Hosted by South Africa, participants at GEO Week, agree that EO continues to prove critical in tackling challenges

Last week, national governments from 114 countries adopted the Cape Town Declaration at the 2023 GEO Week and Ministerial summit last week, renewing the vital mission of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO).  Ministers and ministerial representatives of member states believe more than ever that nations need to work together to tackle interconnected global challenges.

GEO is an intergovernmental partnership and a unique global network of government institutions, academic and research institutions, data providers, businesses, engineers, scientists and experts from more than 113 national governments (30 from Africa), and in excess of 140 participating organisations (11 from Africa).  The group aims to create innovative solutions to global challenges that transcend national and disciplinary boundaries.

Hosted by South Africa for the second time, GEO Week gathered scientists, experts and industry in the Earth observation sector from across the world. There was overall consensus that improving the availability of Earth observations (EO), access to EO and the use of EO for a sustainable planet is at the heart of the GEO mission.  The unprecedented global collaboration of experts helps identify gaps and reduce duplication in the areas of sustainable development and sound environmental management.

When integrated, Earth observations from diverse sources – including satellite, airborne and in situ platforms, and citizen observatories – provide powerful tools for understanding the past and present conditions of Earth systems, and the interplay between them. These tools and the improved knowledge they provide, together with socio-economic data describing the human dimension in the global environment, can help solve problems, mitigate risks, and deliver skillful predictions of the future behaviour of Earth systems.

A case in point is the Global Forest Observations Initiative, which is monitoring the deforestation of the world’s second largest cocoa exporter, Ghana. Through advanced EO, Ghana has transformed its forest monitoring capacities, leading to result-based funding for climate-smart agriculture and a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

In Ecuador, in the remote province of Azuay, the GEO Global Water Sustainability Service has used historical streamflow and water level data to enable the design of an irrigation system that will improve access to water for people and livestock.

The GEO Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative contributed to reducing uncertainty in food markets by helping Ukraine to assess the impact of the ongoing conflict with Russia on agriculture and its agricultural exports.  The enhanced high-resolution agricultural metrics produced through EO facilitates accurate and timely food production projections.

The transformative power of Earth observations is also critical in tackling climate change challenges. Crop pests and diseases intensified by climate change pose a substantial threat to food security. China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen are mitigating this challenge with help of an innovative early warning approach that allows precise prevention measures to be implemented. The countries are proud to have boosted their species richness by approximately 10% and reduced the usage of pesticides.

With increasing floods and adverse weather conditions, access to data has become a non-negotiable in saving lives and livelihoods.  A collaborative effort between GEO’s Data Integration and Analysis System and the government of Japan has enhanced flood resilience among communities in Philippines.  Platforms like the Online Synthesis System for Sustainability and Resilience are now employed for real-time flood forecasting and comprehensive climate impact assessment.  Seychelles is using spatially explicit data to map and protect its seagrasses, which provide carbon sequestration and coastal protection, among other benefits.  

South Africa participates and contributes in almost all of GEO’s flagships initiatives and community activities.  The partnership ensures access to foreign satellite data, and the knowledge gained by South African experts has led to the development of advanced national EO products with significant socio-economic benefits.

A local EO project supported by the Department of Science and Innovation through its entity, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), include the provision of data products and services to the Department of Human Settlements so that it can monitor informal settlements and plan housing development initiatives.  SANSA also provides EO data and services to the Department of Small Business Development, which helps small business owners access vital decision-support information, and is being used to develop a precision agriculture information system that will produce near real-time farm-scale information and recommendations on farm management.

As GEO looks towards the future, its Post-2025 Strategy: Earth Intelligence for All, which was endorsed at the Ministerial Summit, will guide GEO’s leadership in coordinating and enabling the provision and use of Earth observations across scales, sectors and geographies.  The strategy introduces pathways for GEO to co-produce products and services both with and for users.  It draws on insights from EO sourced from across the value chain and covering multiple thematic areas to inform strategic decisions and empower society.

The Post-2025 Strategy emphasises the vital role of Earth intelligence in mitigating disaster risks, tackling climate change, and understanding the intricate balance between the environment, our health and the economy.

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