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”Geoinformation for sustainable development”

New York, US: The Second Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (GGIM), held in New York, US, brought together participants from United Nations’ member states and several international organisations. Dr. Vanessa Lawrence, Director General and CEO, Ordnance Survey (OS), opened the second day of the session by presenting a report describing the Committee’s contribution to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

The report summarised the discussions held at the first session of the Committee, in which Member States stressed the need for an appropriate geospatial information infrastructure at all levels (local, national, regional, global).

A background paper titled, “Monitoring Sustainable Development: Contribution of Geospatial Information to the Rio+20 Processes” was presented at the second day of the session. It elaborated on the advance geospatial policies, practices, and technologies since Rio+10, and suggested a central role for UNGGIM in the implementation of the follow-up action plan, which would be determined by the conference.

The paper recommended development of geography as an integrative framework for sustainable development applications, decision support and policy development. It also suggested identifying new and emerging technologies for sustainable development. It proposed involvement of scientific and research community in the development of sustainable science. The paper also proposed creating a ‘network of networks’ by providing a discussion framework for numerous regional and global remote sensing portals. Lastly, it proposed to facilitate cooperation among the major players involved with geospatial information at the global level.

At the end of the conference a comprehensive outcome document entitled, “The future we want”, was adopted, which proposed to give due recognition to reliable geospatial information.

During the open house session, several countries recognised the fact that participation of this kind at Rio+20 highlighted the public acknowledgement of the value of geospatial technologies. Representatives from each country should reach out to their respective governments to raise awareness about the GGIM mission. The member states also recognised the issues like, funding for spatial knowledge, convincing policy makers and capacity development. They also suggested that economic repercussions of geospatial information need to be brought out. Policy makers should realise what would happen if geospatial information was not present.

Global map for sustainable development
The report on, ‘Global Mapping Project’ proposed developing a global map for sustainable development. The global map would serve as a pool of geospatial information where all the information will be gathered to meet the urgent national, regional and global needs for geospatial information. The report highlighted that geospatial information services and platforms have become key contributors to improve policy formulation and enhance monitoring capabilities on sustainable development and other global concerns.

The report highlighted the Committee’s commitment to effectively manage geospatial information globally. It also proposed to establish a global geospatial information platform which provides authoritative and consistent geospatial data. The platform would be built and managed by Member States and operated under the supervision of the Committee. The platform would bring together current projects and prototypes and serve the needs of the global community in the areas of disaster management, humanitarian aid and the monitoring of sustainable development.

During the open session, the member states pointed out that coordination of information for such a large project could be a problem. Secretariat should ensure that data provided is authentic and credible. They also felt the need to have standardised data. They proposed formulation of a committee to work on this initiative. This committee will be chaired by the country which has experience in running such programmes. Due to the budget cuts that National Mapping Agencies around the world are facing, an expansive project like the Global Map should be approached in a modular fashion. They also emphasised that the dynamic and urgent needs of users should be considered while developing the global map. Acknowledging the tedious process, the UN agreed to provide information base for the creation of the global map. The Steering Committee acknowledged that the member states will own their respective maps and update them regularly.

Statement of ethics for global geospatial information
The session stressed on drafting a statement of ethics for the global geospatial information community. The report highlighted that during various intergovernmental discussions, the need for a statement of ethics and a code of conduct for the global geospatial information community has been realised as an important means to enhance the trust placed by the public on geospatial information. Additionally, with the advent of emerging technologies like crowd-sourcing and volunteered information, gaps have been recognised in the legal and institutional frameworks that provide effective regulation or guidance for the capture, use and dissemination of geospatial information. The statement of ethics will aid in filling this gap.

The member states agreed on formulating such a statement, but were divided on the semantics of the terms. It was argued by some to use Statement of Principals rather than Ethics or Code of Conduct. They also said that some states might misconstrue confidentiality to avoid sharing of data, hence it was suggested to reword it as Respecting privacy and confidentiality of data. It was also acknowledged that having a common Statement of Ethics for all nations would not be feasible. Therefore, it was decided to revisit this Statement of Ethics and to report back to the Steering Committee in next meeting.

Status of mapping in the world
Prof. Godfried Konecny, presented a study that is being conducted for the Steering Committee on status of mapping in the world. The presentation summarised the preliminary progress report of the study. The survey-based study was carried out with the support from International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing and involved all national geospatial information authorities in the world. The report sets out the main content of the questionnaire, the status of the responses and the timeline for the completion of data analysis and dissemination. The information collected will eventually be used to develop country profiles, good practices and lessons learned in the dissemination and use of geospatial data.

Development of knowledge base for geospatial information
The third and final day’s agenda began with presentation on report for ‘Development of Knowledge Base for Geospatial Information’. The report indicated that a key function of the Committee is to compile and disseminate the best practices of national, regional and international bodies on issues related to geospatial information management. The report considered creation of a searchable and updated repository, which would utilise the existing resources of the website of the UN GGIM, which is maintained by the Statistics Division secretariat. In addition, the report described the contents of the knowledge base, illustrated by examples of geospatial infrastructure initiatives at the national, regional and global levels, and ways in which the contents will be structured.

The Member States appreciated formulation of a one-stop knowledge base for geospatial information. Being the largest document repository in the world, the UN will provide necessary help for this purpose. It was suggested that the more developed countries could share their knowledge base, software, satellite imageries or offer other such support to the developing nations. It was also recommended that the UN should create a website linking all the different initiatives to this effect as a part of this effort.

Source: Our Correspondent