International Conventions and IGOS
Discussion Document
Second Meeting of the CEOS IGOS Strategic Implementation Team (SIT)
15 September 1997
Oxford, UK, 29-30 September 1997

1. Introduction

Governments are primarily concerned with national needs but there is an increasing realization that many of the relevant issues transcend political boundaries and are, in fact, global by nature. Typical examples are environmental protection, natural resource consumption, sustainable development and climate change. This realization has resulted in increased political and legal obligations on governments, national and regional agencies to address Earth system topics of global concern. These obligations are often encapsulated within international treaties, whose signatories have explicit requirements placed upon them. Many of these treaties call for systematic observations of the Earth to increase our understanding of its processes and our ability to monitor them.

While IGOS is not primarily driven by the information needs related to such political protocols and conventions, they should be duly taken into account in its definition. The present document aims at identifying the main requirements related to Earth Observation encapsulated by key international agreements. It builds on a related study funded by EC and on recent EC analyses on environmental obligations of the European Union and the related potential applications of remote sensing.

2. Key International Agreements and their Requirements for Observing Earth

2.1 Agreements related to Atmosphere and Climate

1997 Communique of G8 Denver Summit

Paragraph 18 of the Communique states:

We stress the importance of setting up an appropriate mechanism for monitoring and ensuring compliance among Parties. We also agree to work together to enhance international efforts to further develop global systems for monitoring climate change and other environmental trends.

Agenda 21 and the UN Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED)

Agenda 21 requires a range of actions to support a comprehensive climate observing system, including closer cooperation in systematic observation of the oceans, and greater use of new techniques of data collection, including satellite-based remote sensing.

- Chapter 9 (Protecting the Atmosphere), Section A: this includes calls to support a comprehensive climate observing system;

- Chapter 12 (Combating Desertification and Drought), Section A: includes calls for more research and observation, including the strengthening of national and regional hydrological and meteorological networks and monitoring systems;

- Chapter 17 (Protecting and Managing the Oceans): this includes calls for closer cooperation in systematic observation of the oceans, including standardization of techniques and data management to facilitate data archiving and exchange;

- Chapter 31 (The Scientific and Technological Community):
* Basis for action (31.2): The scientific and technological community and policy makers should increase their interaction in order to implement strategies for sustainable development on the basis of the best available knowledge. This implies that decision makers should provide the necessary framework for rigorous research and for full and open communication of the findings of the scientific and technological community, and develop with it ways in which research results and the concerns stemming from the findings can be communicated to decision-making bodies so as to better link scientific and technical knowledge with strategic policy and programme formulation...@
* Activities (31.4): Governments should undertake the following activities: ... (e) To improve and strengthen programmes for disseminating research results of universities and research institutions...This requires full and open sharing of data and information among scientists and decision makers;

- Chapter 35 (Science for Sustainable Development):
* (35.22) The following activities should be undertaken:
(c) Develop and expand national scientific and technological databases, processing data in unified formats and systems, and allowing full and open access to the depository libraries of regional scientific and technological information networks. Promote submission of scientific and technological information and databases to global or regional data centers and network systems.
(e) Develop, strengthen and forge new partnerships among national, regional and global capacities to promote the full and open exchange of scientific and technological data and information and to facilitate technical assistance related to environmentally sound and sustainable development. This should be done through the development of mechanisms for the sharing of basic research, data and information, and the improvement and development of international networks and centers, including regional linking with national scientific databases, for research, training and monitoring...

- Chapter 40 (Information for Decision Makers): this points out that "countries should make use of new techniques of data collection, including satellite based remote sensing" and, in the context of better coordination of information, that "large quantities of data from satellite sources will need to be processed in the future."

The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC)

The FCCC provides a framework for future agreement and action to achieve ".. stabilization of greenhouse gases at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."

- Article 4, paragraph 1h states that all parties shall: Promote and cooperate in the full, open and prompt exchange of relevant scientific, technological, technical, socio-economic and legal information related to the climate system and climate change, and to the economic and social consequences of various response strategies.

