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Earth observation

| GEO history

Many users of Earth Observation (EO) data, including scientists, policy-makers and private citizens, still rely on limited and poorly presented environmental information, first, because the necessary data does not exist and, second, because the work of providers of existing data and information is not sufficiently coordinated. Where gaps or blind spots limit our monitoring and understanding of the Earth and its complex systems, new observation capabilities are required and should be pursued with the utmost vigour, but in a co-operative and coordinated way, without unnecessary duplication.

Research history

Partners worldwide support environmental monitoring
Partners worldwide support environmental monitoring

Producing better EO data became a top political priority, in Europe and around the globe since the early '90s. World Summits, high-level meetings and scientific conferences continue to call on the international community to better monitor the environment and to help improve our understanding of environmental processes.

Understanding the Earth system – its weather, climate, oceans, land, natural resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, natural and human-induced hazards – it's crucial to enhancing human health, safety and welfare, alleviating human suffering including poverty, protecting the global environment, and achieving sustainable development.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg South Africa, 2002, highlighted the urgent need for coordinated observations relating to the state of the Earth. The Summit of the Heads of States of the Group of 8 Industrialized Countries in June 2003 in France (Evian) reinforced the importance of Earth Observation as a priority activity. At the first Earth Observation Summit in Washington, in July 2003, a Declaration was adopted stating the political commitment to move towards development of a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained Earth Observation system of systems. The Summit established an ad hoc intergovernmental Group on Earth

Observations, co-chaired by the European Commission, Japan, South Africa and the USA, and tasked it with the development of a 10-Year Implementation Plan.

The third Earth Observation Summit established the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO). GEO welcomes all the Member States of the United Nations and the Participating Organizations which act at the intergovernmental, international and regional level to join, on voluntary basis, one of the most challenging coordination actions in the world.

At the first Ministerial Summit in Cape Town (30 November 2007) the European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potočnik recognized the great steps taken over the past two years and called the Summit an historical milestone and “the end of the beginning”.

Societal benefits of GEO

The EU will derive policy benefits while making important contributions to the well being of humankind as a whole. Earth observation involves many actors from a wide variety of environmental fields. But ground-based and ocean-based EO, for example, are very different to airborne and space-based observation, making for a heterogeneous community, often unaccustomed to working together on global, regional and national levels. For these reasons, the GEO has identified a number of specific expected social and economic benefits, focusing its attention and energies on activities related to 'Environment and Sustainable Development':

  • Disaster Reduction;
  • Climate Change;
  • Health;
  • Biodiversity;
  • Water Management;
  • Ecosystems;
  • Weather Forecasting;
  • Agriculture and desertification; and
  • Energy Management.

Background documentation