Press Releases

    GA/SPD/321
    18 October 2005

    Using Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes Can Good Contribute to Implementation of Millennium Declaration, Chairman Says, as Fourth Committee Begins Debate

    He Also Lauds Crucial Role of Space-Based Technology Following Natural Disasters over Past Year

    NEW YORK, 17 October (UN Headquarters) -- Peaceful uses of outer space could contribute significantly towards implementing the Millennium Declaration, as well as the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the World Summit on the Information Society, Yashar Aliyev (Azerbaijan), Chairman of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) said this afternoon, as that body began its general debate on the peaceful uses of outer space.

    He said that space-based technology continued to demonstrate its contribution to achieving better lives for everyone, and had played a crucial role following the many natural disasters that had occurred over the past year.  In all those cases, satellite images had been used to assess the damage and help rescuers focus their efforts on the areas requiring the most urgent help.  Satellite-based communications had also been used extensively to connect the afflicted areas with the outside world, since terrestrial networks had been all but destroyed.

    In order to ensure that the benefits of space technology reached all countries, particularly those of the developing world, international cooperation was crucial, he said.  The United Nations, through the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, should continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring that countries continued to work together to bring the fruits of space activities to people around the world.

    Adigun Ade Abiodun (Nigeria), Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, introduced that body's report and delivered a presentation on the contributions of space science and technology to sustainable-development challenges.  The inability of many societies to undertake sustainable development was rooted in poor-quality data collection, organization and management, and decision makers must recognize that maps and geospatial data were part of a national infrastructure.  In that regard, it was important for countries to have digital terrain models, including adequate cartographic information, archive satellite data, communication infrastructure, timely weather forecasts and global navigation satellite systems.  The leaders of non-space-capable countries should also dispel the notion that space technology was an area reserved exclusively for the industrialized countries.

    Ronald Merrell, an expert on telemedicine from Virginia Commonwealth University, delivered a presentation on telemedicine (the use of information science and telecommunications to support the delivery of care) and e-health for international medical issues.

    Sergio Camacho, Director of the Office of Outer Space Affairs, outlined, during a PowerPoint presentation, the recent progress made by the Scientific and Technical and Legal Subcommittees of the Committee on the Peaceful uses of Outer Space.

    In the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers called for the greater application of space technologies in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and asked why documents on United Nations reform did not address space technology.  There was also a need for greater access to those technologies for countries that did not have them.

    Other speakers included the representatives of Chile, India and Peru.

    The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday 18 October, to continue its general debate.

    Background

    Taking up consideration of peaceful uses of outer space this afternoon, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) had before it the report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (document A/69/20), which summarizes the outcome of its forty-eighth session, held in June in Vienna.  Its Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and Legal Subcommittee met in February and April, respectively.  The Committee's sessions addressed the need to promote international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, taking into particular account the needs of developing countries.

    The Committee noted with satisfaction the General Assembly's agreement that the Committee could consider ways to promote regional and interregional cooperation based on experiences stemming from the Space Conference of the Americas, and the role space technology could play in the implementation of recommendations emerging from the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August to 4 September 2002).  As the Office for Outer Space Affairs had continued to update the list of space-related initiatives and programmes that corresponded to recommendations contained in the World Summit's Plan of Implementation, the Committee agreed that the Office should continue to do so.

    The Committee recommended that, at its forty-ninth session in 2006, it should continue its consideration of the agenda item entitled "Ways and means of maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes", as a priority. 

    The report states that the Committee also considered implementation of the recommendations of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III).  The recommendations continued to be implemented by Member States through national, regional and international efforts and through the work of some of the action teams established by the Committee to that end.  Excellent progress had been made during the preparatory meetings to establish an international committee on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).  The Scientific and Technical subcommittee had agreed that it should focus its discussion on the implementation of:  maximizing the benefits of existing space capabilities for disaster management; maximizing the benefits of the GNSS to support sustainable development; and enhancing capacity-building in space-related activities.

