The Group on Earth Observations (GEO), set up at the Washington Earth Observation Summit, held its second plenary meeting in Baveno Italy on 28 and 29 November 2003. Members reviewed the first draft of the GEO Framework Document, to be presented at the next ministerial meeting in Tokyo in 2004. The meeting followed directly on the heels of the final Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Forum, also held in Baveno.

“This day marks a critical juncture,” said EC Research Director General and GEO Co-Chair Achilleas Mitsos. “It is a great pleasure to see many of you coming here directly from the GMES Forum. GMES is a key element of our European Space Policy, cited specifically in the recent Space White Paper and in the Competitiveness Council’s new Growth Initiative. This is a critical moment because GMES is now moving into its implementation phase, and we expect it to form a major contribution to the global Earth Observation (EO) movement and the work that we are doing in the GEO.”


Producing better information on the environment has become a top political priority, both in Europe and around the world. The 2001 Gothenburg Summit on Sustainable Development, the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development and recent meetings of the G8 ministers have all noted the need for the international community to monitor the environment and to improve its understanding of environmental processes.

The GEO was set up on 1 August 2003, following the EO summit in Washington, as a means of establishing wide-scale coordination of global observing strategies. It now consists of 38 members and 24 participant international organisations and its primary goal is to develop a 10-year plan for the implementation of a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained world EO system or systems. The draft Framework Document, under discussion at this meeting, is seen as the first step in that direction.

GMES is Europe’s advanced environment and security monitoring initiative. It involves bringing data and information providers together with users, to allow them to better understand each other and to agree on how to make useful information available to those who need it.

While environmental monitoring includes a strong space component, with satellite-based remote sensing providing an important part of today’s environmental data, ground-based, air-based and ocean-based in situ monitoring systems are also included under the global environmental monitoring umbrella. A significant effort under both GEO and GMES is aimed at co-ordination and integration of existing global monitoring capacities and resources in all of these areas.

Akio Yuki is Japan’s Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and one of four GEO Co-Chairs. After welcoming new GEO members Belgium, Cyprus, Portugal and Greece, he said, “The GEO has accomplished a great deal in a very short period of time. The draft Framework we are considering today is a very important document. We must be sure that it conveys a strong and clear message when we get to Tokyo. The benefits of global EO systems are known to all of us here, but we must be able to convince the politicians and the decision-makers.”

GEO Co-Chair Rob Adam is South Africa’s Director General of the Department of Science and Technology. He said, “As the Co-Chair representing developing countries, I am eager to see more African countries being included in this process. After all, it is the developing countries that have the most to gain from the setting up of coherent global EO systems. The lack of such makes it terribly difficult to adequately deal with the developing world’s economic, environmental and humanitarian challenges. By bringing people together like this, the GEO can also be a force for international co-operation and multilateralism.”

Rounding out the GEO Co-Chairs was Conrad Lautenbacher, retired US Navy Vice Admiral, current Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He said, “The GMES initiative has an enormous potential to support GEO and it was a great pleasure and an honour for me to be able to address the GMES Forum which has just concluded. We simply cannot say enough about the benefits of the kind of EO systems we are looking at, including space-based, air-based, ground-based and water-based components. And these benefits will apply to every single one of us, from researchers and entrepreneurs to farmers and fishermen, right down to the man in the street.”

Getting down to business

After the opening remarks, GEO members rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Helen Wood, Executive Director of the GEO Secretariat, presented the draft Framework Document. “This is a document which will show the way to the creation of the 10-year Implementation Plan,” she explained. “It is meant only to give you a rough idea of where we might go. You all must now consider it and give us your guidance for its elaboration, adaptation or redirection.”

Her presentation was followed by a round of comments and suggestions from the GEO members. The spirit of open exchange was evident throughout the two-day meeting, with participants needing little encouragement to voice their ideas and opinions. The delegations from Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan and Russia were particularly active.

Also on the agenda were progress reports from the various GEO subgroups, addressing:

  • * Architecture;
  • * Capacity building;
  • * Data utilization;
  • * International co-operation;
  • * User requirements and outreach.

Participants also heard a presentation on the International Global Observing Strategy Partnership (IGOS-P), whose aim is to provide a comprehensive international framework for coordinating resources and harmonising long-term EO strategies.

Next steps

With two days of lively and constructive discussion taken on board, the GEO now plans to continue the drafting of the Framework Document. The next meeting of the GEO plenary is expected to take place in South Africa in February 2004.