Earth observations for global challenges
13 November 2015, Ministerial Summit of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO)
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery

Al encontrarnos hoy aquí, en la ciudad hispanohablante más poblada del mundo, me gustaría comenzar expresando en español mi más sincera gratitud a nuestro anfitrión, la Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores Doña Claudia Ruiz Massieu Salinas, así como al Secretario de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Don Rafael Pacchiano Alaman, y al Vicepresidente del Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, Don Rolando Ocampo Alcántar, por su generosidad al acoger y organizar esta importante Cumbre Ministerial de GEO en la maravillosa ciudad de México. Ahora permitidme que continúe mi discurso en inglés.

Dear Ministers, Ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, on 25 April this year, a devastating earthquake hit Nepal. At the time, to obtain real-time geographical information, response teams used a free, online mapping tool called OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap was created in 2004 by a 24 year old computer science student at University College London. Today, 2 million users use OpenStreetMap, which is updated from an array of open, crowdsourced data from aerial photography, to GPS tracking, to government datasets of Earth observations.

This online map has aided emergency responses to crises like the earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It has been used for digital humanitarian purposes by NGOs, governments and international institutions. It is a prime example of the fact that we have entered into a global era of open innovation and open science. Something we cannot prevent nor slow down, and that's a great thing!

Because we now live in a world in which rapidly evolving digital technologies enable us to share data and information as never before. Empowering data. Life-saving data.

This is an era of science and innovation that is truly open to the world. Evident from the growing number of GEO member governments and I'd like to take a moment to personally welcome Kenya, our 100th GEO member government.

Over the next few decades the international community will have to make many tough decisions. More importantly, we'll have to work together to solve global problems like climate change, hunger and migration. Very soon in Paris, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will renew their engagement to keep global temperature rise below 2°C.

This week, the UK's Met Office reported that 2015 will be the first year that global temperatures pass the 1°C threshold. It's just 25 years since the Stockholm Environmental Institute suggested that a 2°C rise in global temperatures would put humanity and the well-being of our planet firmly in the danger zone and, in just 25 years, we're already half way there! That is astonishing and it is greatly worrying.

In his recent state of the Union speech President Juncker forewarned of the eventual rise of climate change refugees and last year, in Rolling Stone magazine, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore emphasised that climate-related drought may have been the biggest underlying trigger of the civil war in Syria, which has displaced millions of people.

So, we can be sure that Earth observations will be increasingly called upon when disaster hits. They will be needed to monitor unfolding events and must be used to bring us to account: measuring our progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals with the utmost openness and transparency.

Insufficient or incomplete observing systems will only hold us back and lead to high environmental, economic and social costs in the long term.

If we can provide certainty, we should. So it's up to us, to commit to the continued improvement of Earth observations. It's up to us, to become increasingly open and inclusive – understanding the vital importance of local involvement. It's up to us, to ensure there is effective data collection with maximum opportunities for scientific and statistical analysis at every level of society and decision making.

GEO has a new mandate for the next 10 years. Effectively implementing the GEO Strategic Plan 2016-2025 is an important next step. It's time to fully realise our ambition to benefit humankind with decisions "informed by coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth observations." In particular, the objective "to engage with stakeholder communities and foster strategic partnerships […] in support of science-based, data-driven policymaking" is something that resonates strongly with my own priorities. To do this, we must do everything we can to fully execute our Implementation Plan, identifying, in particular, how Earth observations and services can match user needs and ambitions.

As we all know, this is about so much more than sharing data. It is about so much more than statistical analysis. Our meeting here today marks our renewed commitment to work together on the issues that are important to every nation, to every citizen. Whether those issues are sustainable urban development or public health surveillance. Whether they are disaster resilience or food security and sustainable agriculture.

One thing, above all, is clear. Our many global and societal challenges are not the challenges of the future. They are already the challenges of today. If we are complacent now, we will suffer sooner rather than later. We cannot afford to be the generation that fell behind in our efforts. Not now. Not ever.