Reflections on the Eye on Earth Summit

 

Eye on Earth LogoIn December 2011, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) hosted the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The summit brought together global leaders who realize that with a global population of seven billion, gathering environmental data is critical.  Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the Secretary General of Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency said “our over-riding purpose is to bring together all of you who have worked so hard and long to bring down the barriers that prevent all of us having access to the knowledge we need to safeguard our planet’s future.”

Nearly a year has gone by, and on reflecting on what I observed at the summit, I was reminded by the challenges that were posed in Abu Dhabi and the international commitment that will be required to achieve its goals.

The summit was not an environmental protection conference, rather it joined together leaders from government, technology, and civil society whose independent data initiatives and expertise might be utilized to create a larger whole.  Stories came from sources as diverse as the AGEDI’s Blue Carbon initiative that explores the natural coastal carbon in the Arabian Peninsula,  GeoSUR, a regional initiative to integrate and disseminate spatial data in Latin America and the Caribbean, the European Environment Agency, which showcased a citizen monitoring and mapping effort to provide real time information on water and air quality in Europe, and from a Brazilian tribal chief from the Surui Tribe in the Amazon rainforest who has almost singlehandedly brought his tribe back from extinction using environmental mapping.

According to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner “we need to understand how this planet works and the unique systems that keep us all alive,” he said.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton echoed that notion in his keynote address.  “We are all affected by things that happen somewhere else,” he said.  “We are here because of a shared imperative to build a more sustainable world, but that world is entirely too unequal in terms of income and education.”

Speakers recognized the critical linkage between the environment and the economy.   Beatrix Schmuelling of Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company is involved with MASDAR City, a commercially driven model facility that explores the boundaries of renewable energy and sustainable technology.  “MASDAR City is looking into sustainable solutions and the right balance between nature and industrial concerns,” she said.

Perhaps the most inspirational message came from Jane Goodall, the most famous chimpanzee expert in the world.  “It’s not the industrialists and the politicians that we should blame, it is us,” she said.  “We need to raise children with shining eyes, their heads linked to their hearts wanting to take action to make the world a better place, to make a better future.  If we think about the stars we might reach the moon.  If we think about the moon we might reach the top of Mount Everest. But if we reach for the stars we might move faster than we otherwise would.”

Eye on Earth participants were urged take to heart the Summit’s theme to “Convene, Converge, and Collaborate” and to share information to make informed decisions.  Sheik Mohammad Ahmad Al Bowardi, a member of the General Secretariat of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council said “we need accurate information to save our planet, to save our earth.”

For more information on the summit, go to http://www.eyeonearthsummit.org.

 

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