    According to the report, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee reported the results of its deliberations during its forty-second session on the items assigned to it, including the activities of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications.  The priority thematic areas of the Programme were:  use of space technology for disaster management; satellite communications for tele-education and telemedicine applications; monitoring and protection of the environment; management of natural resources; and education and capacity-building, including research areas in basic space sciences and space law.  The Programme was helping developing countries and countries with economies in transition to participate in and benefit from the space activities contained in the recommendations of UNISPACE III.  Other areas that the Subcommittee had addressed included:  matters relating to remote sensing of the Earth by satellite; space debris; use of nuclear power sources in outer space; space-system-based telemedicine; near-Earth objects; space-system-based disaster management support; examination of the geostationary orbit; and support to proclaim the year 2007 International Geophysical and Heliophysical Year. 

    During its forty-fourth session, the Legal Subcommittee reviewed the status and application of five United Nations treaties on outer space, the report says.  It also took up matters regarding the definition and delimitation of outer space and the character of the geostationary orbit, including ways to ensure its equitable use without prejudice to the role of the International Telecommunications Union.  It also considered the possible revision of the "Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space", and examination of the preliminary draft protocol on matters specific to space assets to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment -- opened for signature in Cape Town in 2001.  It further considered practice of States and international organizations in registering space objects.

    In other matters discussed in the report, the Committee agreed that spin-offs from space technology should be promoted because they energized industries and made significant contributions to improving the quality of life of human populations.  Spin-offs were also being used to reduce organic waste and in areas of health care.

    During its consideration of the item "Space and society", the Committee held discussions and presentations on the topic of "Space tools for education and education in space", the report says.  At the global level, a large number of educational activities were being established by space agencies and international organizations to promote awareness of the benefits of space science and technology and to encourage children to consider careers in mathematics and science.

    According to the report, the Committee also took up the agenda item entitled "Space and water", noting that water shortages and floods caused serious problems in developing countries and that space applications could contribute to cost-effective water resource management, as well as to the prediction and mitigation of water-related emergencies.  Space-based data could contribute to confidence-building among States sharing water resources.  Space-based data was also an important element in promoting international cooperation in-water resource development and management.

    Introductory Remarks

    YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), Committee Chairman, said that during the 2005 World Summit, leaders from around the world had recognized that science and technology were vital to the attainment of the development goals.  Space-based technology continued to demonstrate its contribution to achieving better lives for everyone.  Space technology had played a crucial role following many natural disasters that had occurred over the past year.  In all those cases, satellite images had been used to assess the damage and help rescuers focus their efforts on the areas requiring the most urgent help.  Satellite-based communications had also been used extensively to connect the afflicted areas with the outside world, since the terrestrial networks had all but been destroyed.

    He said peaceful uses of outer space could contribute significantly towards implementing the Millennium Declaration, as well as the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the World Summit on the Information Society.  Space applications could contribute to cost-effective water-resource management, as well as to the prediction and mitigation of water-related emergencies.  Tele-education projects in several countries were bringing high-quality education to students and educators at all levels.  The use of satellite communications in telemedicine made it possible for quality public health to be shared with underprivileged people in areas of the world with limited health care.

    Reminding delegates that, the "Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space" had been opened for signature 20 years ago, he said the treaties and principles established by the United Nations had provided a legal framework that ensured the continued peaceful exploration and use of outer space for the benefit of all humankind.  To ensure that the benefits provided by space technology reached all countries, particularly developing ones, international cooperation was crucial.  The United Nations, through the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, played a pivotal role in ensuring that countries continued to work together to bring the fruits of space activities to people around the world.  The International Satellite System for Search and Rescue (Cospas-Sarsat) used space technology to assist aviators and mariners in distress. 

    He said the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters" aimed to provide a unified system of space data acquisition and delivery to those affected by natural or man-made disasters.  Earlier this year, the third Earth Observation Summit had been held in Brussels, Belgium, and had established the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), consisting of more than 50 States and 30 international organizations.  It had also endorsed a 10-year implementation plan that would be the backbone of a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).  That system would bring together a large number of in situ Earth observation resources and data sets around the world, and create a sustainable network for the distribution of data and information products and services.  GEOSS would also identify gaps in the acquisition of Earth observation data and facilitate the bridging of such gaps.

    ADIGUN ADE ABIODUN (Nigeria), Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, introduced that body's report (document A/60/20), saying that the tools offered by and benefits to be derived from the use of space would be a key element in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  Space was essential for meeting numerous developmental challenges, including programmes to reduce poverty and prevent infectious diseases and environmental degradation.  For example, space applications could provide timely and reliable information for decision-making in many aspects of economic and social life and could also provide reliable communications where ground networks were not available or had been destroyed by a disaster. 

