News in 2013

Third Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management

24 – 27 July 2013, Cambridge, United Kingdom

On 26 July 2013, the global geospatial information community celebrated the second anniversary of the United Nations initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management. Two years ago, “ECOSOC made history in Geneva by establishing a new intergovernmental body to address an emerging global issue. The United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management would bring together, for the first time at the global level, government experts from all member states to consult on the rapidly new changing field of geospatial information. At a time when few new intergovernmental bodies are being created, this decision reflected ECOSOC’s concern for promoting greater and wider use of geospatial information globally for sustainable development and humanitarian assistance” (2 August 2011, New York, UN DESA Press Release)

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Participants at United Nations Committee of Experts on GGIM                                              (Photo: Courtesy of UN-GGIM/Ordnance Survey)

This UN Committee was established to provide a forum for coordination and dialogue among Member States and between Member States and relevant international organizations, of which FIG is one, on all issues related to geospatial information management. It aims to promote and develop common policies, methods, mechanism and code of practice globally and to enhance the interoperability of geospatial data and services. The terms of reference approved by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations call upon Member States to designate experts with specific knowledge drawn from the interrelated fields of surveying, geography, cartography and mapping, remote sensing, land/sea and geographic information systems and environmental protection.

The UNGGIM Secretariat and Ordnance Survey of the United Kingdom collaborated and hosted this third session in Cambridge, United Kingdom at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge City Centre. The event was held in conjunction with the Cambridge Conference, the international meeting of chief executives from national mapping organisations around the world that was organized and hosted by Ordnance Survey. First held in 1928, the Conference is now held biennially (since 2003) and afforded tremendous opportunities for surveyors with similar roles from different places to meet, exchange ideas and share experiences.

The FIG President was joined and supported by Mr. Gordon Johnston, Vice Chair of FIG Commission 4 at this third session. The final report on ‘Future trends in geospatial information management: the five to ten year vision’ prepared by the United Kingdom in collaboration with the Working Group on Future Trends in Geospatial Information Management was endorsed. The Committee agreed that the document is a “living document” and will need to be regularly revisited, reviewed and revised.

There was on the agenda item on global geodetic reference frame, and the Regional Committee of United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management for Asia and the Pacific (UN-GGIM-AP) in collaboration with the International Association of Geodesy tabled a report that called for the enhancing of commitment to improve national infrastructure and contributions to strengthen regional and global geodetic reference frame. There were engaging discussions and the Committee agreed that a working group would work on and facilitate the submission of a resolution to the 2013-14 Session of the United Nations General Assembly to seek support and commitment at the highest level to sustain the global geodetic reference frame.

The Committee also considered the trends in national institutional arrangements in geospatial information management; developing a global map for sustainable development; legal and policy frameworks, including critical issues related to authoritative data; establishing and implementing standards for the global geospatial information community. A report of the Secretary-General in collaboration with the International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee 211 (ISO/TC 211) on establishing and implementing standards for the global geospatial information community was tabled and the importance of adopting and implementing standards within national legal and policy framework was emphasized.

In the discussion on linking geospatial information to statistics and other data, primarily social, economic and environmental data, FIG is heartened as it has worked over the past many years on spatially enabling societies that culminated with FIG Publication number 58. Spatially enabling societies recognizes that all activities and events have a geographical and temporal context, make decisions and organize their affairs through the effective and efficient use of spatial data, information and services. Spatial enablement is the ability to add location to almost all existing information, unlocks the wealth of existing knowledge about social, economic and environmental matters, and can play a vital role in understanding and addressing the many challenges that we face in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

The committee considered the report of the Secretary-General prepared in collaboration with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and FIG on critical issues relating to the integration of land and marine geospatial information. FIG had earlier provided a background paper that was prepared with the support and contribution of Mikael Lilje (Chair FIG Commission 5) and Jerry Mills (Vice Chair FIG Commission 4). At the ensuing deliberations, FIG urged the Committee and their respective governments to avail resources to address key technical challenges within its jurisdiction as well as to consider a working party of experts from within the Committee to identify, share and promote good policies, standards, infrastructures and practices that already exist in some jurisdictions. With the discovery and sharing of such good policies and practices, it is hoped that the global community can begin realizing the benefits and returns in the integration land and marine geospatial information.

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From left to right: Greg Scott (UNGGIM Secretariat); Kyoung-soo Eom (UN Cartographic Section); Stefan Schweinfest (UN Statistics Division); Dr Vanessa Lawrence and Prof. Paul Cheung

FIG again weighed in on the ongoing deliberations regarding the proposal to develop a statement of shared principles for the geospatial information community. FIG is of the opinion that whereas cultures, political systems, awareness and understanding of professional practice differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there are certain fundamental principles that should apply to all. FIG is supportive of a consultative process and urged the Committee to work towards an internationally agreed Statement of Shared Principles on Geospatial Information Management.

Click picture for bigger format Dr Vanessa Lawrence, CEO of Ordnance Survey and Co-chair of the Committee of Experts since its inception in 2011, organized a second-anniversary celebration, with a tiered “cake” comprising a series of cup cakes with the GGIM logo. This was much to the surprise of the Committee and well received by those present. Prof. Paul Cheung, the Chair of the Intergovernmental Steering Committee on Global Mapping (ISCGM) spoke during the celebration. Prof. Cheung was the Director of the UN Statistic Division then and had worked with the international geospatial community over a number of years and a series of preparatory meetings to realise this United Nations initiative on global geospatial information management.

CheeHai Teo

July 2013