We review briefly the needs of climate research for satellite observations of atmospheric and surface properties. We consider in particular the need for observations of the Earth radiation budget and clouds, the fundamental physical constraints on such observations, and the advances both in instrumentation and in data processing methodology. We note how our concepts of the role of clouds and radiation in the climate system have been refined and in some cases revised as a result of the availability of satellite observations. The ongoing (NASA) Earth Radiation Budget Experiment and the (WCRP) International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project have begun to provide new results of considerable importance. Following a description of projects for the near and not-so-near term future, we conclude with recommendations regarding the directions to be taken in planning for the global climate satellite monitoring system of the year 2000.