    Describing the work of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space over the past year, he said it had welcomed Libya and Thailand as new members following the recommendation of the General Assembly.  Among the substantive items before the Committee this year were the implementation of the recommendations of UNISPACE III; ways to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes; the work of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee at their 2005 sessions; spin-off benefits of space technology; space and society and space and water.  The Committee had also devoted some time to considering the outcomes of the General Assembly's five-year review of the implementation of the recommendations made during UNISPACE III. 

    Highlighting other achievements in the field over the past year, he said that among other things, the Scientific and Technical Committee had examined the possibility of creating a disaster-management international space coordination agency, as well as considering issues related to space debris; the Working Group on the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space had made significant progress and carried out detailed work on identifying and developing potential implementation options for establishing an international, technically-based framework of goals and recommendations for the safety of planned and currently foreseeable space nuclear power source applications; and the Legal Subcommittee had established a new working group to examine the practice of States and international organizations in registering space objects.

    Mr. ABIODUN then delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the contributions of space science and technology to sustainable development challenges, during which he said that "sustainable development challenges" referred to fundamental life-support systems such as air, land resources, water, agricultural resources and a wholesome environment.  Human activities that affected the Earth's climate included deforestation, population explosion and petroleum-related pollution, which led to global warming, ozone depletion, rising sea levels and drought.

    He said that in order to ensure a sustainable water supply of good quality the international community should protect and use in a sustainable manner the ecosystems that naturally captured, filtered and released water, such as rivers, wetlands, forests and soils.  The inability of many societies to undertake sustainable development was rooted in poor-quality data collection, organization and management.  Decision makers must recognize that maps and geospatial data were part of a national infrastructure, just as a network of health care, education and water-supply systems were.  In that regard, it was important for countries to have digital terrain models, including adequate cartographic information, archive satellite data, communication infrastructure, timely weather forecasts and global navigation satellite systems. 

    Decision makers, he said, particularly in non-space capable countries, should address the following priority areas:  the funding of methodological basic and applied research and development in the sustainable development fields of each country and on a regional basis; the effective translation of radiance measurements acquired by satellites into information that could and should be applied to address real development problems, and the establishment of a space-based network among national and regional institutions in order to facilitate and enhance collaborative research efforts.  The leaders of non-space-capable countries should also dispel the notion that space technology was an area only for the industrialized countries.  Space technology was an important tool for effectively addressing many sustainable-development challenges. 

    RONALD MERRELL, expert on telemedicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, United States, using a PowerPoint presentation entitled "Telemedicine and e-Health for International Medical Issues", said the evolving practice of medicine required access to information, an ability to store information and reliable telecommunications.  Essentially all information was digital and the costs of print information and personal training were becoming prohibitive barriers to the international sharing of information in medicine.  Electronic health could also prevent errors in medical care.

    He said telemedicine was the use of information science and telecommunications to support the delivery of care.  It had long been thought that it was an expensive embellishment of technology upon a strained health budget, but the cost of computing and telecommunications was actually falling, while that of delivering traditional medical care was rising at an alarming rate.  Information science and telecommunications offered the promise of making medical care delivery more affordable and accessible.  It could be provided by eliminating print media and the use of electronic media and satellites. 

    Giving examples of the use of telemedicine in health care in developing countries, he said his group had been invited to an area without power in Kenya.  The group had established a power supply in order to have telecommunications and thousands of children had been seen at a cost of 28 cents per child.  In the Dominican Republic, support had been provided for the teaching of advanced surgical techniques, and in Pakistan a curriculum had been designed to equip people to establish a telemedicine group in the mountains.  In Ecuador, primary care units had been given the means to establish electronic records. 

    Telemedicine was also very useful in extreme environments, he said.  In the Mount Everest area, one merely had to hook up people with GPS devices to track them.  In the Danube Delta area of Romania, satellites were necessary to see what was needed in remote areas.  Natural disasters had not been well served by telemedicine yet, because it was not part of the infrastructure.  During the earthquake in Armenia, it had taken three months to set up a telemedicine infrastructure, while such a system had been set up in four days following Hurricane Katrina.  Telemedicine had also been used after civil disruptions, such as had occurred in the former Soviet Union in 1995.  Telemedicine programmes had been set up in the Russian Federation, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.  In Kosovo, a telemedicine programme had become the sole information source for re-establishing a medical faculty.

