14 July 1999

Press Release


19990714 Background Release

VIENNA, 14 July (UN Information Service) -- Creating a blueprint for the peaceful uses of outer space in the twenty-first century will be the key objective of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III), to be held in Vienna between 19 and 30 July. The United Nations has played an important role in mitigating potential military confrontation by promoting international cooperation and developing a legal framework for the peaceful uses of outer space. There are five United Nations treaties that cover a range of space activities.

For nearly 40 years, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has helped shape the world's policies regarding the development and uses of space technology.

The United Nations and its agencies are paying particular attention to the role they can play in promoting the utilization of space science and technology for sustainable development, while establishing partnerships with space-related industry and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In two previous international conferences, held in 1968 and 1982 (UNISPACE 82), Member States were successful in creating and strengthening the United Nations Programme on Space Applications, which assists nations in using space technology for economic, social and cultural development.

All 185 Member States have been invited to participate at UNISPACE III along with leading figures from the world of space technology and, uniquely for a United Nations conference, private enterprise representatives.

The UNISPACE III is expected to adopt the Vienna Declaration and Action Plan. This would set out the United Nations vision for the peaceful uses of space in the twenty-first century. As mankind ventures further and ever more frequently into space, the United Nations recognizes that the protection of the space environment and its peaceful uses on behalf of all humanity is of paramount importance.

The Declaration and Action Plan is expected to be a proactive, comprehensive, worldwide environmental protection programme for using space applications for human security and welfare; advancing the scientific knowledge of space; protecting the space environment; enhancing education and training opportunities and ensuring public awareness of the importance of space activities; strengthening and repositioning space activities in the United Nations system and the promotion of international cooperation.

The UNISPACE III is set to identify specific areas and actions through which space science and technology can help solve common problems of regional or global significance. For developing countries, the enhancement of indigenous capabilities using space science should lead to accelerated economic, social and cultural growth, since such technologies help them to "leap-frog" stages in development.

Such capabilities include, for example, using remote sensing to detect and provide data in the mitigation, early warning and relief of natural and man-made disasters. It is estimated that two thirds of the world's population live in developing countries and 90 per cent of all natural disasters occur in them.

The effect of natural disasters can be alleviated through the key space technology of remote sensing. Using remote sensing, environmental scientists can track the course of hurricanes and oil spillages, for example, quickly relaying vital information to local populations and relief workers.

Remote sensing can also be used in coastal degradation management, freshwater management and agricultural enhancement applications, as well as weather prediction. Data taken using remote sensing equipment can also be used to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and infestations.

As global satellite navigation systems did not exist at the time of the Second Conference in 1982, UNISPACE III will, for the first time, give the world space community the opportunity to consider their multiple applications. These applications are found in such areas as mobile phone systems, aircraft navigation, geographic information systems and search and rescue missions.

Information exchange is a crucial factor in economic, social and cultural development, and satellite communications often provide the only means to link countries. For example, the UNEP-ESA Mercure system project -- a joint initiative by the United Nations Environment Programme and the European Space Agency -- allows many African countries to access environmental data from European repositories.

Developing indigenous capabilities in specific areas through education and training and technical assistance for all States will be a key focus of the UNISPACE III agenda.

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In addition to education about space technology, the Conference will focus on education and training using space technology. The use of space technology in distance learning and teacher training, the development of mass literacy programmes, as well as the education of engineers, scientists and technicians in developing countries, will all be considered and reported on at the Conference.

The need for international cooperation in education, the development of international activities such as the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment programme and the activities of the International Space University will all be discussed at the Conference.

The presence of private industry at the Conference reflects the crucial role global business is playing in the development of space technology and exploration. For example, in the development and provision of communication services, as well as launch services, and, more recently, of high-resolution images from commercial remote sensing satellites. Furthermore, the development of pharmaceuticals and alloys in micro-gravity offers an area of great potential for the private sector.

There are several economic and social questions surrounding the use of space science technology which will be discussed at the Conference. These fall into three key areas.

