ABU DHABI: “Geospatial information will be a new language, a new nervous system for our planet,” Jack Dangermond, the president of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), told delegates at the Eye on Earth Abu Dhabi 2011 Summit and Exhibition, which opened on Monday.
According to Dangermond, the new tools make it easy for citizens to visualise data on maps that are revolutionising the way the world uses and understands information. He pointed out that a new kind of geospatial infrastructure is emerging that supports conservation, planning, disaster mitigation and education.
The four-day 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.
“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 to a need to learn to mitigate the impact people have on the 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 smart phones 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.”
A key goal of the summit is the adoption of the Eye on Earth Summit Declaration, which will provide input to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, the summit 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 on Monday morning,. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the secretary-general of the EAD 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 Abu Dhabi Exhibition runs alongside the summitis open to the general public, with special tours planned for schools and universities showcasing the very best from around the world in the field of environmental and geospatial data access and analysis.
“Ape Queen” Dr Jane Goodall also shared her passion with the public at the summit on Monday, highlighting what makes her chosen life so exciting.
Goodall happily left her London home in 1960 to go live in a remote nature reserve in Tanganyika (today, Tanzania) to study chimpanzees in the wild.
Starting without the benefit of a college education, she noticed things about the animals that had escaped others: “It isn’t only human beings who have personality, who are capable of rational thought and emotions like joy and sorrow.”
Today, she devotes all her time to helping to defend the world’s dwindling number of wild chimpanzees. She has become a true pop icon.