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Winter 2002/2003
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GIS at World Summit on Sustainable Development

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), more popularly known as "Rio+10," attracted more than 40,000 delegates to Johannesburg, South Africa, from August 26-September 4, 2002. This event was an opportunity for the world to take stock of the collective progress of nations toward reaching the goals put forth 10 years ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the Agenda 21 report ( Esri partnered with other organizations to promote the use of GIS technologies and the importance of geography in achieving these development goals.

Many GIS practitioners around the globe have recognized the advancements of the geospatial field, and it is not difficult to point to landmarks in the last 10 years where progress has clearly been made. Many of these advancements (such as field GIS data collection on PDAs, dissemination of geographic information via Web mapping software, metadata collection tools, higher resolution imagery, and new digital elevation models) will allow sustainable development efforts to better analyze data and manage places more effectively.

Esri interacted with delegates and visitors to the WSSD in a number of ways including participation in two official side events. One event was a continual demonstration of ArcGlobe technology at the plenary sessions in the Sandton Convention Centre. The other event was a GIS exhibition in the U.S. Government Pavilion at the Ubuntu Village. The exhibition highlighted two public/private partnerships in which Esri participated and the provision of information for two U.S. government press conferences with the international press.

In addition, Esri aided the National Geographic Society with the distribution of more than 8,500 National Geographic magazines, which included a "state of the planet" map, and provided relevant materials such as the new Esri Press book entitled A System for Survival that discusses the practical uses of GIS for sustainable development.

ArcGlobe on Display

ArcGlobe was on display in the plenary session for the two weeks of the summit. The screens in the Sandton Convention Centre changed to ArcGlobe when not showing the speakers and heads of state. It provided a unique view of the world--not often seen by key decision makers. ArcGlobe, a future component of the ArcGIS 3D Analyst extension, displaying high-resolution imagery, provides a view to the ground so that one can investigate the condition of slums, environmental degradation, condition of forested lands, expanded use of electricity, etc. A series of "world tours" demonstrated how geographic information, at all scales/resolutions, could facilitate informed decision making by world leaders (see "New at ArcGIS 9: ArcGIS 3D Analyst With ArcGlobe").

U.S. Government Dedicates Space to GIS

During the past year, Esri has partnered with many institutions on two major initiatives: the Geographic Information for Sustainable Development (GISD) program and the My Community, Our Earth (MyCOE): Geographic Learning for Sustainable Development project. One-quarter of the U.S. Government Pavilion was dedicated to GIS and showcased the importance of geographic information and related technologies to the successful implementation of sustainable development projects.

The GISD initiative outlines a U.S.-led international collaboration and alliance whose objective is to apply a new generation of earth observation data, state-of-the-art GIS-linked technologies, and field-tested geographic knowledge to ongoing sustainable development problems in diverse target areas within Africa.

The GISD exhibit highlighted the use of geographic information for decision making related to these issues by African institutions in a public/private partnership with the U.S. government, academia, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector. Two examples of GISD projects are the Community-Based Natural Resource Management project of Namibia and the Livestock Early Warning System project of East Africa. For more information, please see

The vision of the organizers of MyCOE: Geographic Learning for Sustainable Development was to build a geographically literate generation able to use this knowledge in their everyday lives to bring about true sustainable development. The organizers of MyCOE are the National Geographic Society, the Association of American Geographers, Esri, and the United Nations Environment Programme. Sponsors of the program include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Forest Service, Inter-American Development Bank, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ERDAS, Esri, 3M, and Columbia University's Earthscape.

In the MyCOE project, secondary and university students from around the world completed projects in which they used the tools and methods of geography to study how their communities are changing and to explore the ways in which they might improve the quality of life in those communities. Students selected an issue of sustainability and analyzed it geographically in their community (village, watershed, district, etc.) with the assistance of the materials in their MyCOE resource kit and their MyCOE volunteer mentors. The issues from which students selected included biodiversity, climate change, deforestation, environmental pollution, food production, freshwater supply, health and disease, mountain development, and urbanization.

Some of the MyCOE projects have also been posted in the 2002 Project Gallery on the MyCOE Web site (

Want to Learn More About WSSD?

Esri also hosted a virtual booth called "GIS at the World Summit on Sustainable Development". For more information, please contact Carmelle J. Côté, Ph.D., international relations/GIS consultant, Esri, 8620 Westwood Center Drive, Vienna, Virginia 22182-2214 (tel.: 703-506-9515, extension 8013; fax: 703-506-9514; e-mail:

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