The Proposal for a Change in WMO Policy
The free and unrestricted exchange of weather
and climate data and information under the aegis of the WMO has long been a
shining example of global international scientific collaboration, to the mutual
benefit of all participating nations. Studies of weather, its interannual and
interdecadal variability, and its long-term trends are key to understanding
climate and the underlying causes of global change. Such understanding is
essential for making effective policies that address issues of the global
environment. A critical requirement for such research programs is the
acquisition and assimilation of a complete spectrum of meteorological and
hydrological observations, from hourly to multi-annual, with global
geographical coverage at high spatial resolution. Such observations are
necessary for developing and creating the requisite information products.
In order to understand climate processes, it is necessary to document the daily
progression of weather on a global basis. The WMO provides a mechanism for
exchanging global weather observations among its Member nations. Much of these
data are collected for operational purposes, but they are also integral to
climate research. Climate research is thus built scientifically, culturally,
and institutionally upon a foundation provided by the weather services of the
world. All participating nations, whether or not they maintain vigorous
climate research programs, have an abiding interest in the equitable and
effective access to raw and processed data, information, and climate and
weather-related products. Developing countries rely on these products for
building scientific expertise on environmental issues. Access to the products
has been facilitated by the free and unrestricted exchange policy advocated by
the WMO (see Attachment 2).
There is now a proposal before the WMO Congress from its working group on
commercialization to replace the present principle of free and unrestricted
exchange of meteorological and related data and information with a two-tiered
data exchange system (WMO, 1994). Tier 1 would include a minimum list of types
of data, information, and products that are available for free and unrestricted
exchange, plus any data that originating countries so designate (Attachment 2).
Tier 2 would include all remaining data; these are subject to restrictions to
prevent their use for commercial purpose other than by the originating Member.
An analysis of the reasoning behind the proposed change is given in White
(1994). According to a representative of a proponent Member nation, "...such a
Resolution is required in order to ensure the harmonious co-existence within
the framework of WMO of Meteorological or Hydrometeorological Services (NMSs)
and the private sector in countries with different general policies about the
funding of the infrastructure, on which all operational and research
meteorology, hydrology and related environmental services depend. Currently,
certain factors arising from these general policies are seriously affecting
some NMSs and are leading to the breakdown of data and product exchange under
WMO auspices" (Hunt, 1994). The intent of the resolution is to exempt data,
information, and products for research and education programs (WMO, 1994).
In spite of this disclaimer, the CGED feels for reasons listed below that a
change to a two-tiered system will result in restricted access to and
degradation of data, information, and products that are crucial to global
- Since the data and information exchanged through the WMO
are used for both scientific and commercial purposes, there is no satisfactory
way to divide the data into categories with different restrictions.
Governments must therefore determine whether their interests in
commercialization undermine their goals of understanding and monitoring the
- Individual countries have considerable freedom to decide what data and
information are placed in Tier 1 (i.e., unrestricted) The aggregation of
complete global data sets requires that all Member nations exercise this
freedom in a similar manner. Given the motivation toward commercialization, it
is likely that for purposes of scientific research, Tier 1 will be incomplete.
According to Annex 2 to draft Resolution 11.4, there is no requirement that
climatological data, high-resolution satellite data and products, and global
model products are placed in Tier 1 (Attachment 3, paragraphs 3, 4, and 7).
Even if Tier 1 were to include all data and information traditionally regarded
as "climate," that would not be sufficient for implementing global programs
like the World Climate Research Program and the International
- Publication of Tier 2 (i.e., restricted) data constitutes re-export
under the terms of the proposal. According to Annex 2, paragraph 10 of the
WMO proposal, "The new practice introduces no restrictions on access to, or
re-export of, Tier 1 and Tier 2 data and products for research and education
programmes having non-commercial purposes." Nevertheless, the nature of
restrictions on Tier 2 data and information prevent publication of such data as
the basis of a scientific conclusion (see Attachment 3, paragraphs 12, 13, and
15a). Dependence on proprietary data that cannot be subject to public scrutiny
destroys credibility in science.
- Under the same provision, such data and information cannot be
made available to scientists in other countries; their aggregation into global
data sets is prohibited. There is no credible mechanism that allows
effective data sharing among scientists for research and educational purposes
but precludes its use for commercial purposes.
- The scientific community and data centers would have to enforce
proprietary restrictions on the further distribution of Tier 2 data (see
Attachment 3, paragraphs 22 and 23). In particular, the World Data
Centers, which hold only unrestricted data, would be unable to exchange any
Tier 2 data, and thus could not function as a primary means of data exchange
for global environmental programs.
- Restrictions on access to WMO-exchanged satellite data will make
it more difficult to prevent unacceptable gaps in the climate record.
Since satellite data and products can be placed in Tier 2 (Appendix 3,
paragraph 4), there is no guarantee that the raw data will be scrutinized by
the scientific user community in sufficient time to detect any degradation in
data quality. Environmental research and monitoring require uninterrupted,
high-quality time series data and information.
- It is difficult to imagine a commercially-driven system that does
not raise the cost to the scientific user community. With limited research
budgets, the apparent price to the user has considerable impact on which data
sets and products are actually utilized for research. This impact is likely to
be greatest for education and small research programs, particularly in
The pressing need to understand and monitor the environment has made it more
important than ever for scientists to have increased access to relevant data,
information, and products. WMO draft resolution 11.4 (Cg-XII) would have the
opposite effect, and would set a damaging precedent for other international
agreements. It is thus incumbent on the United States to take all actions
necessary to foster the principle of full and open exchange.
1. It is the understanding of the CGED that the terms "full and open exchange"and "free and unrestricted exchange" are effectively equivalent (see Attachment 2).
2. NMSs are the hydrometeorological organizations in various countries; they are
presumed to represent their governments in forming and implementing WMO
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