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GEO Co-Chairs say ‘imagine if’ at Earth & Space Expo
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Arrow  On 15 February 2005, Co-Chairs of the ad hoc Group on Earth Observations (GEO) sat down to lunch with reporters. Their message: imagine if we lived in a world with a comprehensive 'Global Earth Observation System of Systems'.

GEO Co-Chairs say ‘imagine if’ at Earth & Space Expo

“We are not about creating another new organisation,” said Co-Chair Achilleas Mitsos, Director-General for Research at the European Commission. “We are talking about bringing together existing systems and organisations. Better organisation is really our goal. For example, Europe’s GMES initiative, Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, is a major step forward for European Earth Observation. This GMES would be a part of the GEOSS, so the GEOSS does not redo or duplicate the work of GMES or any other system. Rather, it includes them and integrates them to provide total coverage, total information for all users.”

“Imagine if we had had a comprehensive tsunami warning system in place for the Indian Ocean just two months ago,” said GEO Co-Chair Conrad Lautenbacher, US Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. “In the future, Earth Observation (EO) will protect all people, everywhere, from this kind of terrible but, ultimately, predictable tragedy.”

The GEO’s aim is the creation of a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS. It will bring together all available information on the state of the global environment, consolidating existing data from disparate sources, stimulating research and development to fill data gaps, and facilitating the provision of relevant and meaningful information to policy-makers, the scientific community, businesses and citizens.

Mitsos and Shirakawa
Mitsos and Shirakawa

“It is not a happy fact that, today, the most well-known Japanese word in the world is ‘tsunami’,” said GEO Co-Chair Tetsuhisa Shirakawa, Japan’s Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. “Although Japan is a small country, we have used our technological know-how to build EO systems to protect people against this kind of natural catastrophe. Since the beginning of the GEO in 2003, my Prime Minister, Mr Koizumi, has been convinced of the importance of a global Earth monitoring system. This is the goal we are trying to reach, the is the goal of the Ten-Year Implementation Plan that we will present at the Third EO Summit.”

“Look at something like the Hubble telescope,” said Lautenbacher, “We’ve all seen the images and the fantastic science that can be done when we put our technologies to the test. Now, imagine if we could take that kind of technological know-how, turn it around and point it toward the Earth. The GEOSS will bring us Earth observing power, power to know and understand our planet and to bring EO benefits to all people.”

Closing the circle

Co-Chair Rob Adam, South Africa’s Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology, said, “Integration is the key here, but we’re not just talking here about bringing together all the technologies used in the developed countries. Filling the gaps means bringing in information from developing countries as well. Their role in the GEO process is vital. They are prime beneficiaries of expected GEOSS benefits, but they are also critical in providing data and information, and we are very happy to see the huge increase in GEO membership among developing countries.”

Adam and Lautenbacher
Adam and Lautenbacher

GEO forges ahead

The lunch took place during the sixth GEO meeting, a major highlight of Earth & Space Week. Immediately following GEO 6, on 16 February, the Third EO Summit will convene. There, the GEO will deliver its highly anticipated Ten-Year Implementation Plan for the creation of a GEOSS.

“The GEO has the full support of my government,” said Lautenbacher, “and that has already been critical to the success of this Group.” With that, Mitsos announced that the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has offered to host the GEO Secretariat in Geneva. “We have only just arrived at an agreement on this,” he said, “so we cannot say much more about it right now, but we can confirm that the GEO Secretariat will have a home in Geneva, hosted by the WMO, in the near future.”

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