UN SPIDER: The relevance of space-based information for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

From 25 to 27 September 2015, world leaders will gather in New York to jointly shape the post-2015 development agenda. The outcome will be an agreement on Sustainable Development Goals, succeeding the Millennium Development Goals. These Goals will place great emphasis on the joint responsibility of all countries to achieve a sustainable future for all. The preliminary list elaborated by the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals in 2014 includes 17 goals and 169 targets. They cover an array of relevant topics including poverty, hunger, health and water, education, gender equality and natural resource management.

The goals will only be reached if countries and multilateral actors have access to reliable information in order to plan adequately. Goal 17, for example, stresses the importance to “increase signifi cantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by (…) geographic location”. Satellite-derived data and information can be a key element in this process on two levels: fi rst, they can provide a good knowledge base on the status quo, the needs and challenges allowing decision-makers to shape effective policies and allocate resources appropriately; second, satellite data can serve to continuously monitor the progresses or setbacks in implementing such measures, thus helping countries to stay on track. The following presents a few examples.

Goal 2 aims at ending hunger and promoting sustainable agriculture. Satellite information can play an important role in addressing agricultural production challenges. Satellite navigation, satellite communication and Earth observation can support precision farming methods. These help farmers manage their resources and plan their seeding and harvesting periods more effectively as well as sell their produce according to up-to-date information on current prices and needs.

Goal 3 aims at ensuring health and well-being at all ages. Access to proper health care is not always a given in developing countries, especially in remote areas. Satellite-based tele-health services and tele-epidemiology can facilitate specialist treatments where they would otherwise not be available.

Goal 6 aims for universal and equitable access to drinking water and sanitation services. Satellites can effectively monitor water resources (such as lakes or reservoirs) and relevant water ecosystems such as mountains or wetlands from space thus supporting early warning systems when water supply runs low. They can also support processes such as urban water management at a large scale and support appropriate decision-making.

Goal 11 aims for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements. Satellite-based Earth observation, such as the Global Urban Footprint project by the German Aerospace Center, can greatly contribute to track urban development and guide urban planning and climate change resilience, for example by identifying appropriate building areas and potential risk areas.

Goal 14 aims for sustainable monitoring and management of ocean resources. Since the health and status of oceans and other questions regarding maritime resources can be very diffi cult and costly to monitor on the ground, satellite data is an effective alternative. For example, sea ice, icebergs or oil spills on the sea surface can be detected; vessels can be identifi ed and tracked to avoid illegal fi shing activities. New innovative sensors, such as the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite of the European Space Agency can be used to measure ocean acidification.

A remaining major challenge in this context is a lack of awareness among decision-makers and representatives of the research and academic community with respect to space technology applications for addressing social and economic development, primarily in developing countries, as well as a lack of resources and technical capacities. UNOOSA – through its UN-SPIDER programme and other activities – is addressing these challenges by raising awareness among the relevant stakeholders, by promoting low-cost space-related technologies and information resources, and by building capacities at country level.

Source: UN-SPIDER Newsletter 2/15: Space-based Information for Post-2015 Sustainable Development