Geospatial information: Measuring sustainable development

UN Photo Marco Dormino

Mapping tools have become an important part of our everyday life. A compass has been replaced by a smartphone, a hardcopy map with a detailed satellite image. Apart from simplifying life these new tools also serve a broader purpose, to help increase understanding of the landscape around us and to monitor how our environment is changing.

In recognition of the important role of geospatial mapping, the newly formed United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) is meeting at UN Headquarters for its second session on 13-15 August. With delegates drawn from the fields of surveying, geography, cartography, mapping, remote sensing and environmental protection, the main objectives of the UN Committee is to provide a forum for coordination and dialogue.

The three day expert group meeting covers discussions on future trends in geospatial information management, implications of the Rio+20 conference and development of a knowledge base for geospatial information.

Mr. Wu Hongbo, DESA’s Under-Secretary-General said, “Rio+20 recognized that geospatial information is crucial for both sustainable development and humanitarian assistance. It provides a clear mandate for the future work of the UN Committee of Experts on GGIM. This high-level consensus provides critical momentum. It also reflects ECOSOC’s vision that building effective geospatial infrastructures and promoting greater use of geospatial information are part of a new frontier in harnessing science and technology for advancing sustainable development.” 

The term ‘geospatial information’ describes data on a specific place, collected in real time. Geospatial data support analysis to understand complex situations such as natural disasters, economic trends and ocean level changes. They help with resource assessment and resource management. Geospatial information on water and air quality, forest depletion, eco-system conservation and land degradation gives us a benchmark to analyze progress on sustainable development goals. In short, these maps tell a story.

Ten years ago many key technologies such as social networking, cloud computing, and smart phones did not exist. Technology has helped us to gain a more accurate picture on what sustainable development looks like at a local level. GGIM is in a unique position to act as a coordinating point to ensure all members states benefit from the value of geospatial information.

The committee works to ensure appropriate geospatial information infrastructure at all levels – local, national, regional, and global) – as a basis for accurate description, sound analysis and evidence-based decision making

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