ABU DHABI // The key to solving the world's climate problems is to share environmental data internationally, leading experts said yesterday.
Industry leaders from around the world are in the capital for the four-day Eye on Earth Abu Dhabi 2011 Summit and Exhibition, where they will discuss the importance of environmental sustainability and development through the access of information and societal data.
A joint initiative between the Abu Dhabi Government and the United Nations Environment Programme, the summit will address the complications that emerging economies are enduring because of a lack of access to environmental data.
Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the secretary general of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (Ead), opened the summit at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, saying it was "particularly important" for the UAE to have access to environmental information not previously available.
"Data should be made accessible and affordable in order to achieve sustainable development," she said.
Catherine Armour, the programme manager of the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative, which was launched in 2002 by Ead, said the UAE was experiencing a "renaissance of data and information".
"Our future demands a new foundation and a new understanding of our world," she said. "With the data we have, through sharing and access, we can gain the right knowledge to make the right decisions for our future."
Jack Dangermond, of the American geographic software mapping company Environmental Systems Research Institute, said the world was "changing rapidly".
Even though geospatial systems, which store, manage, and present all kinds of geographically referenced data, are helping to expand knowledge, he said, the current efforts are "not enough yet".
"We need to bring together all our data, measurements and maps, and we need to build a platform that enables us to share them; this will change the world," he said.
Initiatives such as the online version of the soon-to-be-launched book Environmental Atlas of Abu Dhabi Emirate will create a "new kind of language", he said.
"This will provide us with a new nervous system of our planet and will help coordinate our efforts," he said.
Manuel Parra, the managing director of the interactive website developer CorpStation, said the site was a live database with information and maps of the entire environmental scope in the UAE. He said it would be accessible to the public, and that it was an "essential tool for e-learning". Mr Dangermond said the emergence of these kinds of websites would "hopefully" bring about the use of the words geo-communication, geo-mail and geo-accounting, all having to do with environmental awareness. "We need standards to make this work out. We need to work hard at this, [but] we don't have time," he said.
The Eye on Earth Summit, which the former US president Bill Clinton will address today, was also attended yesterday by the polar explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan.
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference before giving a presentation entitled "Bridging the Gap", Mr Swan, the first person to walk both the North and South poles, said his main focus was young people.
"We're trying to inspire future leaders; I want to tell the story of what's possible to achieve, because people often go away from these [conferences] thinking, 'Can we do it?'"
He said developed countries must let go of their information and share it with poorer nations.
"We're past hanging on to information, and on its own it's useless," he said. "It must be combined with action and inspiration, because, let's be honest, all the countries who have the information aren't exactly acting as one would expect them to do. It's not some joke; this is an urgent moment, something needs to happen."
Mr Swan, who was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1995 and serves as a UN goodwill ambassador for youth, said he believed the UAE was the country where change could happen quickly. "This place has a great chance in fast-tracking the process past awareness and into action," he said. He said the UAE "could really lead in solar and wind" power initiatives and developments.