UNOOSA's Czaran on space technologies and cooperation with Syslab: interview to CEU

January 29, 2017

From the satellite navigation system in our cars to the weather forecast to basic Internet research, we rely on space technology and data for vital tasks in our daily lives. “Even if you might not think about it, you use the benefits of space technology,” said Lorant Czaran, programme officer for the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs at a Sept. 26 lecture at CEU, sponsored by the Environmental Systems Laboratory. Czaran co-directed the CEU Summer University course “Geospatial Technologies and Remote Sensing for Monitoring SDGs” with CEU's Viktor Lagutov who ran the courses with experts from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC). This was the first CEU-JRC cooperation after the June signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the JRC that established the basis for CEU-JRC collaboration in a series of areas of common interest including the fields of data and network analysis; economics, finance and international trade; energy, climate and environment; governance in multicultural environment; disaster risk reduction knowledge management; and EU public policy.

The CEU Summer University course is part of the ongoing In-Service ICT Training for Environmental Professionals (ISEPEI) program and was an opportunity for providing in-service education and professional training for environmental decision-makers and practitioners, who are in a position to greatly benefit from prolific amounts of new data to better shape management strategies and to make more informed, data-driven decisions.

"There is still a gap between the technology world and the world of environmental decision- and policymakers,” wrote Lagutov in the course description. “Despite the tremendous potential geospatial technologies offer, there are still traditional fears among practitioners that prevent their uptake. Furthermore, these technologies are constantly changing and improving, making it even more difficult for practitioners to track the updates about the potential use and application of technologies, such as geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing.”

The Environmental Systems Laboratory will promote these technologies through interdisciplinary efforts across the University and hopes to help foster future leaders through targeted courses and research support at departments and units.

Czaran and his colleagues at UNOOSA are tasked with promoting greater cooperation and exchange of actual experiences in space science and technology between industrialized and developing countries as well as among developing countries. He calls UNOOSA “the smallest UN office with the biggest mandate.” For some, space remains the stuff of science fiction, Hollywood movies or spectacular NASA launches, but dozens of issues arise when multiple countries launch satellites and send spacecraft to the moon, comets, asteroids or to other planets. UNOOSA was established during the Cold War.

"In 1958 at the UN General Assembly, Member States started discussing space and what specific regulations should be developed and applied,”Czaran said. “They discussed how to prevent the extension of the Cold War arms race into outer space. As a result, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was alsoestablishedsoon-after, followed by the precursor entity to today’s UNOOSA.”

Lorant Czaran, programme officer for the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, speaks to students at CEU. Image credit: CEU

UNOOSA's mandate includes facilitating and supporting the development and implementation of space-related projects that address the operational needs of member states; overseeing fellowship and training programs; and holding workshops and supporting long-term capacity building together with regional centers for space science and technology education affiliated with the United Nations. Today, there are 83 member states and more than 30 organizations with permanent observer status in the UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

In addition to trying to ensure that space-based resources are available to the UN’s member states, UNOOSA staff addresses many other issues that have evolved along with our ability to send spacecraft and humans to space and the moon, including use of nuclear power sources in outer space, maintaining a log of space launches through an established UN Register of Objects Launched Into Outer Space, or considering and advocating for long-term sustainability of outer space activities.

“Space mining is another issue of increased interest to many countries now,” Czaran said, responding to questions from the audience related to current challenges regarding space utilization. This of course brings up complex questions that must be addressed as well. Additionally, all launches initiate from a certain country, so that country is also responsible for any potential damage sustained in other countries as a result of the launch, based on rules established by the UN in addressing outer space activities.”

Perhaps some of the most important uses of space-based technology include natural-resource management, prediction of environmental disasters and initiation of programs to assist with emergency responses post-disaster. UNOOSA's UN-SPIDER (UN Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Mgmt and Emergency Response) was established in 2006 and it develops solutions to address the limited access developing countries have to specialized technologies that can be essential in the management of disasters and the reducing of disaster risks. The United Nations Programme on Space Applications was created in 1971 and has made substantial progress in furthering knowledge and experience of space applications around the world. Provision of country capacity-building, education, research and development support and technical advisory services by the Programme have all helped to reduce the gap between the industrialized and developing countries.

Since 1971, the UN Programme on Space Applications has held over 305 expert meetings/seminars/workshops/conferences (organized at the request of the countries) in some 75 countries, with more than 21,000 participants, Czaran reported. For example, at a recent workshop in Guadalajara, Mexico, participants were examining how space technology can provide socio-economic benefits. The Programme also offers some instrumentation grants and facilitates access to software tools for countries in need.

An important example of international cooperation brokered by the Programme is the new agreement made with the Chinese Manned Space Agency in which they will allow their (yet-to-be-launched) space station to be used by developing countries facilitated by UNOOSA) for various experiments once the station is active, Czaran added.

Czaran also lectured in the Summer University course “Innovations in Disaster Risk Reduction” and continues to collaborate with the CEU's Environmental Systems Laboratory. He will participate in the 2017 CEU Summer University courses and contribute to master's and doctoral research programs during the academic year.