- Article 5, paragraphs a-c: expands on the above commitment in Article 4 and commits parties to support and further develop, as appropriate, international and intergovernmental programmes and networks or organizations aimed at defining, conducting, assessing and financing research, data collection and systematic observation, taking account of the need to minimize the duplication of effort.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the ozone layer (Montreal Protocol), and the 1985 Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer (Vienna Convention)

The Montreal Protocol sets out specific legal obligations in the form of timetables for the progressive reduction and/or elimination of the production and consumption of certain ozone-depleting substances. The obligations are in terms of imports and exports of controlled substances, however reliable measurements are implicitly addressed.

- Article 6: refers to the assessment of the control measures on the basis of available scientific, environmental, technical and economic information. It is therefore implicit that these assessments should be based, inter alia, on reliable measurements of the ozone layer.

According to Articles 2 and 3 of the Vienna Convention the parties are obliged to undertake systematic observations, research and information exchange in order to better understand and assess the effects of human activities on the ozone layer and the effects on human health and the environment from modification of the ozone layer.

The 1970 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)

The objective of the LRTAP is to reduce and control the transboundary transfer of emissions (Article 2). To achieve this objective it is inter alia necessary to measure the emission and concentration of air pollution.

2.2 Agreements related to Marine Environment and Watercourses

The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

UNCLOS contains provisions on the protection of the marine environment.

- Article 210 requires states to adopt laws and regulations, and establish global and regional rules, standards and practices to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment by dumping.

- Article 211 requires states to establish international rules and standards to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from vessels, and promote the adoption of routing systems designed to minimize the threat of accident.

The 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes

The objective of this Convention is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of human use of transboundary waters. It includes a general obligation on parties to take all appropriate measures to prevent, control and reduce any transboundary input, which is defined as Aany significant adverse effect on the environment resulting from a change in the conditions of transboundary waters caused by human activity@.

2.3 Agreements related to Desertification

The 1994 UN Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa (Desertification Convention)

The Desertification Convention aims to combat Desertification and to mitigate the effects of drought through the establishment of long term integrated strategies, an important element of which are national action programmes.

- Article 10, paragraph 4: national action programmes should include some or all of the following priority fields: strengthening of capabilities for assessment and systematic observation, including meteorological and hydrological services, and capacity building, education and public awareness.

- Article 16, Information collection, analysis and exchange, states: The Parties integrate and coordinate the collection, analysis and exchange of relevant short term and long term data and information to ensure systematic observation of land degradation in affected areas and to understand better and assess the processes and effects of drought and desertification. This would help accomplish, inter alia, early warning and advance planning for periods of adverse climatic variation in a form suited for practical application by users at all levels, including especially local populations. To this end, they shall, as appropriate: (f) exchange and make fully, openly and promptly available information from all publicly available sources relevant to combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought;

2.4 Agreements related to Conservation of Ecosystems

The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (Biodiversity Convention)

The Biodiversity Convention calls for national action for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity (Article 6) and sets out possible measures for conserving ecosystems, habitats and species (Articles 8 and 9). These obligations imply the observation of changes in the environment.

- Article 14, Impact Assessment and Minimizing Adverse Impacts, states:
1. Each Contracting Party, as far as possible and as appropriate, shall: c) Promote, on the basis of reciprocity, notification, exchange of information and consultation on activities under their jurisdiction or control which are likely to significantly affect adversely the biological diversity of other States or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, by encouraging the conclusion of bilateral, regional or multilateral arrangements, as appropriate;

- Article 17, Exchange of Information, states:
1. The Contracting Parties shall facilitate the exchange of information, from all publicly available sources, relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking into account the special needs of developing countries.
2. Such exchange of information shall include exchange of results of technical, scientific and socio-economic research, as well as information on training and surveying programmes, specialized knowledge, indigenous and traditional knowledge as such and in combination with the technologies referred to in Article 16, paragraph 1. It shall also, where feasible, include repatriation of information.

