International cooperation and coordination in the area of near-Earth objects is crucial, given the potential global consequences of an impact and the significant resources that would be required to mitigate such a collision event. The issue has long been on the agenda of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), the primary United Nations body for coordinating and facilitating international cooperation in space activities. It was established in 1959 by the UN General Assembly and supported by the Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

Under the auspices of COPUOS, several recommendations for strengthening international cooperation and responses to the risk of an NEO impact have been made. This led to the establishment in 2014 of the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) and the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG). These bodies provide mechanisms at the global level to address the challenge posed by NEOs. This includes detection, tracking and impact risk assessment as well as planetary defence measures like civil protection or asteroid deflection.

UNOOSA, through the warning network and the advisory group, facilitates the dissemination of information on NEOs to UN Member States. Important linkages are being made with civil protection communities, including through UNOOSA’s UN-SPIDER programme and its global network of Regional Support Offices (RSOs). Their goal is to sensitise governments and their relevant national authorities about the existence of NEOs as potential natural disaster hazards, urging them to address the risk as part of their national emergency response and preparedness strategies.

IAWN and SMPAG - global mechanisms for coordinating action in the area of planetary defence

The IAWN links together the institutions that are already performing many of the proposed functions, including discovering, monitoring and physically characterising potentially hazardous NEOs. One of its aims is to maintain an internationally recognised clearing house for the receipt, acknowledgment and processing of all NEO observations. This is accomplished by the International Astronomical Union sanctioned Minor Planet Center, hosted at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in the United States and supported by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

IAWN recommends policies for gauging an emerging impact threat. It also assists governments to analyse the possible consequences of impact and to plan their responses. As of May 2020, there are 25 official signatories to the IAWN Statement of Intent, representing observatories and space institutions from Canada, China, Colombia, Croatia, Israel, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States, as well as independent astronomers from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Russia and the United States.

The SMPAG, (pronounced “same page”) is composed of Member States with space agencies or intergovernmental entities that coordinate and fund space activities and are capable of contributing to or carrying out a space-based near-Earth object mitigation campaign. Its responsibilities include developing the framework, timeline and options for initiating and executing space mission response activities, as well as promoting opportunities for international collaboration on research and techniques for NEO deflection. SMPAG currently has 19 members and six permanent observers, with UNOOSA acting as its secretariat.

"International cooperation and coordination in the area of near-Earth objects is crucial, given the potential global consequences of an impact and the significant resources that would be required to mitigate such a collision event."

International Asteroid Day

As part of the effort to raise awareness about this topic, the UN General Assembly proclaimed in resolution A/71/492 that International Asteroid Day would be observed annually on 30 June. 30 June is the anniversary of the Tunguska impact over Siberia in the Russian Federation on 30 June 1908. It was the Earth’s largest confirmed asteroid impact in recorded history devastating over 2,000 square kilometres of forest.

International Planetary Defense Conference (PDC) 2021

As the key biannual global conference that brings together key experts in this area, the 7th International Planetary Defence Conference will be hosted by UNOOSA from 26 to 30 April 2021 at the Vienna International Centre, Vienna, Austria.