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GEO on a strategic mission to deliver insights for a changing world

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GEO Community at GEO Week 2017
GEO Community at GEO Week 2017 Photo Credit: GEO

In its pursuit to benefit the humankind through the use and applications of earth observation, the GEO community shifts its approach from being data-centric to user-centric.

With an aim to strengthen the coordination and cooperation among the global earth observing systems, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) successfully concluded the GEO Week 2017, from October 23 to October 27, 2017, held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Centre, in Washington, D.C., USA.

Attracting 700 plus people, GEO Week 2017 consisted of the GEO-XIV Plenary, side events and exhibitions which efficiently highlighted and promoted the role, applications and opportunities to use earth observation (EO). The aim was to discuss the engagement of multiple stakeholders to make earth observation a critical tool for meeting global challenges.

The side events included discussions and technology seminars on wide range of topics such as, Open Data Cube, Regional Group on Earth Observation Systems of System (GEOSS) best practices, Demonstrating value of earth observations (applications and solutions), Earth Observation for Land Degradation, Earth Observation in Service of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ocean Applications, etc., among many others.

Some of the key events and discussions that took place at GEO Week 2017 are:

EuroGEOSS launch event

The most notable event was the launch of the EuroGEOSS on the first day of GEO Week 2017, i.e. October 23, 2017 by Robert Jan Smits, European Commission’s (EC) Director General for Research and Innovation (DGRI). The launch of EuroGEOSS is aimed at benefitting citizens, businesses, research scientists and government by providing access to tailored advanced earth observation services, while simultaneously bringing in synergies within the existing European earth observation initiatives. The major element of the EuroGEOSS will be the Copernicus, the European Earth Observation Programme, which was emphasised by Andreas Veispak, Head of EC´s Space Data for Societal Challenges and Growth Unit, “EuroGEOSS will enrich and stimulate the link between Copernicus data and the end users.”

Furthermore, the idea behind EuroGEOSS is to integrate the fragmented efforts of Horizon 2020, Copernicus, ESA, and other national programs and initiatives, by acting as an ‘incubator’ to test earth observation based services and applications for the future and to focus on the sustainable development goals and GEO’s societal benefit areas. Supported by the European Commission, GEO participating countries and participating organizations, EuroGEOSS aims to boost the user uptake of earth observation data while simultaneously improving the forecasting capabilities of governments in the European context.

GEO in 12 years in 12 minutes

Presenting on, ‘GEO in 12 years in 12 minutes’, at the inauguration ceremony of GEO-XIV Plenary, Barbara Ryan, GEO Secretariat stated, “We are moving largely from a data-centric approach to a user-centric approach. It’s about closing the gap between users and providers.” Furthermore, Ryan presented a powerful snapshot of GEO’s impact by breaking down the GEO community into a set of highly impressive numbers. With 105 member countries, 118 participating organizations, 5,000 plus data providers, and 400 million earth observation resources, the GEO community is pivoting at an increased rate to provide useful earth observation information to the end user community.

Supported by its flagship initiatives at the programmatic level, such as GEOBON, GEOGLAM, GFOI and GOS4M, and regional frameworks such as AmeriGEOSS, AfriGEOSS, AOGEOSS, and EuroGEOSS, the community is working towards fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals at a pace much faster than many organizations. Additionally, Ryan stressed on the need for Open Data for Earth Observation, “You are inhibiting economic growth if you do not implement broad open data policies.” Citing the example of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Ryan stated that after the open data policy came into place in 2007, the economic benefits that accrue to USA via Landsat imagery downloads is approximately $1.7 billion annually. The opening session concluded with the finalization of the GEO Draft Agenda and the Draft Report of GEO — XIII and the opening of the exhibition.

Earth observation in public policy, commercial sector and international development

The first panel, Earth Observation in Public Policy, discussed specific case studies from Colombia and Jamaica to highlight the need for open data policies for earth observation data in public policy frameworks. The panel also welcomed the increased participation of national statistical agencies – so as to bring together – the spatial and non-spatial data sets together for informed decision making. In the second panel on Earth Observation in Commercial Sector, Jack Dangermond, Founder and President, Esri, emphasised that data – earth observation data alone cannot suffice the needs of the end-users but the data needs to be analytics ready to have any value.

The panel emphasised that genuine focus must be placed on what is needed by the user community so as to focus on real people who are doing real things, focussing on real problems for real-time solutions. The panellists of the, Earth Observation in International Development, representing over $100 billion in development funding, emphasized day to day governance, international cooperation and collaborations among all stakeholders for efficient utilization of earth observation data. It was agreed that the potential of earth observation data was evolving, for conducting rapid assessments of socio-environment and economic status of developing countries.

Keeping in tone with the plenary theme, Peter Head, Founder, Resilience Brokers, emphasised on the value chain that open data creates for meeting the global goals by stating, “We need to turn data into wisdom.” Various presentations highlighted the successful implementation of programs under the GEO framework such as EO for Ecosystem Accounting, GEO’s Human Planet Initiative by ESA and finally, the EO4Health initiative by NOAA. Additionally, a panel discussion on National Earth Observations deliberated on the need for developing the national earth observations capabilities in each country, the opportunities available and the perennial challenges countries face with respect to open data, data accessibility, data sharing and policy guidelines.

GEO legal status

The legal status of GEO which has been in debate for some time now, received a celebratory cheer and applause from the GEO community after Ryan announced that under a new standing agreement, GEO has a legal standing, covered by the Headquarters agreement concluded between WMO and Swiss Federal Council. In addition, the announcement of the next GEO XV Plenary at Kyoto, Japan 2018 was made. The GEO Week 2017 finally concluded with a standing ovation to Ryan for six years of inspiring leadership and service to the GEO Community as the GEO Secretariat.

GEO Week 2017 concluded with members ecstatic of the possibilities and opportunities available to their countries as a participating country or organization to leverage all that GEO has to offer to meet the biggest task at hand right now, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In a nutshell, GEO is on a strategic mission to provide data to users to meet the most difficult of challenges on ground. With too many goals at hand, and time too less, open earth observation data, is the way to proceed.