South africa’s Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, has welcomed Cabinet’s approval for South Africa to host the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Ministerial Summit in Cape Town in 2023.
At its meeting on Monday, 21 November, Cabinet said that South Africa has been an active executive committee member of GEO since 2005, and that its Earth observations experts contribute to GEO initiatives and participate in most of GEO’s flagship programmes.
“Climate change is a cross-cutting challenge and, in this interconnected world, the impact of a single event can have cascading consequences in locations further away and across borders,” said Minister Nzimande.
The Minister added that concerted, global action like GEO was needed to respond to societal challenges and improve living conditions for all people, especially the world’s poorest citizens.
GEO consists of more than 113 national governments, 31 of which are in Africa. These countries voluntarily contribute towards the common goal of building the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). GEOSS aims to integrate observing systems and improve data sharing by connecting existing infrastructures using common standards. GEO addresses issues such as climate change, biodiversity, agriculture and health. Its systems encompass technologies from satellites and its comprehensive scope makes it possible to leverage resources and cut across disciplines.
The Minister said the unique global network connects government bodies, research institutions and data providers, among others, and enables innovative solutions to address global challenges that transcend national and disciplinary boundaries.
“The unprecedented global collaboration of experts [under GEO] helps identify gaps and reduce duplication in the areas of sustainable development and sound environmental management,” the Minister said.
The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) has made several investments in Earth observations as a contribution to GEO. For example, a precision agriculture information system being developed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, one of the DSI’s entities, provides actionable data to emerging and existing commercial farmers and other industries along the agricultural value chain. The intention is to offer regular, farm-level information obtained from Earth observations to guide precision farm management.
In another initiative, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) assists the Departments of Human Settlement and Small Business Development to deliver services related to urban and spatial planning. SANSA provides data products and services that enable government to monitor informal settlements and housing developments, which helps with planning.
The South African Mercury Network (SAMNet) programme, funded by the DSI and implemented by the South African Weather Service’s mercury observations data lab, is part of the Global Observation System for Mercury (GOS4M), a GEO flagship initiative. SAMNet aims to develop a continental GOS4M engagement with the aim of establishing a coordinated African Observation System for Mercury.
The Oceans and Coastal Information Management System, part of the Operation Phakisa – Oceans Economy initiative, integrates tools for monitoring sea state, water quality, harmful algal bloom, coastal erosion and oil spills, informing the effective governance of South Africa’s oceans and coasts. This project is supported by both the DSI and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.
The Minister said sustainable and equitable solutions require intelligent, evidenced-based decisions that show how human behaviour affects the planet.
Earth observations can point to opportunities for creating sustainable economies, and secure optimal environmental and social conditions for future generations.