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N° 35–1997: MERCURE satellite network helps UNEP link the world for a better environment

21 October 1997

Mr Antonio Rodotà, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), will formally hand over the Mercure satellite communications network on behalf of six of the ESA member countries to Ms Elisabeth Dowdeswell, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on 5 November 1997 in Geneva.

The ceremony will take place in front of over 150 participants including delegates from the six contributing countries - Austria, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom - and many UNO representatives and ambassadors from countries all over the world.

The satellite-based telecommunications network was donated to UNEP to help the United Nations' environmental effort fulfill its leadership role and provide the specialised agency with a global communications capability for the transfer and exchange of up-to-date, easily accessible environmental databases and archives of its many partners, such as the Global Resource Information Database (GRID) and the Infoterra Global Environmental Information Exchange Network.

With its headquarters in Nairobi (Kenya) and offices scattered around the world, sometimes in remote parts, UNEP can now rely on a reliable space-bound system which will in particular benefit those countries that do not have sufficient telecommunications resources. UNEPnet, UNEP's green lane on the Internet, can now be accessed through the global Internet via the Mercure system which will support a new communication culture both within the UNEP and to its many external partners. The Mercure network will cut costs as it can also support the transfer of facsimile and e-mail as well as video transmission.

To cope with the implementation of the Mercure network, an international industrial team was set up in the six participating countries. As a follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the European Space Agency was asked to manage the contribution of the six member countries (11,75 MUC at 1992 economic conditions) and coordinate between UNEP, the industrial team and the network operator, the Swiss Telecom PTT.

The traffic hubs of the Mercure network are at the UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, and at the UNEP Regional Office of Europe in Geneva, Switzerland. The UNEP Regional Offices and UNEP-GRID centres in Western and Eastern hemisphere be served respectively by Intelsat satellites located over the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

The Mercure satellite dishes and facilities have been installed in 16 countries (Kenya, Bolivia, Cuba, Khazakstan, Nepal, Bahrain, Mozambique, China, Thailand, Russian Federation, Costa Rica, Niger, Vietnam, Austria, Norway, Switzerland) and eleven other countries have already voiced their interest in hosting a station.

Media interested in attending the handover ceremony at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva on Wednesday 5 November 1997 and welcome. They are invited to return the accreditation form appended.

More information on the Mercure project is available on a CD-Rom that will be distributed during the ceremony and on the web site:

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