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UN weather agency chooses next chief to lead climate change fight

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — The World Meteorological Organization, which plays a critical global role in tracking climate change, chooses a new leader this week to turbocharge that work over the next four years.

The Geneva-based WMO’s role in climate change has become increasingly prominent and the new secretary-general will likely become a well-known advocate on this pressing world issue.

Four senior figures from within the WMO have put themselves forward for Thursday’s vote, including two seeking to become the first woman to run the United Nations agency for weather, water and the climate.

One is the WMO’s current number two, the Russian-Swiss deputy secretary-general Elena Manaenkova; the other is first vice-president Celeste Saulo, the director of the Argentinian National Meteorological Service.

They are up against the WMO number three, assistant secretary-general Zhang Wenjian, as Beijing seeks to increase the number of Chinese running UN agencies; and second vice-president Albert Martis of Curacao.

The current secretary-general, Finland’s Petteri Taalas, is nearing the end of his second four-year term, and cannot stand for re-election.

Ramping up climate response

The election will round off the World Meteorological Congress, the general assembly of WMO’s 193 member states and territories, which takes place every four years.

“The priority of this congress is to ramp up the WMO response to climate change, to do more to boost help for countries on climate adaptation,” spokeswoman Clare Nullis told reporters on Tuesday.

“We cannot stop the weather becoming more extreme but we can save lives.”

The UN’s WMO brings together international efforts in monitoring greenhouse gases, sea levels, temperatures, glacier melting and other climate change indicators.

The congress, which opened on 22 May and closes on Friday, voted to make the cryosphere a top priority, given the increasing impacts of melting sea ice, glaciers and permafrost on sea level rise.

It also approved a new initiative aimed to boost global greenhouse gas monitoring through an integrated system of space- and surface-based observations.

And it is expected to back a plan to ensure everyone on the planet is covered by early warning systems for hazardous weather events by the end of 2027.

But the responsibility to implement these plans will fall to the new secretary-general, who will take over on 1 January 2024.

Two-thirds majority needed

All four candidates gave speeches to the congress on Saturday, with Saulo receiving a particularly strong reception.

Sources said she and Zhang appeared to be making the early running.

Saulo, 59, has headed Argentina’s weather agency since 2014. She is the first woman to serve as the first vice-president of the WMO.

Saulo said in her resume applying for the job that she is “passionate about meteorology and addressing the global challenges associated with climate change, natural hazards and the increasing vulnerability of peoples”.

Manaenkova started her career in hydrometeorology in Russia and has spent the last 20 years at the WMO. The 58-year-old was the assistant secretary-general from 2010 to 2016 then moved up to become Taalas’s deputy.

WMO number three Zhang, 67, was the deputy administrator of China’s Meteorological Administration from 2006-2008.

His nomination “demonstrates China’s strong support to WMO and China’s firm commitment to global disaster risk reduction,” Beijing’s mission in Geneva said — noting that China is the second-largest contributor to the WMO’s regular budget, after the United States.

Martis, 57, has headed the Curacao Meteorological Department since 2010.

Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas said Martis had modernised the Caribbean island’s National Meteorological Service by making it more user-centric.


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