Africana Plus  

No 73 January 2007.1

Respect of creation and protection of environment
Two themes proposed for the International Year 2007-2008

International Polar Year
International Year of Planet Earth


Canadians are more and more conscious that environmental problems have an important place in the survival of humanity; they are sensitized to what is at stake in climatic changes and they want their leaders to reserve an important place for the respect of creation and for the protection of the environment. They will take it into account at election time.

One has only to think about Stéphane Dion being chosen as the head of the Liberal Party of Canada last December. It might be too early to predict what he will be, but one can nevertheless think that he will succeed in imposing his line of action on at least one question: the environment. In the race for the liberal leadership it is on this issue that candidate Dion has succeeded in affirming himself.  He has multiplied proposals on loads of questions, but it is however the environmental platform that has best served his ambitions. It was one of the keys to his victory. His passage in the ministry of the environment gave him the necessary authority to appropriate this theme and put forward a new political paradigm in which measures for protecting the environment will assure the economic and social development of Canada.

The advantage that the Liberal Party of Stéphane Dion will have over the other parties in the race to occupy this space is to have already in hand a complete program entitled “To build a lasting future”. Structured around the reduction of gas with greenhouse effect, this program counteracts the proposal of the opponents to the implementation of the Kyoto accord. Far from being a factor of economic decrease, this program would have a stimulating effect thanks notably to an incentive green taxation. His adversaries will however remind him that the Liberal Government, of which he was a member, has also a large part of responsibility in the present incapacity of Canada to attain the objectives of reduction of gas with greenhouse effect set by the Kyoto accord.

Canadians are preoccupied with environment and this goes well with the world priorities. The UNO has already tested the opinion of the international community by proclaiming the years 2007-2008 the International Polar Year and the International Year of Planet Earth.

International Polar Year 2007-2008

125 years after the first International Polar Year (IPY), the international scientific community is preparing to organize the fourth International Polar Year in 2007-2008. This will offer the opportunity for the general public to debate and to get information on problems like climatic change, atmospheric ozone, biodiversity, that are at the heart of the great problems that commit the future of our societies.

Why a “polar” year?

This campaign will help demonstrate the driving force that Polar Regions play towards the rest of the planet. Polar Regions are recognized as playing a key role in the global system of planet “Earth”. They are nowadays the scene of significant changes (climatic, ecological, human…). Evolutions at the Poles are amplified and present a more rapid character than elsewhere. They contain archives (ice fields) and unique information on the evolution of global changes. They are also the place of important economic and geopolitical stakes.

The IPY 2007-2008 will be an international program of interdisciplinary scientific activities, of research and coordinated observations over a period of 24 months. The program will consist of activities in the Polar Regions in view of exploring new scientific frontiers, deepening our knowledge of polar processes with their links on a planetary scale, increasing our capacity to detect changes, having residents of the Arctic take a greater part in research activities, attracting and training the next generation of scientists and specialists of Polar Regions and finally captivating public interest.

It is expected that the IPY 2007-2008 will be the most important program of polar research in history. Estimated at many billion dollars, the program aims at the participation of at least 30, and perhaps 50 countries, and of 20000 or more persons in the entire world. It is sponsored internationally by the International Council for science and the World Meteorological Organization, and has been backed by numerous international bodies, notably the Council of the Arctic and the Program of the United Nations on environment.

Canada and IPY

Canada has actively been promoting the IPY within her frontiers and on the international scene and has for the first time strongly supported the integration of the human dimension as the central focus of the IPY. New funds totaling 150 million dollars will be awarded for the period from 2006-2007 to 2011-2012 so as to allow Canada to lead a new interdisciplinary program for the IPY. The program will put the accent mainly on scientific activities and on research in two sectors having priority: the study of the incidence of climatic changes and the adaptation to those changes, and the health and well-being of Nordic communities.

The program will also put the accent on training, communication and on an awareness campaign of public opinion. Nordic communities will actively be involved in scientific activities and research, thus taking advantage of training in the field. Investments in education and training will further the participation and training of a new generation of specialized scientists in Polar Regions, particularly northern residents and natives. All this will bring, in coming decades, promising programs in northern research.

