Space Weather as a Global Challenge Opening Remarks

Judith G. Garber
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Washington, DC
April 4, 2016

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Judy Garber, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, International Environmental, and Scientific Affairs, and that is where we put space in the State Department. And I have to say, you are an amazingly punctual crowd. And I think part of that is due to the absolutely fantastic turnout we have and the kind of enthusiasm for this subject that we are seeing today. And we are so delighted that all of you could join us this morning.

For many of you, I’m guessing this may be your first introduction to space weather and how it can impact our daily interconnected lives. For those of you, however, who are already space weather experts, today will be an opportunity to learn even more about the recently-released U.S. National Space Weather Strategy and its intersection with substantial ongoing international activities. We are hoping by the end of this morning that one thing will be clear: the extensive interconnections between our countries, including over digital backbones, means that space weather impacts us all.

The Space Weather Expert Group, under the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or COPUOS, made this point in February when the group noted that even countries with a low perceived domestic space weather risk can benefit from a global approach to mitigating space weather risks. We are thankful that the Expert Group Chair, Professor Ian Mann, has traveled down from Alberta to share further insights with us on their work. Likewise, we are grateful that we have with us today Jérôme Lafeuille, a representative of the World Meteorological Organization Space Programme. I was told that Jérôme interrupted his holiday in Brittany, specifically to make the trip across the Atlantic for our event. So thank you so much for joining us, Jérôme.

Largely through their efforts, the World Meteorological Congress took note in May 2015 of a four-year-plan for WMO coordination of space weather activities. The WMO and COPUOS activities are supplemented by ongoing work in other United Nations bodies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, and the International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, as well as others. For instance, the Committee on Space Research, or COSPAR published a global roadmap in 2015, noting again that “space weather is an international challenge”, while NATO’s Civil Emergency Planning Committee is advising NATO planners on possible implications of space weather for NATO operations.

The European Commission and the European Space Agency, building off a wealth of scientific expertise in their region, are fostering the development of new capabilities to enable end-users in a wide range of affected sectors to mitigate the effects of space weather on their systems, reducing costs, and improving reliability.

On the national level, many countries have moved forward with developing and/or enhancing their own capabilities. For example, the United Kingdom added the risk of severe space weather to their National Risk Assessment in 2011 and published a whole-of-government Space Weather Preparedness Strategy in 2015. We will hear more from Mark Gibbs in the UK Met Office later today, but I don’t think he will mind if I share that one of their priorities is international cooperation. This is a priority for the United States as well.

When we set out to draft the U.S. Strategy and Action Plan, we took into account these and many other important international initiatives already underway. In fact, the actions in Goal 6 of our Strategy, which my team is tasked with leading, seek to support these efforts and specifically to encourage increased cooperation. The Action Plan identifies those specific bilateral and multilateral activities necessary to promote safety, security, and economic stability before and after space-weather events. We recognize that the United States must partner with other nations in developing strengthened standards and protocols for the protection of key infrastructure.

The Actions in Goal 6 are grouped into four high-level objectives. First, to build international support and policies for acknowledging space weather as a global challenge. Second, to increase engagement with the international community on observation infrastructure, data sharing, numerical modeling, and scientific research. Third, to strengthen international coordination and cooperation on space-weather products and services. And fourth, to promote a collaborative international approach to preparedness for extreme space-weather events.

Through events like this today, we can ensure that policy makers and our friends and allies are informed of the need for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to space weather.

In 2018 the United Nations will organize UNISPACE+50 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

The Steering Committee has already identified developing an international framework for space weather services as one of the thematic priorities, which affords us an excellent opportunity to showcase the progress made. Clearly, now is the time to seize the initiative.

And in that light, we have assembled an outstanding group of people to speak to you this morning. In our first panel, U.S. government experts will discuss the U.S. National Strategy and Action Plan, while in the second panel, we’ll hear from the UK and leading international organizations. Several of our speakers will stay on for a focused discussion this afternoon with government representatives from local embassies, some of whom I believe are already here with us this morning. Mark Gibbs has accepted our offer to co-chair with Deputy Assistant Secretary Margolis. I want to use this opportunity to thank them on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Their presence here is essential in conveying and understanding the importance of space weather for each of our countries and the reasons why we need to work together to address this phenomenon.

I would also like to give huge thanks to Victoria Samson and her team at the Secure World Foundation for their support in co-organizing this event.

And with that, I would like to turn the floor over to Victoria, and, again, welcome you all here to the State Department today. Thank you so much for coming.