Press Release

GEO holds special session on governance in Brussels

By SpaceRef Editor
October 6, 2004
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GEO holds special session on governance in Brussels

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) met in a special session on 27 and 28 September 2004 to agree important elements of a groundbreaking 10-year Plan, paving the way toward a ‘Global Earth Observation System of Systems’ (GEOSS).

Over the next decade, GEOSS will revolutionise our understanding of the Earth and how it works, allowing policy-makers around the world to access critical information on the environment. It will also provide the framework for a new set of groundbreaking applications with serious commercial potential.

Speaking at the special session, Achilleas Mitsos, Director-General for Research at the European Commission, and one of four GEO Co-Chairs, said, “We are on schedule to deliver the 10-year Plan at the Third EO Summit in Brussels next February, and we will have one more meeting in Ottawa before then, but there are still a number of issues to resolve, including who will implement the plan, how it will be funded, how we make the transition and where the governing body will be located. These are details, but important details if we are to maintain continuity.

“We must also be sure that we do not lose site of our ultimate goal,” he continued. “We are working to create something that will have real and lasting benefits for people all over the world.”

Wide-ranging benefits

With Europe now playing a leading role in the development of EO technologies, the delivery of environmental data to users in areas as diverse as urban planning, climate change, agriculture and humanitarian relief is becoming commonplace, but the wide scale coordinated dissemination of EO data on a global level is still a vision for the future.

GEO Co-Chair Akio Yuki is Japan’s Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. He said, “The GEOSS has the potential to deliver great socio-economic benefits, but we must maintain the momentum we have created. We have identified the outlines of the GEOSS. The framework for governance is now a critical issue, defining the structures and mechanisms that will support the GEOSS and allow it to move forward, so this meeting is very important as we anticipate the delivery of our Plan at EO Summit III.”

“The GEO was formed a little more than a year ago, and, in that time, we have come a long way down the track,” said GEO Co-Chair Conrad Lautenbacher, retired US Navy Vice Admiral, current Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “We’re now at the 80-metre point in a 100-metre dash. This is not the time to slow down or lose sight of the finish line.

The GEO was set up at the first EO Summit in Washington in July 2003, with the primary goal of developing a ten-year GEOSS Implementation Plan. The Plan is now set to be adopted at the Third Earth Observation Summit in Brussels in February 2004, one of the highlights of the EU’s ‘Earth & Space Week’, which will run from 12-20 February 2005.

Final decisions on the Plan are expected to be taken at the next full meeting of the GEO in Ottawa, the Canadian capitol, in November 2004. But the question of governance – who implements the plan and how, once delivered – is still to be resolved. The special session in Brussels was intended as an informal event, to provide guidance on final decisions to be taken in Ottawa.

“The interest for the global community is clear,” says Mitsos. “We are talking about nothing less than the future prosperity and security of the citizens of our world, so we must build in the following months a robust, workable and sustainable plan for the next decade. The European initiative on Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) will form an important contribution.”

Developing countries in the fold

GEO Co-Chair Rob Adam is South Africa’s Director General of the Department of Science and Technology. He said, “We are talking about integrating a large number of existing EO systems, and we know that along with integration come innovation and value-addition. As we pull systems together, the gaps become clearer and this will allow us to identify new directions for progress. This process is politically led but science driven and bringing these two aspects together is also a challenge.

“As the Co-Chair representing South Africa,” he said, “I am very happy to see the inclusion of developing countries in the GEO. The truth is that, while the developed world holds the vast majority of EO resources, it is the developing world that stands to gain the most from the establishment of the GEOSS. Today, most of our people have some notion of EO as a weather monitoring-related technology, but its full impact has not yet come into their awareness. So, in addition to giving them access to EO data, educating our people and bringing them up to speed on the potential benefits of EO is now an important task for all of us.”

Earth & Space Week announced

On the occasion of the GEO special session, Mitsos officially unveiled plans for the European Commission- and European Space Agency (ESA)-sponsored ‘Earth & Space Week’.

For nine days, from 12-20 February 2005, the EU and ESA aim to raise public awareness and appreciation of the important roles of Earth Observation and Space in our society. A range of cultural and educational activities are being planned, including a world-class interactive ‘Earth & Space Expo’, an ‘Earth & Space Classroom’ and an EU-wide contest for schoolchildren. Ministerial-level events will include the EO Summit and an International Conference on co-operation in Space.

SpaceRef staff editor.