UN-GGIM calls for the adoption of common standards
Fourth session of the UN-GGIM from 6-8 August 2014 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York
The new Bureau to lead the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) has been elected by the Member States. The election occurred as Ministers and senior leaders from UN Member States and international organizations attended the fourth session of the UN-GGIM from 6-8 August 2014 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The Bureau members span the world of geographical thought, strategy and management. The Co-Chairs have been announced as: Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB from the United Kingdom, Dr Li Pengde from China, Dr Eduardo Sojo from Mexico. The Rapporteur was announced as Mr. Sultan Mohamed Alya from Ethiopia.
Upon re-election for a fourth year, Dr Vanessa Lawrence said “On behalf of the Co-Chairs, we accept our election as a great honour. We will do our best to fulfil our work efficiently and successfully to meet the objectives of UN-GGIM, on behalf of the Member States”.
At the forefront of their deliberations was an effort to set a clear path to enhance sustainable development across the world. One aspect of their work was the recognition of the growing requirement for more accurate measuring of the changing planet, down to millimetres. Such data will have enormous economic benefits since the data impacts on countries’ economies as well as their environments. At the same time, it was recognised that such improved data can only come through enhanced global co-operation.
Location-based services, based on for example the Global Positioning System (GPS), are becoming an expected fundamental requirement in many Member States, along with essentials like power and water. These all depend on a robust Global Geodetic Reference Frame (GGRF) being in place. During the meeting of UNGGIM, a draft Resolution to support the long term sustainability of the GGRF was agreed, and will now pass to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development. The intent is for ECOSOC to then refer the Resolution to the UN General Assembly later in the year.
The Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management also calls for the adoption of common standards so that geospatial data can be seamlessly shared and used around the world. The adoption of standards for all geospatial information is driven by the needs of organisations, institutions and individuals to seamlessly share, integrate and use geospatial data. Standardization is behind the success of structures like the worldwide web and e-commerce.
The benefits of developing and implementing technical standards for geospatial information include uniformity, compatibility and interoperability. Thus millions of processes, devices and applications in all areas of the global economy can work together for the common good.
The absence of such standards has been proven to be harmful, for example in cases associated with disaster management.
The Committee of Experts on UNGGIM recognized the important work done by three international standards development organisations: the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), Technical Committee 211 of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO/TC 211) and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).
Their guide, entitled Guide to the Role of Standards in Geospatial Information Management, lays down in very simple terms, some of the guidelines necessary for the adoption of common standards. The Committee of Experts recognises that different countries are at different stages of the journey towards standardization and so endorses a phased implementation – a structure laid out in the Guide. In addition a paper was tabled, co-authored by Ordnance Survey from the UK perspective and INEGI from the Mexican perspective, which explored how a national mapping authority can benefit from the adoption of international standards.
The Secretariat of the UN-GGIM, in collaboration with the standards organizations, hosted a workshop sidemeeting during the Fourth Session. This meeting briefed Member States on the essential standards, as well as the business value and good practice in adopting them.
The Committee of Experts considered the activities and the documents at their Session. There was considerable support for the documents and delegates proposed that the Guide should be published and promoted to assist Member States with making the case for use of standards. Only by Member States, organisations and institutions working together, through agreed international standards, can geospatial information really become the trusted and accessible resource that the world is increasingly demanding.
The Secretariat of the UN’s Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UNGGIM) has also released two reports which look at different aspects of how geospatial information can contribute to sustainable development in the post- 2015 landscape. These were considered by the fourth session of the Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management in New York this month.
With post-2015 planning being central to the UN’s agenda, consideration of how geospatial data can help with everything from sustainable development to disaster risk reduction, comes at an opportune time.
The important role geospatial information can play in the post-2015 agenda is understood and accepted by everyone in the geospatial community, but the challenge is to ensure this is realised outside that community, so that the benefits can be gained.
Over the last year, Member countries of UN-GGIM reached out to as many UN initiatives, groups and events as possible to enhance the understanding and takeup of geospatial information and the nature of the role it can play. The report gives a simple example. A satellite image may well identify flooded areas. What the image does not show is flood risk. To determine flood risk you need much more data covering aspects like historical flooding, the exposure of everything from people and buildings to infrastructure and their associated vulnerability. All of this contextual information and much more comes from fundamental geospatial data.
To promote this, UN-GGIM was actively involved in the Pacific Small Island Developing States Symposium, the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference and the Chengdu Forum on development and applications in urban hazard mapping. The events strongly concluded that the UN-GGIM had a vital role to play in both sustainable development and disaster risk reduction.
In the case of the event held in Chengdu, China, the importance of geospatial data was reinforced by the event having to be postponed because of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit the region just a few days before the Forum was due to begin. Despite all the valuable work so far, many people at the decisionmaking and policy level still do not fully understand the importance of geospatial information. This is particularly the case when planning for a future of sustainable development, yet the message from Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB, a Co- Chair of UN-GGIM is a simple and consistent one, “You cannot measure and monitor sustainable development over time in a consistent manner, without understanding place and location.”
The message is getting through in some places. Significantly, the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) published their Prototype Global Sustainable Development Report in July this year and it explicitly recognises the potential of data – in this case remotely sensed data and other Big Data approaches – for assessing long term sustainable development progress.