International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
The General Assembly first included “International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space” on its agenda at its thirteenth session (1959) and established the Ad Hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The next year, the Assembly set up the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) (whose original membership of 24 has recently expanded to 95.
COPUOS was tasked with reviewing international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, studying space-related activities that could be undertaken by the United Nations, encouraging space research programmes, and studying legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space. It was instrumental in the creation of five international space treaties which stress that whatever benefits might be accrued from outer space should be devoted to enhancing the well-being of all countries and humankind.
The Committee reports to the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly which adopts an annual resolution on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space based on its recommendations.
Owing to rapid advances in space technology, the space agenda is constantly evolving. One important area of concern is the risk space debris poses to spacecraft in Earth orbit. Space debris is defined as all man-made objects, including fragments and elements thereof, in Earth orbit or re-entering the atmosphere, that are non-functional. As the population of debris continues to grow, the probability of collisions that could lead to potential damage will increase. In addition, there is also the risk of damage on the ground, if debris survives Earth’s atmospheric re-entry. The prompt implementation of appropriate measures that will reduce the risks posed by space debris is necessary in order to preserve the outer space environment for future generations.
The Fourth Committee will examine this important issue and make recommendations on how best to mitigate the risks posed by space debris.