Opening of the UN-SPIDER+10 Conference

"Enhancing the resilience of nations through the use of space-based information"

Vienna, 7 June 2016 


Dear colleagues and friends,

UN-SPIDER…one UN acronym that you hear once and remember! And for many who have worked with the team in technical visits, training programmes, and expert meetings, a name they are proud to be associated with. In ten years UN-SPIDER has become a flagship of the Office for Outer Space Affairs with a series of achievements that clearly demonstrate that space technology does bring benefits to society. And this is in fact the very mandate of the Office given by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2006: ensure that all countries have access to space technology so they reduce their vulnerability to hazards, so they develop the autonomy to prepare and respond to those hazards before they bring too many casualties and destroy livelihoods, often of populations that are already in dire situations.

The approach of UN-SPIDER - combining capacity building and knowledge management and providing a forum for providers and users of space technology products - is in fact unique within the United Nations system, certainly within entities of the United Nations Secretariat. This unique feature of the platform has in fact taken root in the conviction of a few Member States of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) that the space community was able to work together towards reducing risks. This vision was energetically adopted from the start by the SPIDER team, made up of professionals from a variety of different backgrounds and expertise. It is a small team but SPIDER was able to build a solid webof partners and an essential network of regional support offices, now of 20 entities worldwide.

From the beginning, the platform was a precursor in the promotion of applying space-based technology and applications to the full cycle of disaster management, with the understanding that bringing those applications into better planning would bring more benefits than only investing in response. This is now embedded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in the associated set of global and national goals on disaster risk reduction and on targets to adapt to a changing climate.

Obviously, the 2030 Agenda is a guiding light, not only for UNOOSA's mandate, but also for the future of space governance that COPUOS is preparing for. In that context, in 2018, COPUOS will hold UNISPACE+50 during its session, which will commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. UNISPACE+50 will consider the current status and chart the future role of the Committee and of UNOOSA at a time when actors, both governmental and non-governmental, are increasingly getting involved in ventures to explore space and carry out space activities. Of direct relevance to UN-SPIDER towards 2030 is the prioritization by COPUOS to create an international framework for space weather services, to strengthen space cooperation for global health, to facilitate international cooperation towards low-emission and resilient societies, and to build a strategy for capacity-building for the 21st Century. This needs to guide your discussion this week and in the following months to make UN-SPIDER an even more relevant instrument.

Dear colleagues,

You will hear today and tomorrow of achievements, constraints, new projects and more; so I will give you my own perspective and share with you some of my expectations for the programme. I hope you will find these useful for your discussions.

1)      The mandate given to the Office for Outer Space Affairs in implementing UN-SPIDER is much broader than Earth observation alone. This is still a gap in our actions that we need to correct. Developing integrated applications of Earth observation and global navigation satellite systems, and taking advantage of the constellations of satellites we foresee, is a must that, as a community, you must look into seriously. The mandate is also broader than preparing and responding to natural hazards; the programme must start developing knowledge and actions to reduce the vulnerability to human-made disasters, and critically, to cascading disasters that we see too often, for example between earthquakes and landslides.

2)      The programme is fragile. The Office and the current donors repeatedly call on other Member States to support the programme both financially and technically. However, after 10 years we still depend on the support of the original three governments of Austria, China and Germany. I am extremely thankful to them for their continuous support but the funding base must be consolidated through a shared effort.

3)      20 members now form the network of regional support offices. The combined capacity is broad, both technically and geographically. But contributions are uneven and consolidation is necessary.

4)      With the 2030 Agenda, the Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement, the global context is suddenly different and creates expectations, many of which are hard to answer. Space technologies also have evolved in a fantastic manner in the last few years and the means to collect, analyse and disseminate knowledge are changing. The knowledge management and capacity building efforts of this programme must both adapt to and take advantage of those changes.

5)      The programme must continue to contribute to various international mechanisms, such as the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters", but must lobby to make those more in line with the needs of developing countries and help facilitate their inter-coordination.

UNISPACE+50 has to become the framework for UN-SPIDER from today. COPUOS will take major steps this week and next here in Vienna. UN-SPIDER must align itself to the process, working towards acquiring more resources, building long-lasting global and regional partnerships, and increasing its relevance, its presence. I trust you will continue contributing to our efforts as we share the same goals, not only in developing the tools even more, but in finding ways to make them an integral part of decision-making, allowing communities, families and individuals to develop to the maximum of their potential.

This meeting is a new starting point. Thank you for being here and I wish you all a fruitful and constructive meeting.

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