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Speech Transcripts

May 26, 2014

Speech at the 7th GEOSS Asia-Pacific Symposium: Sustainable Development and Contribution of Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)

Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku, Tokyo, Japan

Dr. Cripe, Dr. Isogai, Professor Koike, distinguished participants of the symposium, and ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure and an honor to be here with you today at the 7th GEOSS Asia-Pacific Symposium. Under the title of "Benefits for Society from GEOSS Evolution Toward Addressing Sustainable Development Goals," this symposium is going to be a great occasion to connect efforts of the scientific community with the needs of society. As you know, JICA, Japan International Cooperation Agency, is Japan's main implementing organization of development cooperation. We are one of the beneficiaries of scientific efforts of earth observations. As such, I would like to thank the symposium organizers for giving me the opportunity to share our views on earth observations and their applicability to international development cooperation.

Personally, I am delighted to participate in this symposium, too, because I have long been associated with Japan's leading figures of earth observations, like Professor Koike, from the time when I worked in the University of Tokyo as one of its vice-presidents dealing with management of EDITORIA, Todai's interdisciplinary research initiative for earth observations. I am a political scientist by training and by no means a specialist on the science of earth observation. But I enjoyed conversation with the members of EDITORIA and became fairly familiar with achievements of earth observations and other related disciplines such as space science.

As all of you know, last Saturday, the H2A rocket was successfully launched with DAICHI-2, the Advanced Land Observation Satellite-2 (ALOS-2). I now do not need to be briefed on the significance of its success. I also recognize the importance of GCOM W-1, for monitoring the global water cycle, and GOSAT, for monitoring greenhouse gases.

So, the members of the EDITORIA successfully educated me about the value of their research. But when I became president of JICA two years ago, I realized that I had not fully understood the extent of the value of earth observations, especially their practical applications to many societal needs including development cooperation.

But before talking about how JICA and the international community are benefitted by the advancement of earth observations and more specifically by GEOSS, let me start with the challenges that the international community currently faces in development cooperation.

Many of you may be familiar with the MDGs: Millennium Development Goals. These are the goals that the United Nations agreed in 2000 to achieve by 2015; they include such goals as halving the population suffering from extreme poverty. The international community has achieved much; in many developing countries, the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 per day has declined by more than half. But some of the goals have not been achieved yet. And other goals not included in the MDGs are emerging as equally important ones.

So, as the target year of MDGs, i.e., 2015, is getting closer, the international community is preparing to set new goals beyond 2015. To set new goals and targets, we have to take several things into consideration: first, we need to fulfill unmet goals among the MDGs, second, we need to become more ambitious by setting higher goals than the MDGs, and third, we have to incorporate other important goals not included in the MDGs. The third point is quite relevant for today's discussion. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in 2012, Rio+20, suggested that post MDGs should incorporate sustainable development goals (SDGs). The international community is working to reach a new agreement on climate change at the COP21 meeting of the UNFCCC to be held in Paris, December 2015. Further, the international community has increased its attention to the needs of disaster risk reduction. The "Tokyo Conference on International Study for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience" will be held in January 2015. The "Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction" will be held in Sendai the following March. The Conference is expected to review the "Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA)" and adopt a post-2015 framework (HFA2).

Since its establishment in 2005, GEOSS has played an important role in providing scientific knowledge and data for international discussion on climate change, disaster risk reduction, and international development. The role of GEOSS becomes more and more important in the process of formulating the post MDGs/SDGs, HFA2 and the post-Kyoto Protocol Agreement, including REDD+. Earth observation data is indispensable to our scientific understanding of ongoing and future natural phenomena that affect global human society. For this reason, we greatly look forward to the upcoming 10-Year Implementation Plan of GEOSS, which certainly yields significant contributions to the post-2015 global framework.

Now, I would like to discuss more specifically how Japan's international cooperation and JICA's work are benefitted by the advancement of earth observations and the development of GEOSS.

As the slide indicates, the nine areas of societal benefits of GEOSS are quite consistent with the five areas of JICA's work in developing countries. To achieve its mission and to take full advantage of the promise of earth observation data and advanced science, JICA is strengthening its partnerships with academic and research institutions in Japan. Just last month, JICA signed a partnership agreement with JAXA in order to accelerate our cooperation on global issues using satellite data.

Now, let me provide some examples of JICA projects that utilize satellite remote sensing data disseminated through GEOSS.

The first example is the development of satellite-based topographical maps. Satellite remote sensing is a powerful tool for this purpose because sometimes many developing countries have serious constraints in making high-quality national maps. They may have budgetary constraints for ground-based data collection; sometimes, internal conflicts like civil wars make ground-based data collection practically impossible. So, in order to draw better topographical maps, we have worked with Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo, Moldova, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Among them, let me highlight the case of the Philippines' Mindanao Region.

Mindanao has experienced decades of civil war between the government and various Muslim forces including the MILF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Fortunately, the government and the MILF finally concluded a comprehensive peace agreement last March. But during the long decades of conflict, Mindanao suffered from violence as well as a stagnant economy. Developing maps was not easy in such an unstable situation; teams undertaking ground-based topographic surveys could face serious danger. JICA assisted the government with the utilization of ALOS satellite imagery for the purpose of map development. With this assistance, the quality of topographical maps of the region improved significantly, as you can see by these snapshots. Now Mindanao has a set of improved maps for over 100,000 km2. I am quite sure that these maps will serve as the basis of Mindanao's future economic development.

