On 25 September 2015, 193 member countries of the United Nations (UN) formally adopted the Sustainable Development Agenda. Replacing the Millennium Development Goals passed in 2000, the 2030 Agenda has 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at its core. The SDGs commit every country to an array of actions targeting the root causes of poverty as well as increasing economic growth and prosperity, meeting people’s health, education and social needs, while protecting the environment.
There is no doubt that the SDGs are ambitious. But during their development, the UN has carefully considered the frameworks that are required to support the achievement of these outcomes. This includes, for the first time, a formal acknowledgement by the UN of geospatial information’s role as fundamental infrastructure that underpins the ability of nations to develop and prosper.
What does that mean in practice? A powerful example relates to land ownership. Lack of guarantees in relation to land ownership has been identified as the fundamental barrier to a nation’s ability to develop. Effective geospatial information is a critical enabler to providing much-needed certainty around land title.
As part of the global development agenda, the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geographic Information Management met in New York to discuss a whole range of issues associated with the role that geographic information will play in supporting and measuring the SDGs. I attended as a member of the Australian delegation led by Dr Stuart Minchin, Chief of the Environmental Geoscience Division at Geoscience Australia. It was a great honour to participate in these sessions which highlighted the value that is unlocked by geospatial information and its importance in supporting global governments in making better-informed decisions and choices.
Australia had a very high profile at this meeting in a number of key areas and indeed, is one of the countries the world looks to in relation to advice around policy in the area of geospatial and geographic information. Work that has been led by delegation-member Gary Johnston, Branch Head, Geodesy and Seismic Monitoring at Geoscience Australia resulted in the General Assembly agreeing that the world should move towards a single reference datum. As we increasingly rely on satellite information for GPS systems in the modern world, this will provide a much-needed global approach to geospatial information.
The General Assembly acknowledged the connection between statistical data and geographical information, and the powerful insights released by bringing these two aspects together. Gemma Van Halderen, General Manager, Strategic Partnerships and Project Division at the Australian Bureau of Statistics has been leading this important area of work. Again this leadership reflects the enormous respect the world has for the statistical work undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
This insight into how the members of the UN are cooperating to tackle the big issues we face, confirmed for me the incredible wealth of experience and insight that Australia has to offer the world. The challenges we face as a small population in a large continent have seen us develop innovative approaches and applications in a wide range of areas associated with mapping, location and geospatial information. There is an enormous opportunity for Australia to continue to lead the way and contribute to solutions that help promote global sustainable development.
Chief Executive Officer