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Group on Earth Observations (GEO)

| GEO elects new leadership in Geneva

    Government representatives from over 40 countries, 40 international and intergovernmental organisations and the European Commission met at the headquarters of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in Geneva, Switzerland, on 3 and 4 May 2005, for the first plenary of the new Group on Earth Observations (GEO). On the agenda were the size, structure and composition of the GEO Executive committee and the selection of GEO co-chairs.

    GEO CO-Chairs and dignitaries cut ribbon
    GEO CO-Chairs and dignitaries open the new GEO offices at WMO in Geneva
    The ‘new’ GEO is an intergovernmental assembly born out of the ‘ad hoc’ GEO, which delivered its ten-year plan to create a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) at the Third Earth Observation Summit in Brussels in February 2005. GEOSS will coordinate existing environmental observations made on land, in the atmosphere, in the oceans and from space and will make data readily available to users worldwide. The plan includes identification of gaps in observing systems and finding ways to remove obstacles to coordination of various systems. GEOSS benefits will comprise disaster prevention, climate monitoring and environmental preservation to improve socio-economic development, helping to enhance human health, safety and welfare in all countries around the world.

    In Geneva, twelve GEO member countries were elected by the plenary to serve on the Executive Committee for the next two years. The Executive Committee will facilitate and implement the decisions of the GEO plenary, which remains the primary GEO decisionmaking body. Four co-chairs, including two from developed and two from developing countries, were elected from among the Executive Committee members. The co-chairs will preside over GEO meetings. Within the Executive Committee, Europe is represented by the European Commission (co-chair) and by Germany and Italy. Africa is represented by South Africa (co-chair) and Morocco. The US (co-chair), Honduras and Brazil represent the Americas. Asia and Oceania are represented by China (co-chair), Japan and Thailand. Russia represents the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

    GEO-I heads of delegation
    GEO-I heads of delegation

    The four GEO co-chairs elected by the GEO-I plenary are:

    • Zheng Guoguang –  Deputy Administrator of the China Meteorological Administration (CMA);
    • Achilleas Mitsos – European Commission Research Director-General;
    • Rob Adam – Director-General of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology;
    • Conrad Lautenbacher – United States Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    The GEO is also now working to set up its new secretariat. Comprising approximately ten senior staff, it will assist in the development and implementation of the ten-year plan. The secretariat is being hosted by the WMO at its headquarters in Geneva. A new director of the GEO Secretariat is currently being selected and is expected to start work in August or September 2005. During the GEO meeting, Switzerland’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Juerg Streuli, assisted by the four GEO Co-Chairs and the WMO Secretary General, officially opened the new GEO secretariat offices.

    Commission’s Directorate-General for Research announced at GEO-I that the European Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research intents to provide up to 1.8 Million euros to support the operational costs of the GEO secretariat in 2005-2006. In addition, the fourth FP6 call for proposals on environment research to be published in July 2005 and the FP7 Work Programme’s priority area ‘Environment (incl. climate change)’ will prominently address the European Union’s research contribution to the GEOSS implementation.

    European GEO Co-Chair Achilleas Mitsos said the Geneva meeting would be the last to address organisational matters. Future meetings will concentrate on the Earth Observation activity. Co-Chair Conrad Lautenbacher emphasised the extraordinary co-operation that took place over the two-year ad hoc GEO phase. The success of that effort, he said, was largely responsible for the GEO’s rebirth as the ‘new’ GEO at the Third Earth Observation Summit in Brussels in February 2005. The current Japanese co-chair, Tetsuhisa Shirakawa, also highlighted the co-operative spirit of the GEO, evident in the rapid agreement on new Co-Chairs and the Executive Committee. Rob Adam, the South African GEO Co-Chair, closed the meeting, saying the practical work can now begin. Future GEO plenary meetings are expected to address substantial issues such as Tsunami impact prevention and mitigation.

    The next GEO plenary meeting will take place in Geneva on 14 and 15 December 2005. Main topics to be discussed are the GEO 2006 work plan and the related budget.

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