China has signed an agreement to join UNESCO in the Open Initiative on the Use of Space Technology in Support of the World Heritage Convention. The signing - by Guo Huadong, Deputy Secretary-General of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Director of its Joint Laboratory for Remote Sensing Archaeology, and Marcio Barbosa, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO – took place at Organization Headquarters on April 13. “UNESCO welcomes the new partnership with China,” Mr Barbosa said. “It represents a significant boost to our ability to assist Member States in the preservation of their heritage sites through the use of space technology.”

Through the agreement, China will share its extensive expertise and know-how within the framework of the Open Initiative, which UNESCO and European Space Agency (ESA) launched in October 2001. The Initiative aims to provide satellite images and expertise in space-supported conservation to developing countries, helping them monitor natural and cultural World Heritage sites. It also provides for the development of countries’ capacities in this area.

Since China launched its first manned space flight in October 2003, it has demonstrated considerable expertise in the scientific exploration of space. Satellite technology is invaluable in observing Earth and monitoring changes there, including those caused by human activity.

The Open Initiative has already contributed in a significant manner, for example, to efforts to save the population of endangered mountain gorillas in nature reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. These reserves are home to some 650 mountain gorillas. Through the initiative, UNESCO was able to provide these countries with their first accurate maps of the gorillas’ habitat.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences joins the Argentinean Space Agency (CONAE), the Canadian Space Agency, the Lebanese Remote Sensing Center, The Royal Center for Remote Sensing of Morocco and the USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in supporting satellite surveillance of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.