Earth sciences to be the focus of 2008 UN International Year of Planet Earth

January 10, 2006

Brussels, 09 Jan 2006

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2008 as the UN International Year of Planet Earth, the biggest ever international effort to promote the Earth sciences.

The aims of the initiative include reducing health problems through an improved understanding of the medical aspects of Earth science, enhancing understanding of the occurrence of natural resources in order to reduce political tension, improving understanding of the evolution of life, increasing interest in Earth sciences within society at large, and encouraging more young people to study Earth science at university.

According to a statement by the organisers, the International Year of Planet Earth 'aims to raise 20 million USD from industry and governments and will spend half on co-funding research, and half on outreach activities'.

Ted Nield, chairman of the outreach programme committee, told CORDIS News that the 20 million USD figure was 'plucked out of the air' when the idea was first conceived in 2001. 'Now we would be hoping for more than 20 million, as inflation has caught up with us since then,' he said.

'Of course, 10 million dollars is a lot of money for outreach activities,' stressed Dr Nield. 'It's not such a huge amount for science perhaps, but it will operate as a co-financing scheme, so we're looking for proposals from researchers that have already secured some funding. The system is modelled on the international geoscience programme, which has proved very effective.'

Indeed, expressions of interest from researchers are already being sought under ten separate research themes, chosen for their societal relevance and outreach potential and set out in ten science prospectuses. These are: groundwater, hazards, Earth and health, climate change, resources, megacities, deep Earth, ocean, soil, and Earth and life.

However, Dr Nield believes that whilst the science component will be very important, the wider and more fundamental objectives of the International Year of Planet Earth are achieving the public outreach and political impact needed in order to raise the global profile of Earth sciences. 'Although I am saying this as the chair of the outreach programme, you understand!' he joked.

Dr Nield adds that the public outreach element of the initiative will play the key role in attracting the desired corporate investment, 'because that's where companies will see the benefit of investing their PR dollars'. He also believes that achieving endorsement from the UN, as well as the backing of 97 countries representing 87 per cent of the world's population, will open many doors. 'We felt UN backing was important - and it has been a four year task to achieve it - because we want to attract new money from industry, and for this we thought we would need the endorsement of the UN,' Dr Nield told CORDIS News.

The initiative was originally launched jointly by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) and UNESCO, and was promoted politically within the UN by the People's Republic of Tanzania. Eduardo de Mulder, former president of IUGS and project leader of the initiative, said: 'The International Year of Planet Earth aims to contribute to the improvement of everyday life, especially in the less developed countries, by promoting the societal potential of the world's Earth scientists.'

Professor de Mulder concluded: 'Around the shores of the Indian Ocean, some 230,000 people are dead because the world's governments have not yet grasped the need to use geoscientists' knowledge and understanding of the Earth more effectively. Yet that knowledge is readily available in the practical experience and publications of some half a million Earth scientists all over the world, a professional community that is ready and willing to contribute to a safer, healthier and wealthier society if called upon by politicians and decision makers.'

Further information

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2005
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