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Earth observation for us and our planet

The Rio+20 summit on promoting jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable use of our planet's resources closed today after three days of talks. During the summit, the role of Earth observation in sustainable development was highlighted.

In 1992, a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Now, 20 years later, the Rio+20 Summit brought participants from governments, the private sector, non-govermental organisations and other stakeholders once again to Brazil to evaluate the progress being made.

During a side event organised by ESA, the significance of observing Earth from space came into focus, in particular how it improves the assessment and the monitoring of essential climate change, biodiversity and land degradation variables.

Earth-observing satellites allow for efficient, reliable and affordable monitoring of our planet from global to local scales. In many cases, it is the only way to obtain trend information on essential environmental variables.

The large volume of data acquired from over 30 years of satellite observations gives scientists a unique and detailed view of the changing physical characteristics of the Earth surface, sampled at a rate impossible to obtain with only in-situ observations.

The strong contributions that space observations can bring to environmental monitoring have now been recognised by the Rio Convention bodies: the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

ESA began collaborations with these Rio Conventions 10 years ago.

For example, satellite data at national and local scales help the implementation of UNFCCC protocols and assist the Contracting Parties in their reporting duties.

The CBD develops national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Earth-observing satellites are seen as promising instruments for the systematic observations of essential biodiversity variables such as ecosystems status and trends.

The UNCCD is the centrepiece in the international community's efforts to combat desertification and land degradation in drylands. The Convention is currently developing a monitoring and assessment process of the world's drylands, where satellite observations will play a key role.

During the side event, representatives from all three Conventions reiterated that the collection of Earth observation data needs to be sustained.

ESA plans to continue to provide operational data delivery to these Conventions as well as for many other applications with the upcoming Sentinel family of satellites being developed under Europe's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme.

At the conclusion of the summit, the Rio+20 Declaration stressed the need for the continuation of a regular review of the state of Earth's changing environment, as well as access to reliable, relevant and timely data in areas related to sustainable development.

It also recognised the relevance of global mapping and recognise the efforts in developing global environmental observing systems.

Contact: Robert Meisner
European Space Agency

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