Press Release

ESA at the World Summit on Sustainable Development

By SpaceRef Editor
August 6, 2002
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The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) is being held in
Johannesburg between 26 August and 4 September. ESA will be present at
this important gathering aimed at finding practical responses to the
challenges of improving the lives of all human beings while protecting the


In 1972, with the convening of the UN Conference on the Human Environment,
held in Stockholm, the environment became an international issue.

In June 1992 Brazil hosted the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro at which governments adopted Agenda 21, a global action plan for
sustainable development. The Earth Summit was attended by 50 000 delegates
including 103 Heads of State, 2000 journalists. Agenda 21, containing over
2500 wide-ranging recommendations for action, broke new ground in
integrating environmental, economic and social concerns into a single
policy framework. The concept of sustainable development was born. By
adopting Agenda 21, developed countries, which had benefited immensely
from a wasteful and hazardous path of modernisation, would help developing
countries combat poverty and avoid that same polluting path.

At the next Earth Summit, in 1997, governments agreed on a programme of
action for further implementation of Agenda 21. In December 2000 the UN
General Assembly decided to hold a World Summit on Sustainable Development
in 2002, to reinvigorate at the highest political levels the global
commitment to sustainable development agreed upon ten years earlier in

This year’s World Summit will be held in Johannesburg between 26 August
and 4 September, its main objective being for today’s world leaders to
adopt concrete measures and identify quantifiable targets for better
implementation of Agenda 21.

In addition to governments, the Summit will be attended by representatives
of business and industry, children and youth organisations, farmers,
indigenous people, local authorities, non-governmental organisations,
scientific and technological communities, workers and trade unions.

The role of space in sustainable development

In the words of the UN Secretary General “At its core, Johannesburg is
about the relationship between human society and the natural environment”.
Society demands and deserves more protection against natural and man-made
disasters such as floods, storms, earthquakes, pollution, fires and
explosions. There is increasing concern about the implications of global
warming. All this is linked to environmental security, which is about
controlling diseases, safeguarding the quality of the food we eat and the
water we drink, preventing disasters, anticipating climate change and
managing natural resources.

Space applications contribute to sustainable development by providing
information, measurements and quantifications of natural or artificial
phenomena. ESA satellites of today (ERS-2, Envisat) and the near future
are ideal tools for global surveillance, since they can provide a
continuous, reliable stream of environmental data to monitor the
atmosphere, oceans and landmasses, complementing ground-based data.

Space applications facilitate observation, measurement, surveillance and
communication, and constitute the core of a global environmental
intelligence system capable of modelling, explaining and predicting
planetary developments. Thanks to Earth-observing satellites, for
instance, it becomes possible to save rain forests, protect and manage
agricultural systems, find water and combat desertification.

The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, initiated in 1999
by ESA and the French Space Agency (CNES) and later subscribed by the
Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)
and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is
another positive response from the space community to Agenda 21
recommendations. Through this Charter, international space-based resources
are immediately deployed to monitor natural disasters and for instance
identify both possible and impossible access routes for humanitarian and
relief teams.

Space-based positioning systems like GPS and Europe’s Galileo will soon be
employed to bolster security of aircraft and airport zones, and to provide
a full picture of hazardous goods shipments worldwide.

All these needs are addressed by GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment
and Security). This European initiative is led by ESA and the European
Commission and involves national space agencies, industry and the
scientific community. The objective is to coordinate space programmes and
non-spaceborne Earth observation and environmental observation systems
with national and Commission R&D efforts and the needs of potential users.

ESA is sending a delegation of experts to the Johannesburg Summit. The
concept of the usefulness of space technologies and applications
contributing to sustainable development has been included in the draft
Plan for Implementation to be finalised at the Summit. An exhibition
highlighting the Agency’s main programmes will be located in Ubuntu
Village, at the heart of the Summit venue.

For further information:

ESA Media Relations

Tel. + 331 5369 7713

Fax. + 33 1 5369 7690

For further information on ESA at WSSD

Micheline Tabache, ESA International Relations Department

Tel + 33 1 5369 7304

Fax: + 33 1 5369 7626

SpaceRef staff editor.