Politiques scientifiques et technologiques

Workshop on Near Earth Objects: Risks, Policies and Actions


On January 20-22, 2003, the Global Science Forum convened a workshop to allow government officials and scientists to examine the threat from Near Earth Objects, and possible actions that may be needed. The event was held in Frascati, Italy.

Over the past several years, astronomers have learned a great deal about asteroids and comets ("Near Earth Objects" or NEOs) that strike the Earth. Small asteroids burn up harmlessly as meteors in the atmosphere, the Earth's natural defence. Very large impacts have in the past been overwhelmingly catastrophic but are, fortunately, very infrequent. However, detectable misses by mid-sized asteroids are quite common. As observational techniques improve, astronomers detect such near misses with greater frequency. These events are the subject of media reports that create widespread curiosity and concern.

In response to new scientific findings and the increased visibility of the issue, the Global Science Forum held a workshop to review the state of knowledge about the dangers posed by NEOs, to examine the level of effort currently devoted to dealing with the hazards, and to consider the need for new policies and possible actions.

The workshop was hosted by the European Space Research Institute (ESRIN) in Frascati, Italy, on January 20 - 22, 2003. Unlike many previous scientific gatherings on this subject, the workshop brought together researchers and government policy makers from OECD countries, including those who are responsible for the safety of the public. The workshop was proposed by the delegation of the United Kingdom to the Global Science Forum as part of its follow-on to the report of the Task Force on Potentially Hazardous Near Earth Objects (chaired by Dr. Harry Atkinson with Sir Crispin Tickell and Professor David Williams as members). The report was delivered to the UK government in September 2000 ( http://www.nearearthobjects.co.uk). An international steering committee was in charge of organising the event with the assistance of the secretariat of the OECD. Members of the steering committee were appointed by eleven Global Science Forum delegations.

Workshop participants focused on the following specific areas:

- An assessment of the threat posed by NEOs relative to other known natural and man-made hazards.
- An appraisal of current responses to the threat.
- A review of the policy-level dimensions of NEO-related issues, on national and international levels.
- A review of the state of scientific knowledge, including its accuracy and completeness.
- An enumeration of possible actions and follow-on studies by the scientific and policy communities.

Opinions about the NEO question range from a belief that the threat is vastly under-appreciated, to a suspicion that it has been exaggerated by some scientists and the media. The OECD workshop was designed to approach the subject without preconceptions about the level of the threat or the needed actions. A sober, science-based, international analysis under the aegis of the Global Science Forum, and with full appreciation of the policy contexts, was to bring clarity, rigour, and political realism to this complex and still largely unfamiliar issue. Attendees to the NEO workshop were invited by governmental delegations to the Global Science Forum, and by the international steering committee.

Click here for the final report.


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