Eye on Earth (day 1 – morning) – opening and the need for data

wpid-wp-1444123666530.jpgFour years after the first Eye on Earth Summit (see my reflections about the 2011 event here, and the Dublin meeting in 2013 here), the second summit is being held in Abu Dhabi. Eye on Earth is a meeting that is dedicated to the coordination of environmental information sharing at all scales so it can be used for decision making.
The 2015 summit is structured around 3 core themes, with each day focusing on one aspect: data demand, data supply and enabling condition. By its nature, environmental information is geographical, so the meeting include people from different aspects of geographical information production and management – from satellites and remote sensed data to citizen science.
The first day stated with an opening ceremony with a statement that on Earth, people and nature are linked together, for example the link between the Sahara and the Amazon through dust that transfer nutrients. We came to know that through information that is not only coming from big organisations like NASA, but there are many citizen scientists that also report what happen to the dust that does not travel all the way. Integrating all these bits of information bring with it questions about ownership, how it is used and who use it – all these are questions that we are explored in Eye on Earth.
The opening video was conveying messages about the importance of looking after the planet, and noticing the connection between elements of nature. The stresses that it is currently experiencing, and the potential of information and information sharing to make better decisions. Sharing information about society, about one another – “and the earth itself”. Eye on Earth is a network of networks.
H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak opened on behalf of AGEDI, the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative. She provided the context of the development of Eye on Earth from the early stages, and the special initiatives that are done as part of it. AGEDI have been running for 13 years, with a range of initiatives to support  environmental information locally and globally. (I only partially summarised H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak and nothing from H.E. Anwar Gargas because of lack of access to translation).
wpid-wp-1444128314186.jpgAchim Steiner, who head the UNEP explained that Eye on Earth is not just a group of environmental managers and scientists are focusing on – it takes back to the blue marble, which demonstrate the uniqueness and fragility of the planet. The state of the planet in 2015 is worse than 40 years ago, when Apollo 17 took the image – from the atmosphere to biodiversity – the balance-sheet of the planet is pointing in the wrong directions. We have billions of people added to the planet, and there was extraordinary progress – but a deeper sense of discomfort about the responsibility to nature is lacking. We now have millions of way to looking at the planet and understand what is happening. The agenda for sustainable development goals (SDGs) have been adopted few days ago in the UN – and it is now understood that environmental issues cannot be seen as separate from development, and we now have universal goals to create environmental knowledge and expertise with the data that become available. UNEP Live is an attempt to create an open data network and is linked with AGEDI initiatives. The world is frustrated – we can’t describe problems in abstract. Data management is crucial to develop systemic solutions – we live in ecosystems, but also social and economic systems. We can’t talk about a world of 10 billion people without transition to low carbon solutions. We need to deal with equality and justice. There are new markets in pay as you go for off grid solar energy, and range of solutions that will guide us to the future. UNEP shared a video about the pressures that we are experiencing (lose of species, climate change) and the need to act now for people and planet, calling for people to join the discussion at myunea.org
H.E. Rashid Ahmed Mohammed Bin Fahad. – who is the minister responsible for environment and water at UAE. Highlighting the long leadership in Abu Dhabi to environmental issues since its foundations.  Data are very important to evaluate the progress that was achieved since the previous summit, and to understand the progress. Data and environmental information are critical to the UAE, especially due to all the development in the area. The national agenda for 2021 is also aiming to have different ways of accessing and using data. They have the ecoprint in 2007 – partnerships of sharing information and system to achieve for lighting, energy and water. Ecoprint help in reducing the environmental impact in the UAE. The UAE aim to turn the economy green in the coming years, and this is also important for competitiveness. We need to acknowledge the importance of data and information, and we need to bridge the gap between developing and developed country, and we need to have accurate data.
Following the opening, the first plenary session focused on Data Demand which “provide an overview of the key political and societal agreements and ambitions for a transition to a sustainable future. Highlighting the opportunities and challenges we face regarding data, information and knowledge. An increased evidence and knowledge base is required to support policy and decision makers in delivering on these commitments and in tracking progress. Never before has the world had the need for – and access to – so much data and information enhanced through rapidly evolving technologies and multi-stakeholder engagement. Achieving sustainable development is not possible without all of society playing its role. This requires leadership, partnership and accountability from the UN, governments, the private sector and civil society.”
The first presenter was H.E. Mohammed Al Ahbabi who covered UAE space activities. Space is important – for national security and economy, and new race for space with over 60 countries participating. Space capabilities are important for environmental monitoring – earth observations, and this week is the space week. UAE identified space as important activities long time ago – $5.5B investment, from telecommunication to earth observation. UAE set a space agency a year ago, coordinating activities – building capacity and regulating the sector. It also lead on a space mission to Mars – science mission to explore the atmosphere to understand things on Earth. Aiming to launch it in 2020 so it arrive to Mars in 2021 to celebrate 50 years to UAE. UAE aim to have 12 satellite, with valuable information to help protect the environment.
Thani Al Zayoudi – UAE representative to the international renewable energy agency, in the ministry of foreign affairs. Eye on Earth is about the role of UAE in being part of providing data and using it. UAE welcome the SDGs, and they require sharing data at many levels. This is also required for COP21. The UAE is engaged in a process of creating world class national data. They also aim to coordinate environmental data, a full accounting of carbon emissions and more – they aim is to have data to know where they want to go. They have KPI for the UAE which include many environmental goals for 2021.
Naoko Ishii, CEO of Global Environment Facility – who was involved in setting SDG. SDGs recognise that ambitions to developments are limited by planetary boundaries and the need to protect the environment. We need multi stakeholders engagement to address issues. Finally, there is plenty need to access data. We are going to have a special period, that we can get information about the earth from satellite, social media, sensors and many sources. Yet, for those who work in developing countries, there is a gap in capabilities in many governments and communities. The data enhanced GEF projects – knowing more lead for better policy. High resolution data is helpful to planning from disaster preparedness to climate adaptation. There is also more marine data. Reliable timely information can lead to better enforcement of agreed goals and target, as demonstrated in Global Forest Watch. We need to make sure that capacity is build from local to national levels to allow them to use the data. GEF are paying extra attention to augment capabilities – but the challenge is massive and need to address it. GEF aim to improve knowledge management as a goal. Second point: need to promote integrated approaches to help making change. Need analysis to understand how such integrated approaches can become part of policy making. Need multi-stakeholders partnerships – they are enhanced by multiple sources of information. For example, linking commodities flow to forest monitoring. Better informed government, business and citizens can make better decisions that benefit them and the environment. The commitment to SDG can help make it happen.

