Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, and Frederick D. Gregory, Deputy Administrator of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), today signed a cooperation agreement at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. According to the agreement, UNESCO will benefit from NASA’s expertise in the earth sciences and space technology to strengthen its work in the conservation of World Heritage sites and monitoring of Biosphere Reserves. This expertise will also contribute to UNESCO’s work relating to natural hazards, as well education and capacity building.
UNESCO’s particular concern is to improve the access of Member States to the benefits of NASA’s expertise, remote sensing data, and science research results. This cooperation should increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of conservation work. It should also reinforce Member States’ ability to mitigate the effects of natural hazards, a top priority in view of the recent tsunami disaster and the focus of several UNESCO programmes. In the field of education, cooperation with NASA will broaden the scope of UNESCO’s Space Education Programme and other activities aiming to raise interest in science.
The agreement expands the long-standing relationship between NASA and UNESCO and is the first comprehensive agreement between the two organizations. It is, moreover, the first new science agreement with a U.S. organization since the country returned to full membership of UNESCO in October 2003. UNESCO has had an interest in space programmes since the early 1960s when it began working with the International Astronautical Federation.
In 1992, declared “International Space Year”, UNESCO promoted public awareness of the contribution of space technology and earth observation to the quality of life. Stressing the need for better use of satellite data, UNESCO has worked with space agencies to develop the 10-year Implementation Plan to create the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), adopted by 60 countries at the third Earth Observation Summit in Brussels in February this year.
UNESCO has also been establishing partnerships with other space agencies within the framework of UNESCO’s Open Initiative on the use of space technologies to support the World Heritage Convention and UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves. Initially launched with the European Space Agency, it currently includes the Argentinean and Canadian space agencies, and the Morocco Space Center. The Indian Space Agency and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are in the process of finalizing their cooperation agreements to join the Initiative, which also includes a number of other space research institutions and universities. The overall cooperation agreement between NASA and UNESCO adds an essential new partner to this Initiative.