United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Address by Achim Steiner at the Tenth Plenary Session of the Group on Earth Observations and the Geneva Ministerial Summit (GEO-X)


GEO X`s focus this year is on strengthening the link between in situ and satellite data is particularly crucial for UNEP`s core mandate to keep the environment under review

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished guests,


Ladies and gentlemen,

More than a decade ago, the World Summit on Sustainable Development highlighted the need for coordinated observations of the state of the Earth, triggering the establishment of GEO.

The need to keep the environment under review, which is at the heart of UNEP's mandate, has never been more pertinent as it is today. In the name of development, unsustainable human actions continue to push the Earth's boundaries, with consequences that can be detrimental to the future of the planet.


The fifth edition of UNEP's Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5)- an authoritative assessment which uses data from the GEOSS community - warns that the world continues to speed down an unsustainable path despite over 500 internationally agreed goals and objectives to support the sustainable management of the environment and improve human wellbeing.

The study assessed 90 of the most-important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four.

These for goals are: eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment.

Little or no progress was detected for 24 goals - including climate change, fish stocks, and desertification and drought.

Further deterioration was posted for eight goals including the state of the world's coral reefs.

While no assessment was made of 14 other goals due to a lack of data.

If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled', then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

GEO X's focus this year on strengthening the link between in situ and satellite data is particularly crucial for UNEP's core mandate to keep the environment under review.

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) uses locally measured data to provide policy makers with essential inputs for decisions with global implications.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), of which UNEP is a founding partner, uses a wide range of data to monitor climate change.

Environmental data is directly informing the training of more than 200 banks, investment groups and other partners who have signed on to the UNEP Finance Initiative ? a plan to help financial institutions play a role in a more sustainable world.

Strong data collection has also helped countries who are undertaking the crucial task of placing a value on nature.

An example is the REDD+ programme, which uses Measuring and Monitoring Systems approved by countries under the UNFCCC to assess the amount of carbon stored in forests.

REDD+ uses these assessments to offer incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.


Public access to data - as a public good - is a foundational element in the transformation of today's world into a vibrant green economy.

Access allows citizens to understand environmental change and play a role in documenting trends.

It is what I like to term 'citizen science': giving people a greater role and a more eloquent voice when it comes to monitoring their environment and participating in decision making.

Green economic transformation requires informed and empowered citizens to play a more active role.


Yesterday, I launched UNEP Live, a cutting-edge, dynamic new platform to collect, process and share the world's best environmental science and research.

The goal is to help the UN and partners migrate their data and information networks to dynamic, open data systems that provide better access and coherence to environmental information for policy development and decision making.

Through this platform, UNEP will provide data access to both the public and policy makers using distributed networks, cloud computing, big data and improved search functions.

This is done in cooperation with data brokers, such as the European Environment Agency and GEOSS, to gain better access to sources of knowledge.

One intention is to widen the user community for GEOSS products and to link satellite and in situ data with policy relevant processes.


The needs of the world, encompassed in the Post 2015 agenda require a shift in thinking from working in silos to a more integrated approach, in which access to information is made available to all.

Significant benefits from sustainable development can be obtained through innovative solutions that build on inter-linkages and co-benefits to address the major environmental, social and economic challenges.

Through the UNEP Live initiative, UNEP proposes to work with a number of global partners (UN-DESA - on implementing frameworks for environmental data and statistics; UN Stats Division - in coordinating support to countries to improve access to information; FAO and WHO on integrated indicators for the sustainable development goals; as well as UN regional offices) to advise on which environmental data sets should be prioritized for collection and sharing with the public.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world needs to define a safe operating space for humanity in today's rapidly deteriorating environment and natural systems.

The scientific evidence, built over decades, is overwhelming and leaves little room for doubt.

A decisive and defining transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating, inclusive Green Economy, guided by scientific information and data access, is urgently needed if we are to avoid exceeding planetary boundaries.

By incubating applications and services based on Earth observation and societal benefits and providing information access to governments and organizations, GEO's work is at the heart of this transformation.

UNEP has proposed a set of 21 issues for the 21st century as part of its Foresight Process ? ranging from energy, technology and waste to freshwater and marine issues.

These issues and the data behind them are significant inputs to the dialogue on how to develop, implement and monitor a truly integrated set of sustainable development goals for the future we want.

The moment has come turn sustainable development from aspiration and patchy implementation into a genuine path to progress and prosperity for this and the next generations to come.

Thank you.

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