22 July 1999

A/CONF.184/C.1/L.4, 22 July 1999
Vienna, 19-30 July 1999

Committee I; Agenda item 7: Status of the scientific knowledge of Earth and its environment

Technical Forum

Conclusions and proposals of the International Forum
on the Integrated Global Observing Strategy:
Into the Next Millennium

1. The Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) Partnership, established in 1998, links the major satellite- and surface-based systems for global environmental observations of the atmosphere, oceans, land and biota. IGOS is a strategic planning process, involving many partners, that combines research, long-term monitoring and operational programmes, as well as data producers and users, in a framework that delivers maximum benefit and effectiveness. It recognizes that data collection must be user-driven, leading to information products that increase scientific understanding and guide early warning, policy-setting and decision-making for sustainable development and environmental protection.

2. The complex global observing activities needed to understand and monitor Earth processes and to assess the impact of human activity require integration and cooperation at many levels. Such cooperation is imperative because of the impossibility for any single nation to equip itself to carry out all its necessary observations either because of the costs involved in space observations or the complexity of the logistic of many in situ observations. The need for collaboration between data providers also arises from the fact that contemporary data products often require the combination of multiple observations from multiple sources.

3. IGOS provides both a strategic framework and a planning process to bring together remotely sensed and in situ observations, from both research and operational programmes. Major thrusts of IGOS as it proceeds will include strengthening space-based and in situ linkages to improve the balance between satellite remote sensing and ground- or ocean-based observing programmes; encouraging the transition from research to operational environmental observations within appropriate institutional structures; improving data policies and facilitating data access and exchange; stimulating better archiving of and access to data to build the long-term time series necessary to monitor environmental change; and increasing attention to harmonization, quality assurance and calibration and validation so that data can be used more effectively. IGOS encourages the use of modular approaches to strategies for specific components or processes that need to be integrated and thematic approaches to particular categories or cross-cutting themes of observations such as oceans, disaster management and carbon storage and cycling.

4. Most environmental observations come from national activities, carried out by national Governments through agencies, ministries and research programmes, and their commitment is essential to the effective implementation of IGOS. The IGOS process promotes awareness of the benefits arising from integrated global observations in contributing to meeting the political objectives that have been set to improve the way the Earth is understood and managed. Moreover, IGOS can make a significant contribution to assisting national Governments and international organizations in implementing the international environmental conventions through both improved data and information access and quality of observations.

5. The Integrated Global Observing Strategy is implemented through an IGOS Partnership, including the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS); the World Climate Research Programme and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme; the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research; the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the International Council for Science; UNESCO; the United Nations Environment Programme; and the World Meteorological Organization; as well as the Global Climate Observing System; the Global Ocean Observing System; and the Global Terrestrial Observing System. The Partnership provides a continuing mechanism to oversee the IGOS process, with meetings arranged among the partners twice a year in association with the plenary sessions of CEOS and meetings of the Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems. New partners willing to contribute to the implementation of IGOS can be added.

6. Participants in the Technical Forum on IGOS were briefed on the status of the development of IGOS and the creation of the IGOS Partnership. Participants underscored the relevance of IGOS to many of the themes of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) and encouraged the continued implementation of IGOS. In particular, support was voiced for the role of IGOS in:

 (a) Enhancing international cooperation in general and between data providers, users and policy makers in particular;

 (b) Promoting more effective means of using space-based data in addressing practical problems and environmental issues of local, regional and global significance;

 (c) Capacity-building in the area of Earth observation and global environmental monitoring, especially in developing countries.

7. The main recommendations of the Forum are as follows:

  (a) The efforts of the IGOS Partnership to achieve a coherent articulation of the requirements for data from Earth observing systems and to stimulate the coordinated development and integration of remote sensing and in situ data collection systems should be supported. This is an essential process to combine current and planned space capabilities with those on the ground and in the oceans, and should involve international bodies and national agencies and organizations, including industry;

 (b) The rapid improvement in the quality, frequency and resolution of satellite data acquisition must be matched by a comparable strengthening of the complementary surface observation and ground "truthing" activities;

 (c) The reinforcement of a full range of data collection programmes and of the institutional structures for processing, archiving, integrating and assessing environmental data from all sources is essential to build the reliable long-term time series of data necessary for global change research on critical environmental problems;

 (d) Special attention should be given to strengthening the research, operational, data collection and analysis and application capacities of developing countries to fill critical gaps in global data sets and their utilization to improve local knowledge of changes in and pressures on environmental resources;

 (e) As observing systems for environmental data collection prove their usefulness, Governments should support the transition from research and development programmes to operational environmental observing programmes with appropriate institutional arrangements and budgetary support;

 (f) The systematic assessment of user needs and of the ability of satellite instruments to meet those needs should be continued and extended. Commitments will be needed from space agencies to meet the resulting requirements and also from users to maximize the use of satellite-derived inputs in their modelling and decision-making processes.

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