International Year of Planet Earth

It is on the initiative of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) (which represents about 250 000 geoscientists spread in 117 countries throughout the world) that the project of an International Year of Planet Earth has come to light. The Division of Earth Sciences of UNESCO is giving its full support. The objective of this Year, implicitly summarized in its subtitle “Earth sciences at the service of society”, is to have people become aware of the relation between the human race and planet Earth, and to demonstrate that geoscientists have a key role to play in the creation of a well-balanced and lasting future for man and earth.

The year 2006 has officially marked the unfolding of the Year. However this project began in 2005 and will end in 2007. Its aim is to collect 20 million dollars; this makes it the greatest initiative ever launched. This amount will be equitably divided between research support and support to what is called “activities of special assistance to underserved communities and entities”, in fields of education, public relations and other ways of mass communication. All this will take the main message of the Year and the results of research to billion of people in the whole world.

Although the themes for research define a clear objective for the Year, there will be an interactive mode in the way it will work; new themes will be added from basic research. Eight themes have been selected for their impact on society: ground water, natural risks, Earth and health, climate (climatic change), natural resources, deep Earth, the Ocean and megalopolis. To this list a ninth theme on soils is added: this reflects another crucial problem to which humanity is confronted.

Looking for a way to demonstrate by what unique and exciting means the sciences of Earth can help present and future generations to take up the challenge for a more secure and prosperous world, the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) has decided to give substance to the idea of an International Year of Planet Earth. Straightaway it has decided that this Year be proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations so as to create the maximum interest in public opinion and to associate in its execution all entities of the system of the United Nations. The International Year of Planet Earth, that would have for theme “The sciences of the Earth at the service of society”, would inform public opinion, leaders, other decision-makers and the media of what is known nowadays on the manner that society can profit more and more quantitatively and qualitatively from available skills of some 400 000 specialists in Earth sciences from all over the world.

Mankind needs its planet. We are totally dependant on it because we are its product, will forever be part of it and can only exist if a self-supporting terrestrial system permits it. Planet earth is unique in our solar system and in the accessible and known universe. Not only do we not have another planet, but it is also the only living planet that we know, and perhaps we will never know another one.

Scientists who study planet earth have already uncovered many of its secrets and have made much progress in understanding the way it functions. Vast expanses of the earth’s crust have already been mapped and considerable amounts of geo-data are stocked in numerical databases where one can at any moment find information on the subsoil. We know where the greatest reserves of natural resources stocked in the earth’s crust are found and we also know why and where earthquakes may take place. We can reconstitute in detail climates of past periods and we know where and when tectonic plates moved, how those movements are linked to the outbreak of mountain ranges and how those mountains have been subjected to time erosion. We can predict many - but unfortunately not all – natural risks from fossil study and from our knowledge of the earth’s movements.

This being so, this abundant information is not presently exploited as it should be for planning and control, it is even not exploited at all. We build where we should not, we exploit our resources following less than viable ways and it is only selectively that we apply recent knowledge to lessen catastrophic effects of natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides or inundations. If we continue to behave “as if there was nothing”, society will continue to suffer, unnecessarily, through ignorance.

It is therefore high time to try and do something. Everywhere in the world specialists of earth sciences are ready and willing to help society do all it can so that we all may live on a more secure, healthier and richer planet. The International Year of Planet Earth is a first step in the implementation of this objective.

To obtain the maximal political impact, organizers plan to proclaim the International Year of Planet Earth through the system of the United Nations and target the year 2007 as a celebration year. However a single year is not enough to implement this rather ambitious scientific and promotional program; this will take at least three years. Organizers predict that the activities of the Year start in 2006, attain their high point in 2007 and end in 2008.

The proclamation of an International Year of Planet Earth will probably be beneficial not only for research in sciences of the “Earth system”, but also for the society at large and for the leaders and decision-makers who are dealing with the long-standing socioeconomic development.


Michel Fortin, M.Afr.

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