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

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
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.’
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(Credits Cordis)