Brussels, 29 Sep 2004
Participants in the international 'Group on Earth Observations' (GEO) met in Brussels on and 28 September to further negotiations on a ten year implementation plan for a global Earth observation system.
The idea behind the system is to gather the data from all the different pieces of technology observing the Earth. There are currently thousands of data buoys in the world's oceans, thousands of land-based environmental stations and over 50 environmental satellites orbiting the planet. Information from these technologies is used for purposes as diverse as estimating crop yields, monitoring water and air quality, and improving airline safety. As these individual satellites and environmental stations are not integrated, a full picture of what is happening on our planet is not possible.
The GEO is being steered by four co-chairs: Achilleas Mitsos, Director-General of the European Commission's Research DG; Akio Yuki, Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan; the US Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, Conrad Lautenbacher, and Director-General of South Africa's Department of Science and Technology, Rob Adam. All gave their views on the proposed system and the progress towards its implementation on 28 September.
Dr Adam elucidated the need for a global Earth observation system: 'This 'system of systems' is a way of integrating all the different systems, from those measuring temperature to those counting pests and those observing the Earth from outer space. You lose things between the cracks if you don't integrate.' He added that while the initiative is undeniable a political one, it will be science-driven. The European contribution to this system of systems will be GMES, the 'global monitoring for environment and security' initiative.
Vice Admiral Lautenbacher added his belief that 'by combining forces and looking at synergies we will create a basis for increasing wealth and improving the social structure and sustainable development way into the future.'
The details of the ten year implementation plan still need to be ironed out. Mr Lautenbacher described it as 'a novel whose ending hasn't been written yet'. Details will be finalised at the next GEO meeting in Ottawa, Canada, in November, and then presented to ministers at the third Earth Observation Summit in Brussels on 16 February.
'If in Ottawa we can agree on the implementation of an ambitious but pragmatic ten year plan, that would be a huge success. If there is a difference of opinion or a lack of clarification, that would be a failure. But we have every reason to believe that it will be a success,' said Dr Mitsos.