    In conclusion, he said telemedicine was a tool of technology that could span a digital divide in a responsive rather than disruptive way.  It could be tailored to most medical requirements.  Telemedicine, moreover, need not be expensive and it could allow medical improvement without a repetition of the developmental history of medicine in other countries.

    SERGIO CAMACHO, Director, Office of Outer Space Affairs, outlined during a PowerPoint presentation the recent progress made by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee.  One issue of importance was the use of nuclear-power sources in Outer Space, which were needed for power requirements and deep space missions.  The Subcommittee was considering those sources under a multi-year work plan over the period 2003-2006.  Its objective was to develop an international technically-based framework of goals and recommendations for the safety of nuclear-power source applications in outer space, also in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

    Turning to the issue of space debris, he said that because speeds in orbit were very high, even a small particle of debris (space debris included anything that had been put into Earth orbit and was no longer useful, entire satellites that no longer worked and sections of discarded rockets) could damage a spacecraft, or harm a space explorer.  Methods for reducing space debris included bringing satellites and other space objects down to the Earth's atmosphere, where they would partially burn up, and mitigating the production of new space debris.  In 2004, the Subcommittee had established a working group to consider comments by Member States on that issue and it had agreed to develop a document on space-debris mitigation, which should contain universally accepted space-debris mitigation measures that could be adopted on a voluntary basis. 

    He then examined the issue of Near Earth Objects (comets or asteroids with an orbit within 0.3 AU of Earth - 1 AU is 150,000,000 km).  That issue was a new item on the Subcommittee's agenda for 2005 and would be covered by a multi-year work plan for 2005-2007.  In 2006, the action team on that issue would consider the way forward and, specifically, the possible need for activity to be carried out nationally, regionally or through international cooperation. 

    Addressing the work of the Legal Subcommittee over the past year, he said it had issued letters to Foreign Ministers of States that had not yet become parties to the international treaties governing the uses of outer space, encouraging their participation.  It had also sent letters to intergovernmental organizations that had not yet declared their acceptance of the rights and obligations under those treaties.

    Interactive Dialogue

    In the ensuing debate, speakers welcomed the holding of interactive dialogues in the Fourth Committee, with the representative of Chile remarking that the format should be made part of United Nations reform.  He also addressed the space-related conferences in the Americas, the fifth of which would be held in 2006 in Quito, Ecuador, and asked why the document on United Nations reform did not address space technology.  That was paradoxical because last year, a plenary meeting of the General Assembly had been set aside to deal with outer space issues.

    The representative of India addressed matters relating to the mitigation of the consequences of natural disasters and the establishment of early warning systems.  There was a call for the greater application of space technologies in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, but more financial resources and international cooperation would be needed.  Progress could then be made in applying technologies in fisheries and health care, as well as in discovering sources of water.  There was also a need for greater access to those technologies for countries that did not have them. 

    Interest was also expressed in telemedicine and the impact it could have on health care at a reasonable cost in remote areas.

    The representative of Peru asked if the attention that UNISPACE III had enjoyed during last year's deliberations in the Committee had resulted in more attention to space-related matters in capitals.

    Responding to delegates' comments, Mr. ABIODUN said that during the 1993 Earth Summit in Rio, much had been said about sustainable development but nothing had happened in terms of addressing space applications.  In 1999 in Vienna, the Space Millennium document had been developed in which the role of space science and technology in sustainable development had been strongly articulated.  In South Africa in 2002, sustainable development had been discussed but rarely in the context of space science.

    Mr. MERRELL said telemedicine was not pervasive because in North America and Europe health care was already on an information infrastructure.  Once medical care was put into a digital format, the transportation of information was less expensive, although the satellite dishes that could be used for transmitting technology were often more expensive in the developing world than in North America.

    Mr. CAMACHO said it was important to put resources into anything with little visibility.  Countries tended to put in resources when there was a big disaster and not when the issue had diminished in visibility.

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