The Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and landscapes are changing rapidly, with human activities being a major driver. Monitoring and modelling these changes are critical for governments, private sector and citizens to make informed decisions on the global challenges our society is facing. Vital information is being gathered by land, sea, air and space-based Earth observation systems. However, the current process of collecting, storing, analysing and distributing this information remains fragmented, incomplete or redundant.
Since 2005, the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) provides a voluntary framework to help governments and international organisations coordinate their Earth observation strategies and investment and to implement the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to facilitate access to and integration of global Earth observations that can improve environmental decision-making. The GEOSS provides open and unrestricted access to millions of observation data, items of information and products. These can be used to tackle issues including protecting people against natural disasters, responding to climate change, managing energy resources or promoting sustainable agriculture, among other societal challenges.
Data and information collected through Citizens' Observatories will also be available through the GEOSS. This will help empower societies, enabling citizens to play an active role in community decision-making and planning, in partnership with governments and local authorities.
In January 2014, government ministers from the GEO member countries resolved to renew GEO's mandate for a further decade. This second phase of GEO (2016-2025) will be crucial in terms of stepping up the use of a more robust GEOSS.
The European Union in GEO
The European Union (EU) is a driving force within GEO. The European Commission, as a founding member and one of the four co-chairs of this initiative, and the EU Member States are contributing actively to this international effort. This has resulted in strengthened transnational collaboration in Earth observation activities within and outside the EU.
Openly accessible Earth observation data and information obtained through GEOSS can inform EU policies in the domains of environment, research, climate, energy and sustainable development, while providing opportunities to European businesses to develop value-added services. Furthermore, GEO is in a unique position to increase the Europe's standing in the international Earth observation arena, facilitating the development of strategic partnerships to jointly address global challenges.
The EU Research and Innovation programmes have been pivotal in building the GEOSS, with more than €200 Mio invested over the period 2007-2013 and with ongoing support by Horizon 2020 activities. Copernicus, the European Earth observation programme, also provides a crucial framework for the achievement of a strong and visible European contribution.
The current transition period in GEO is a unique window of opportunity for Europe to assess and review its position in this global initiative. Therefore, the European Commission has conducted several consultations of experts and society to identify preliminary issues and possible EU-level actions to improve coordination of Earth Observations through GEO and speed up the evolution of the GEOSS into a system with the capacity to contribute to EU policies and benefit EU industry and European society as a whole. The outcomes of these consultations were consolidated in the Commission document "Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS): achievements to date and challenges to 2025" and in the report which resulted from a public consultation conducted in 2015.