United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Remarks by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme at the International Symposium on Land Cover Mapping for the African Continent

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Nairobi -- Impartial and scientifically credible data is vital to track and to understand the environmental changes sweeping the planet.It underpins much of UNEP's work including our flagship reports such as the Global Environment Outlook series.

Distinguished delegates, members of the scientific and UN community, ladies and gentlemen,

I have great pleasure in opening this meeting and welcoming you to the UNEP headquarters- Nairobi is one of only four UN duty stations and the only one in the developing world.

Let me start by thanking in particular the Governments of the United States and China and the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCRMD) in Nairobi for supporting this meeting.

Impartial and scientifically-credible data is vital to track and to understand the environmental changes sweeping the planet- it underpins much of UNEP's work including our flagship reports such as the Global Environment Outlook series.

Central too to policy-makers- governments and others need evidence-based information on how their options, choices and actions are impacting on the ground.

The impressive reductions in greenhouse gases in Brazil rest in part on high quality satellite data on land cover change which in turn is assisting with better enforcement in a world where illegal logging is now a multi-billion dollar challenge.

UNEP is delighted to be partnering with the World resources Institute, business and NGOs on Forest Watch 2.0

It will take advantage of remote sensing technology to show high-resolution, near real-time deforestation maps in a simple, easy to use way.

The system will provide global deforestation alerts to identify illegal logging and deforestation hotspots, drawing on a combination satellite and crowd-sourced data, including from local communities.

In doing so it may be able to play a role in one of the aims central to this International Conference- namely better and accessible ways of the location specific rates of changes in land cover in Africa and beyond drawing on what is now some 40 years of data from for example Landsat satellites.

The range of organizations and institutions in need of this data on Land Use and Land Cover ranges far and wide.

From UNEP to the UN's Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD and REDD+) to the new International Science-Policy Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and many of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

I am sure my assessment colleagues working on UNEP-Live will also relish the interactions you will all have at this conference.

UNEP-Live is mandated by governments to: -

  • Share complex scientific information in a user-friendly format
  • Share -through the Atlases we produce, satellite imagery, ground photos, maps and analysis to illustrate the alarming rate of environmental destruction and to provide visual proof of global environmental change
  • Provide on-line access to data for analytical, educational, scientific, and awareness-raising purposes

And it is not just UN agencies and institutions- the work you are undertaking is also linked with the issue of access to information for communities and citizens as outlined in the outcome document of last year's Rio+20 Summit.

There is ample evidence that land use and land cover transformations are the keys to understanding both the short- and long-term environmental health of the planet.

But there is currently no coordinated effort to systematically investigate the rates, causes, and consequences of land use and land cover change including in Africa.

Your discussions and decisions at this meeting will I am sure assist in moving the international community and national institutions forward to realize these aims.

Thank you very much.

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