The 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

The objectives of this convention are the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources which involves the observation of their natural environment.

The 1971 Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention)

Two principal tasks can be derived from this convention, i.e. the monitoring of wetlands, incl. changes of its state, and the inventory of important wetlands.

3. Potential Contributions of IGOS

The themes and parameters addressed in the above international agreements to which IGOS could contribute through the provision of required information include:

Climate and Atmosphere
- input data to the models used to study physical and dynamic processes of heat distribution vertically and horizontally in the atmosphere and the oceans, i.e.
   * temperature profiles
   * cloud cover and vertical distribution,
   * radiation budget
   * ocean currents and related phenomena (e.g. El Nino)
   * winds
- greenhouse gases measurements
- ozone measurements
- status and evolution of deforestation
- air pollution (emission sources and concentration)

Marine Environment and Watercourses
- sea surface temperature
- detection and measurement of waste dumps and discharges from sea-based sources
- detection and measurement of waste dumps and discharges from land-based sources (into rivers and sea)
- mapping of transported pollution
- oil slick detection and movement

- land cover mapping
- vegetation indices/biomass change
- soil moisture measurements

Conservation of Ecosystems
- land cover/use type and related changes
- type, state and evolution of vegetation
- humidity measurement/estimation

4. A possible Way Forward

The potential contributions of an IGOS to the verification of international agreements are facing the following boundary constraints:

a) International treaties are usually worded in a very general way and tend to have clauses stating qualitative objectives rather than quantitative targets/measures. Of all of the above agreements, the FCCC is something of an anomaly in that parties (or at least developed country parties) are required to take measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions and protect greenhouse gas sinks, with the aim of returning individually or jointly to their 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000. However, there is no commitment by the parties to make measurements of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations - the commitment is to keep inventories of fossil fuel emissions (e.g. power stations, number of cars etc).

b) Many governments are not in favor of the idea of verification of their obligations under a treaty by a third party. Almost all treaties rely on so-called "national reporting". In these reports (which are usually not mandatory) a party effectively produces a written self-assessment once per year. Some treaties (such as the FCCC and the Montreal protocol) do allow for a party to utilize data on another party to "encourage" compliance - but there is no implication that parties can easily be forced to carry out certain actions.

The principal route by which greater usage of both, space-based and in-situ data, provided through an IGOS might occur in the short term is in relation to periodic national reports which parties have to produce for most environmental treaties. Such reports could utilize data provided through an IGOS for a number of purposes:

- as direct proof (or as corroborating evidence) that the party is meeting or moving towards its specific obligations;

- indirectly in a self-assessment of the party=s general environmental performance;

- where appropriate, to provide information on another party (e.g. utilizing the wide area coverage inherent to space-based E.O. data);

- to provide early warning of potential environmental hazards (e.g. the onset of desertification).

In this context, the space-based component of an IGOS has many attractive features:

- It is non-intrusive, allowing collection of data to take place without compromising national sovereignty in the way that e.g. airborne remote sensing would.

- It is objective in that quantitative measurements can be made by sensors whose properties may be defined and calibrated.

- It is uniform in that the same sensor may be used at many different places in the world (some of which are inaccessible, making in-situ measurements infeasible).

- It inherently provides a wide area capability, offering a synoptic view of areas and phenomena through an overall approach which is independent of any conventional point measurements and historical data archives exist which can be used to build-up long time series of data.

5. Conclusions

IGOS, while not being primarily driven by the observational requirements encapsulated by international agreements, could make important contributions to their verification. Herein, the principal usage of both, space-based and in-situ data, provided through an IGOS could occur in the short term in relation to periodic national reports which parties have to produce for most environmental treaties.

IGOS Homepage  Earthwatch Homepage

Maintained for IGOS by UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination, UNEP Geneva