Firstly, the secondary applications of space technology, including the many industrial "spin-offs" that enhance our lives. These include such things as invisible identification systems that enhance personal security, food packaging processes that keep food fresher, filters to ensure water is safe and free of contamination and oil spillage clean-up products that protect the environment.

Secondly, the ways and means of increasing the economic efficiency of space technology and its applications so that less wealthy countries can gain access to space technology.

Thirdly, partnerships between governments and private enterprise, which affect economies and societies at all levels.

A key concern for the United Nations is that developing countries not be excluded from the benefits of space technology due to lack of funding and that international cooperation facilitate the inclusion of emerging economies in the development and use of space technology.

The UNISPACE III will review existing mechanisms for international cooperation in space activities among Member States and their space-related institutions, the United Nations and its specialized agencies, the intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and space industry, on how they might facilitate increased multilateral and bilateral cooperation.

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The Conference will also discuss the need for a global approach to research and the sharing of information between Member States to address critical questions such as desertification, deforestation and the effects of global warming. The type of information needed to tackle these questions, particularly by developing nations, will also be discussed. Ways of integrating data obtained from space and on the ground and using them for local and regional planning is another issue to be considered by the Conference.

Technical Forum

The UNISPACE III will feature a Technical Forum, organized in cooperation with most of the major space agencies and international organizations. These will include around 40 workshops, seminars, symposiums and round tables on various issues related to the agenda and objectives of the Conference. Participants will be from governments, NGOs, research and development institutions and the international space community.

The work of the Technical Forum will be the main focus of activity at the Conference. It will deal in depth with research and application areas in which space science and technology could significantly assist in solving global problems. These solutions include the systematic acquisition of data needed to understand climate changes, the El Niño phenomenon and the environment in general.

Renowned experts will propose ways of mitigating the effects of disasters, monitoring and managing natural resources, providing health and education services to rural area, promoting education in space science and various topics dealing with the Earth's planetary system and beyond.

A common element to all Technical Forum events will be how to achieve goals through a strengthened international cooperation. The Technical Forum will present the results of the discussions for consideration by the Conference in preparing its plan of action.

Each Technical Forum activity will provide daily highlights for the benefit of the press.

Space Generation Forum

Another feature of the Conference will be the Space Generation Forum, organized in cooperation with the alumni of the International Space University. It will be an opportunity for young space professionals from around the world to meet together to discuss and consider the issues that will be of utmost concern in the twenty-first century. The participants at the Space Generation Forum will interact with leading scientists, thinkers and policy-makers in the space community. This will give them an unprecedented

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chance to shape mankind's future by presenting their views about crucial space activities for the next century.

The recommendations and reports that the young space professionals come up with will be considered by the Conference and reflected in its official report.

Space Exhibition

The UNISPACE III Exhibition will showcase the latest in space technology, display rockets and give multimedia demonstrations, as well as act as a business forum.

Topics featured at the Exhibition will include: Space Technology and Science -- global systems for the exploration and commercial use of space; Communication -- satellite systems for broadcasting, communication and navigation; Environment -- global observing, climate change, land use, and disaster management; Health -- disease vectors, mitigation, prevention using space systems; and Education and Training -- use of satellite-based systems for tele-education and tele-medicine.

The Exhibition will offer a chance to see the technology behind the issues being discussed in the Technical Forum.

The UNISPACE III is the third global space conference. The previous two were also held in Vienna, in 1968 and 1982, respectively.

United Nations Global Space Conferences

The first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was conceived as a forum for exchanging information on a global scale. It examined the practical benefits of space exploration and the opportunities available for international cooperation giving special reference to the needs of the developing countries. It was attended by 78 Member States, nine specialized agencies and four other international organizations.

The second United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, UNISPACE 82, was held in 1982.

Its purpose was to exchange information and experience on recent developments in space technology. The Conference assessed and set in motion new ways of strengthening United Nations space activities. It was attended by 94 Member States, with representatives of 45 intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations attending as observers.

Given the rapid development of space technology and the increase in the number of participants in space activities since the last conference, the United Nations sees the final year of the century as an appropriate time for the convening of a Third Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space -- UNISPACE III.

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For information media. Not an official record.