Mathis Wackernagel (Global Footprint Network) – with resource consumption in China, India and US, what should small countries do? If we assume that resource demand will continue to go on forever? You need to prepare you country to the future. Imagine a boat with a hole, it does not make sense to wait with all the other boat owners to fix their boats. He explained how to calculate ecological footprint, using a global hactre. Over the last 20 years, most of humanity is living in countries that passed their ecological footprint. Every country has it’s own characteristics and aspects. There are differences in footprint and biocapacity. Countries are working with GFN to take efficiency down. They also work with financial institutions. Countries should move to action regardless of the global level of actions. Understand the country resource situation, including trends. Also need to assess trading partners and how they perform. Which product lines will be need more and which less.

Robbie Schingler (planet Labs) – we’re in a sensor revolution, there are new entrants every day, and we need to join forces. going through sensors revolutions – mobile phones, or drones and also projects such as OpenROV for marine environment. Getting to the point ‘transparent planet’ and we can use all this information to understand the world in real time. Space also change: consumer electronics, advances in manufacturing, but access to space is still limited. Planet labs mission is to build large set of satellite and image the whole day every day and provide universal access to the data. They were in a garage when Eye on Earth 2011 happen and that will continue to happen – new people will join in all the time. They create a satellites that is tiny compared to Landsat – and possible to put more in place. They aim to have 100 satellites are in line so they can scan the earth – they have already several dozes in space. Already starting to show changes in places and this can fit into many of the SDGs – about 15 of them. They see their work as part of Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data – data4sdgs.org and there are many organisations that are having a mission at their core. Collaboration and sharing is critical to make it happen.

Pierre-Yves Cousteau (Cousteau) –  talked about the family legacy and the inventiveness of his effort over the years. He highlight the importance of ecosystems services, but there is also aesthetic value in swimming among different creatures. There are many ecosystems services – catching carbon, producing food. The oceans produce huge economic value – there are problems with plastic distribution across the ocean – when we eat fish, we are consuming this plastic. There are also problems from climate change – risks to reefs and corals – and they have ecosystems that are based on them. There are many risks – COP21 does not discuss the ocean enough and that is an issue. The Cousteau divers is a citizen science initiative that use recreational divers to provide information about it. There are marine protected area that help the ocean recover. This also open opportunity to invest in nature. Project Hermes is a project to take the temperature of the ocean properly – not enough information is recorded from satellite. We can get the data from dive computers that give both historical and future information. They secured over 100,000 logs that will be shared in open way.

Interestingly, in this first set of talks, Citizen science was recognised already in three.  “citizen participation and citizen science is the key” was the message that closed the session.

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mukih

Professor of GIScience, University College London

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