Energy & Environment

Tuesday, 27 November 2007 12:42

Cape Town to host Ministerial Summit on Earth observations

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{pp}Global monitoring system will provide universal access to comprehensive database on environmental change.

Ministers and officials from 71 governments (plus the European Commission) and 42 international organizations are meeting in Cape Town from 28 to 30 November to advance their shared vision of a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) designed to help humankind live in harmony with an increasingly stressed planet.

Concerned that climate change, deforestation, desertification, water scarcity and other human-induced pressures risk causing an environmental collapse, governments are collaborating through the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) to secure comprehensive and near-real-time information about changes in the Earth’s land, oceans, atmosphere and biosphere.

This will be achieved by interlinking the world’s ocean buoys, weather stations, satellites and other Earth observation instruments into one fully coordinated system. The resulting “system of systems” will enable countries to reduce their vulnerability to disasters and environmental change while improving their management of agricultural, energy and other natural resources.

“Five years after the World Summit on Sustainable Development met in Johannesburg, governments are following through on the pledge they made there to improve the systematic observation of the Earth,” said Mr. Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, which is hosting the conference.

“At a time when the international community is developing a new agreement on climate change and addressing growing concerns about resource depletion and natural disasters, the need to strengthen our scientific base for decision-making has never been more urgent”, he said.

The implementation of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems is following a 10-year plan that runs through 2015. Participating governments and organizations are contributing to this voluntary global project by expanding and interlinking their respective observation systems. In Cape Town they will present some 90 “early achievements” as evidence of the progress that has made over the past two years.

“The Global Earth Observation System of Systems will revolutionize the way decision makers craft both national and international policy. This emerging public infrastructure could prove as essential to economic and social progress in the 21st century as new transport and communications systems were in the 20th,” said GEO Director José Achache.

The early achievements realized by GEO range from the development of new databases for minimizing deaths and damages from hurricanes and other disasters to sophisticated decision-support tools for managing natural resources sustainably. For example:

  • The Global Wildland Fire Early Warning System project is combining data from a variety of sources with the aim of producing Daily Fire Danger maps for the African continent.
  • To fill a major data gap and thus improve seasonal weather and climate forecasting, the Argos project has established a global array of floats that measure ocean conditions and disseminate the resulting data via the Internet within 24 hours.
  • Recognizing that Earth observations can provide early warnings of likely epidemics in Africa’s “meningitis belt”, GEO is helping health experts to integrate user-friendly climate forecasts into vaccination and treatment programmes for meningitis.
  • To promote the greater use of solar energy systems, GEO is creating databases that will provide access to information about levels of and variations in solar radiation worldwide.
  • The Sentinel Asia project is combining remote-sensing and other Earth observation data in order to improve disaster preparedness and early warning throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
  • GEONETCast, a near-real-time delivery system for environmental information, has now attained near-global coverage. The system obtains Earth observations from the numerous land, sea, air and space-based systems that together constitute GEOSS and transmits them via a system of specialized communications satellites to users that lack good Internet access.
  • Prototypes of the future GEOPortal have been developed to demonstrate how this “one-stop-shopping” Internet service will soon place vast quantities of data as well as numerous decision-support software tools at the fingertips of policymakers, managers and experts. 

The Cape Town conference includes a two-day Plenary meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, 28 – 29 November, followed by a one-day Ministerial Summit on Friday, 30 November.  The public is invited to attend the Open Day on 29 November.

Contact Details: and
Nhlanhla Nyide
Department of Science & Technology, South Africa
+27 12 843 6793 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,

Michael Williams, GEO Secretariat, Geneva,
+41 22 730 8293 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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