forecasting (so-called climate derivative products)" which will benefit energy producers and consumers. "It is most important to generate and sustain an effective partnership between the energy sector and the meteorological community," the document asserts.
Such world-shaping plans are the essence of WMO's soaring ambitions — and the subject of the vast and sprawling conference at Poznan, which is preparing the way for a new environmental accord that is expected to emerge from a meeting next year in Copenhagen.
The question raised by the JIU report on WMO's inadequacies is whether, in reality, the WMO's administrative expertise is really up to the job it seeks to do — or may itself be based on atmospherics.
George Russell is executive editor of FOX News.