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Earth observation

The challenge

The Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and landscapes are changing rapidly, with human activities being a major driver. Monitoring and modelling these changes are critical because they allow governments, society and the private sector to make informed decisions about climate, energy, food security, natural hazards, health and other societal challenges.

Earth Observations (EO) are collected by a wide diversity of sensors on-board various monitoring platforms such as ships, buoys, aircrafts, balloons, drones, or satellites. They can also be ground-based or acquired by citizens using for instance their smart phones or other mobile devices. Such monitoring sensors and the related Earth observation information systems are managed by a high diversity of public and private entities around the world. For decades, this situation has led to a fragmented global landscape for Earth system monitoring.

Policy relevance

Aiming at improving EO, the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) provides a framework where governments and international organisations can develop new projects and coordinate their strategies and investments. GEO’s main role is to develop and implement a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) which aims to facilitate discovery, access and integration of global Earth observations in order to improve environmental decision-making.

In January 2014, the Ministers and other heads of delegations from the GEO Member governments have resolved to renew the GEO mandate for another period of 10 years. This new decade (2016-2025) will be crucial to intensify use and exploitation of a more robust GEOSS.

In this context, the European Commission conducted several experts' consultations in 2013 and 2014 to identify several preliminary issues and possible actions at EU level have been identified in view of accelerating the evolution of the GEOSS into a system that could effectively contribute to EU policies, generate business opportunities for the EU industry and bring benefits to European society as a whole. These outcomes are presented into the Commission Staff Working Document "Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS): Achievements to date and challenges to 2025" (PDF icon 400KB).
The European Commission is currently conducting a public consultation in order to: 

  • appreciate how to maximize EU benefits from an increased Earth observation coordination through GEO
  • collect views on a set of possible actions at EU level in the field of global Earth observation and GEO

Long-term objective (2020): To make the EU a leader in Earth observation applications and to achieve the realisation of GEOSS as a long-term and self-maintaining international open access cooperation framework.

Research funded by the EU

Horizon 2020 (2014 - 2020) is the European Union's seven-year programme for Research and Innovation with a budget of nearly 80 billion euros. Climate action, resource efficiency and sustainable development are supported across different thematic areas in Horizon 2020. 60% of the overall Horizon 2020 budget will support sustainable development, incl. a minimum of 35% dedicated to climate-related research and innovation.

The WORK PROGRAMME 2014 – 2015 for Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials (PDF icon 1 MB)is available on the Participant Portal, where you can find information on funding.

Under FP7 (2007–13), four blocks contributing to the establishment of the GEOSS were emphasised:

  1. Integration of European activities within the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), supporting European activities at global level
  2. Cross-cutting research activities relevant to GEO understanding, modelling and predicting environmental phenomena
  3. Emerging Earth observation activities, supporting the development of European earth observation systems and activities in areas of environmental research needed for GEOSS
  4. Developing capacity-building activities in the domain of Earth observation, providing support to international research initiatives in which Europe would contribute to the development of observing systems.

More than 50 projects were funded under the FP7's Environment theme with a total EU contribution of over €200 million euros.