The hazard posed to humanity by cosmic impacts is international in
character. While km-sized impactors would cause important, global
perturbations to the Earth’s biosphere and climate, those of somewhat
smaller size could also have serious international consequences,
affecting densely populated coastal areas in several countries.
Those well-known circumstances, and the fact that a more detailed
assessment of the impact hazard requires a survey and study of the
Near-Earth Object population, for which an effort by the international
astronomical community is necessary, form the basis for the IAU’s
engagement in the issue, as laid down by the IAU Executive Committee
already in 1998.

The recent report of a Task Force (UKTF) appointed to advise
the Government of the United Kingdom on research policies related to
potentially hazardous Near-Earth Objects gives a clear summary of
the current situation with a proper and welcome emphasis on the
international aspects. It provides a follow-up on earlier planning
efforts initiated in the US, that resulted in defining the Spaceguard
System for the inventory of the population of km-sized Earth-crossers,
while now pushing the goals further.

The IAU and its Working Group on Near-Earth Objects (WGNEO) welcome the
report of the UKTF as a very constructive step towards a concerted
programme of action on the subject.

To this end new resources will be required, and in all likelihood,
those can not be found solely within any one country. Nonetheless,
international efforts naturally grow out of national initiatives.
The exploration of the potential impactor population has so far
been carried out mostly thanks to search programmes carried out in
the US but has nevertheless been international, e.g. with the
IAU offering its resources for gathering the scientific expertise.
We now look forward to a deepening search which will still profit
essentially from national and multilateral funding, as proposed
by the UKTF to the British Government, but which will continue to draw
upon the contributions of scientists all over the world and,
in particular, the support of the IAU Minor Planet Center.

The formation of national centers to provide other kinds of support
was in fact one of the recommendations of last year’s IMPACT
meeting in Torino, for which the IAU was one of the sponsors. The
IAU will be pleased to collaborate with governmental and other partners
both in Europe and elsewhere to secure the role of the international
scientific community in setting up or reinforcing the necessary
structures, and hopes that the government of the UK and other
interested countries will decide to follow up the Task Force
recommendations with appropriate initiatives. The WGNEO will continue
to be the main forum of discussions within the IAU of all related
scientific matters.

Hans Rickman, IAU General Secretary

David Morrison, Chairman of the WGNEO