The next case is related to both ground-based data and satellite data. We are implementing projects to install ground-based Doppler precipitation radars in countries like Lao PDR, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Vanuatu and Samoa. The data collected by these radars are connected with WMO's GTS, or Global Telecommunication System. GTS is a part of the GEOSS data platform. These projects contribute not only to the improvement of the weather forecast system of the target countries, but also to the improvement of the global weather monitoring network. As I mentioned, these projects are primarily focused on ground-based data, but they have significant influence on satellite-based data, too. The satellite is a mighty tool to collect extensive spatial information, but it always requires validation with "true data" on the ground for accurate estimation.

JICA has also supported various projects that use GEOSS data to help mitigate global warming, including the development of forest inventories in 11 developing countries. These inventories are necessary for establishing national forest monitoring systems under REDD+ and for complying with the methodological guidance of UNFCCC.

In addition, we have also implemented projects to monitor illegal logging for better forest management. In Brazil, we used ALOS images to detect illegal deforestation. As you can see on the slide, it is difficult to get clear satellite images of cloudy tropical forests on a regular basis. ALOS resolved this problem. As the microwave emitted by the PALSAR sensor of ALOS can penetrate clouds, we can obtain such clear images regularly. The dark parts are suspected to be illegally logged areas. Hence the project helped Brazil to monitor illegal loggers.

Now, let me turn to examples in which not only science helps development but also practical application could help the advancement of science. The first example is a project to develop a water resource management master plan for the Brantas and Musi river basins in Indonesia. To forecast long-term water resource availability, we are developing an advanced distributed hydrological model, WEB-DHM. We use, as the input data to this model, climate change simulation results of CMIP3 and CMIP5 archived in DIAS, Data Integration and Analysis System, a key database of GEOSS. Then, using the water availability forecast thus estimated, we use the crop growth model, SIMRIW, to estimate future potential rice yields. As you may have guessed, this project is being implemented with full support from Professor Koike.

Such combination of climate change simulation results, advanced hydrological model and crop growth model is a novel approach even within academic society. Although the project is still ongoing and the results are yet to come, it will have a significant impact on both scientific and practical domains.

The second case is a study on Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, which we call "GLOF", in the Bhutan Himalayas. This project is led by Professor Koichi Nishimura of Nagoya University.

Glacial lakes in the Himalayan Mountains are subject to bursts of flooding due to melting of glaciers caused by global warming. This project utilized satellite imagery from ALOS and ASTER. The project succeeded in developing a highly accurate data inventory of glacial lakes in the Himalayas and, for the first time in the world, identifying high-risk glacial lakes. This database is available at JAXA's website.

This is really a good example of collaboration between scientists and practitioners such as JICA staff. It is difficult for academics to conduct field surveys in glacial areas without the full support of local governments. In this case, we secured such support by JICA arranging a cooperation agreement between Bhutan and Japan. Incidentally, this is one of the SATREPS projects. SATREPS, or Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development, is a collaboration between JICA and JST, Japan Science and Technology Agency, to promote international joint research between Japanese scientists and scientists in developing countries.

These examples show that application of GEOSS data enables JICA to provide partner countries with innovative and inter-disciplinary solutions. On the other hand, these examples also show that implementation of practical development projects can lead to new scientific discoveries. These projects also increase scientific literacy and technical capacity of the target countries and contribute to their self-sustaining development.

The activities of GEOSS over the last decade have achieved substantial success. The data dissemination system built upon GCI has been instrumental, not only for researchers, but also for policymakers trying to formulate sound development plans. JICA has also implemented a number of projects using GEOSS data. In the process of doing so, we have opened up a new horizon for international cooperation in various fields.

In fact, many of our SATREPS projects use GEOSS data. By applying advanced scientific knowledge to developing countries, recipient countries obtain new knowledge. At the same time, Japanese experts are also inspired by their work with their counterparts in the recipient countries and obtain new knowledge. We would like to promote this type of mutual learning in our development cooperation. Thanks to GEOSS data serving as a catalyst, scientific advancement occurs on both sides, and in this manner we hope to contribute to the solutions of many global issues.

Among the numerous possible applications of GEOSS data, one particularly promising field for JICA's purposes in the coming years is agriculture. Undoubtedly, ensuring food security is one key agenda item of the international community. Using satellite imagery, we can monitor agricultural indicators like precipitation, solar radiation, soil moisture, surface temperature and so on. This information then enables us to develop proper cropping patterns and plans, mitigate the negative impacts of natural disasters like drought, and thus improve the efficiency of food production. This kind of advanced farming is already practiced widely in developed countries, but not yet in developing countries. Therefore, by incorporating it into our projects, we can expect drastic, positive changes in the structure of global food production and a meaningful step toward ensuring food security.

Another promising factor is ALOS-2. Possible application fields of ALOS-2, in addition to the projects I highlighted before, are: quick detection of ground level change after disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruption; detection of mineral resources including subsea oilfields, and so on. We are also exploring the possibility of applying this data to the public health sector.

As global issues become more and more complex over the coming decade, the role of GEOSS in helping sound decision making of all stakeholders will be all the more important. The "Geneva Declaration," adopted at the GEO Ministerial Summit in Geneva in January 2014, affirms the extension of GEOSS activities up to the year 2025, and states that "[GEOSS] support timely and knowledge-based decision-making."

GEOSS is now in the midst of formulating a new 10-Year Implementation Plan as a follow-up to the current plan for 2005-2015. The next Plan will surely make significant contributions to the realization of various post-2015 frameworks, such as the MDGs, HFA2 and the post-Kyoto Protocol Agreement.

We look forward to a better future facilitated by further implementation of GEOSS.

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