| ||N° 44 - February 2005|
| EARTH AND SPACE - Uniting to make a world of difference
As holder of one of the four co-presidencies of the Group for Earth Observations (GEO(1)) the European Union is actively involved in this key global initiative for the planet’s environmental future. RTD info speaks to Achilleas Mitsos, Director-General of Research at the European Commission.The Group for Earth Observations was launched in July 2003 and is holding its third world summit in less than two years. It is certainly an initiative with the wind in its sails…
The first EOS was successfully held in Washington in July 2003. The participants immediately got down to business by setting goals, realistic means of achieving them and a tight timetable for making it all operational as quickly as possible. The second global meeting was held in Japan in April 2004. Everything is now in place for concrete decisions to be taken to start up this vast global co-operation exercise in Earth observation at this third EOS summit organised under the aegis of the European Union.
Technically, the GEO objective is to create a ‘system of systems’ in line with the acronym GEOSS(3). This is quite an obscure concept, wouldn’t you say?
It would be unthinkable to take a step backwards and develop a new global observation device – a more rational one this time. The only logical way forward is to endeavour to adapt the various pieces of the puzzle so that they fit together better and provide us with richer images and more information.
There cannot be any question of coming up with a new and bulky super system managed by a costly international device that would seek to surpass or replace the diversity of existing or planned systems. This is why we opted for this concept of a ‘system of systems’ designed to enable these systems to inter-communicate and to optimise the co-operation in interpreting and using the data they produce. It is a long and complex task – the very concrete implementation plan we want to see adopted at this Brussels summit must cover a ten-year period – but technically realistic, if all the political, scientific and technical actors play the game.
What role is Europe playing in the GEO initiative?
In addition to the active involvement of several ESA member states in the progress of the GEO’s work, the European Union, represented by the Commission, is a leading player in this vast co-operative effort. It holds the GEO co-presidency, along with the United States, Japan and South Africa. In particular, this motor role reflects the great importance of the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) Community initiative that is currently being developed. At international level, this ambitious European project is clearly destined to be a key element in the global architecture of the GEOSS objective.
The Union is very active in promoting the international dimension of the GEO. This is a genuine platform that I would liken to a ‘global public service’ destined to give all nations, rich and poor, the possibility to access the knowledge and tools offered by Earth observation. Humankind as a whole must respond to environmental challenges. In particular, we want the developing world to be a user that is fully associated with the initiative. The GEO also includes the principal international agencies – in particular the UN bodies – involved in international governance, as well as the global scientific programmes that are studying risks linked to changes to the world’s ecosystem.
(1) Group on Earth Observations.
(2) The US proposal was largely a response to the resolutions adopted at the Johannesburg Summit in 2002, as well as the pressing recommendations for sustainable development in the framework of the Evian G8 resolutions (2003).
(3) Global Earth Observation System of Systems.