The Eye on Earth Abu Dhabi 2011 Summit and Exhibition, a joint initiative of the Government of Abu Dhabi and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), opened today at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. The Summit has convened leaders from the worldwide geospatial data movement to sketch a roadmap for the better integration of the world’s flood of environmental and societal data for the benefit of all, and especially of developing economies.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, the Eye on Earth Abu Dhabi 2011 Summit & Exhibition is hosted by Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), facilitated by Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI) and held in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
At its opening this morning, Monday 12 December, H. E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the Secretary-General of Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, said: “The reason we are all here today (is) safeguarding our environment for our future generations...This Summit is held in recognition that environmental and societal data should be collected in a concerted manner, at its source, made accessible and affordable and should be used to underpin reporting and support decision making in order to achieve sustainable development.”
The Eye on Earth Summit brings together the global leadership of the environmental information movement, a group dedicated to bringing the benefits of better information to people and decision-makers around the planet.
Jack Dangermond, the president of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), told the delegates that the new tools that make it easy for citizens to visualise data on maps are revolutionising the way the world uses and understands information. “Geospatial information will be a new language, a new nervous system for our planet”, he said. A new kind of geospatial infrastructure is emerging that supports conservation, planning, disaster mitigation and education. Perhaps the most revolutionary part of it is the migration of data to the internet “cloud”, which allows citizens to engage with it using nothing more complicated than a standard Internet browser. The challenge is to migrate existing and future data to these open systems, for the greatest benefit of all. “We need to work had at this,” Dangermond said. “We need governance, how we can actually collaborate. We need good people like yourselves, because frankly we don’t have much time”.
That lack of time refers, of course, to our need to learn to mitigate our impact on our planet. “Some claim we live in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene – an age of man,” said Cathrine Jane Armour, Programme Manager of Abu Dhabi Global Data Initiative (AGEDI) and Programme Director of the Eye on Earth Abu Dhabi 2011 Summit. “Everywhere we look, there are signs of human impact. In order to constrain that impact we must have access to environmental and societal data and information.”
The Green Economy that must be built to address poverty and sustainability imperatives demands a new foundation. “It demands a new map of information and data, a new understanding of our world. An understanding that provides for wise and compassionate decision-making, for healthy and prosperous communities,” Armour said.
That foundation is knowledge. While rich world citizens can use their smartphones to look at real-time geographical information, such as traffic congestion or atmospheric pollution, much remains to be done to bring the benefits of geospatial data to all. As Dr. Adel Adbelkader, the Regional Coordinator of UNEP’s West Asia Division of Early Warning and Assessment, said: “Eye on Earth is not just about data, but also about the means to get the necessary information and knowledge to address our problems”.