Climate adaptation requires a broad and integrated approach: GEO is well positioned to deliver in this area due to its experience in gathering knowledge across multiple disciplines and geographies.
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is an intergovernmental partnership that improves the availability, access and use of Earth observations for a sustainable planet. GEO promotes open, coordinated and sustained data sharing and infrastructure for better research, policy making, decisions and action across many disciplines.
Innovation News Network speaks to GEO Secretariat Director, Gilberto Camara, and GEO Climate Coordinator, Sara Venturini, about the importance of Earth observations and the role they can play in tackling climate change.
Can you start by telling us about Earth observation systems; what are they and what can they do?
Earth observations provide incredible insights for our planet. Earth observations are data and information collected about the planet, whether in our atmosphere, or in oceans and on land. This includes space-based or remotely sensed data, as well as ground-based or in situ data. Coordinated and open Earth observations enable decision makers around the world to better understand the issues they face, in order to shape more effective policies. For example, satellite images reveal changes impacting our world over time, such as glacial melt or deforestation. Remote sensing delivers detailed data on crops and growing conditions from space. In situ sensors provide information on oceans and land that researchers can access in real-time to drive decisions.
What is the work and role of GEO?
The GEO is an intergovernmental partnership of 108 countries and over 100 participating organisations and associates who are committed to broad, open sharing of Earth observation data and information. The GEO community works together to advocate for Earth observations to be made fully and openly accessible, integrated with other data sources and included within decision making processes to drive action. Moreover, the GEO partners with stakeholder communities to foster long-term partnerships to address global and regional environmental and societal challenges. Alongside this, GEO is delivering data, information, and knowledge to enable informed public and commercial sector decisions, exchange of good practice, uptake of new technologies, and the creation of economic opportunities and sustainable development decisions and action.
Can you give us a brief introduction into GEOSS?
The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) is a set of coordinated, independent Earth observation, information and processing systems that interact and provide access to diverse information for a broad range of users in both public and private sectors. GEOSS links these systems to strengthen the monitoring of the state of the Earth. It facilitates the sharing of environmental data and information collected from the large array of observing systems contributed by countries and organizations within GEO.
In short, it provides open access to data, information and knowledge to a wide variety of users. The ‘GEOSS Portal’ offers a single Internet access point for users seeking data, imagery and analytical software packages relevant to all parts of the globe. It connects users to existing databases and portals and provides reliable, up-to-date and user friendly information. For users with limited or no access to the Internet, similar information is available via the ‘GEONETCast’ network of telecommunication satellites.
What role does GEO play in the national efforts to tackle climate change?
In 2015, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to undertake ambitious efforts to both mitigate the primary causes of climate change and adapt to its impacts by adopting the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement establishes the legal foundation of the international climate regime from 2020 onwards. It is based on a ratcheting mechanism of national pledges called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that Parties are required to submit on a five-year basis, whereby each submitted NDC must contain more ambitious targets than the previous one. The Paris Agreement also puts in place an enhanced transparency framework involving increased reporting requirements for all Parties, including developing countries. The data, information and knowledge derived from Earth observations helps countries respond to many of the specific provisions of the Paris Agreement (including progress towards meeting NDCs, greenhouse gas inventories reports, climate impacts and adaptation that will inform the global stocktake).
Advances in Earth observation data help improve and validate earth systems models, including for near-term climate projections, to support decision making. Informing decisions related to climate adaptation is especially challenging because the information needed goes beyond the traditional realms of meteorology, hydrology, and climate science, into ecology, economics, engineering, and social science. Climate adaptation therefore requires a broad and integrated approach. GEO is well positioned to deliver in this area due to its experience in gathering knowledge across multiple disciplines and geographies.
The recognition of the value of Earth observations for tackling environmental and socio-economic challenges presented by the climate crisis continues to expand. GEO’s deeper engagement at the international policy level and through increasing contributions of the GEO community to UNFCCC efforts over the last years illustrates GEO’s increased impact on global policy and focus on climate action.
How can earth observations become more sustainable long-term?
New technologies are expanding the reach of Earth observation data and information into new and diverse communities. The GEO and Amazon Web Services Earth Observations Cloud Credits Programme provides cloud computing and storage for researchers in developing countries to process large amounts of EO data. This is helping to reduce the cost of processing and storage. Open data cube technologies, pioneered by Geoscience Australia and Digital Earth Africa, allow researchers to access and process EO data in their communities. Capacity development and training are also necessary to lower the technological barriers to use and benefit from Earth observations, to ensure that no one is left behind. The focus here is on institutional strengthening.
Where do you hope to see Earth observations in five years’ time, and what role do you see GEO playing in this?
In five years’ time, it is my hope that Earth observations are fully integrated into decision making processes. As we continue to build trust and shine the light on the value of Earth observations, I expect that this information will be better understood by policy makers and more widely used globally.
A key challenge is the empowerment of government institutions, particularly those in developing countries, to access and use Earth observations. On support of its mission, GEO is promoting the use of cloud services as the primary method for effectively mining information from satellite imagery big data. Cloud services allow users to focus on the production of information and analysis, rather than be distracted with the data management overhead, since cloud services minimise the efforts required to download, store, and manage large datasets.
Moreover, in five years’ time we expect that the use of cloud services for Earth observations becomes widespread. GEO has an important role in identifying the barriers to entry, which include space and in-situ data provision, and sound data analysis methods. In the case of space data, we foresee the creating of data cubes that organise time series of satellite images so as to provide means of measuring change. GEO is engaged to promote the importance of sharing of in-situ data. Such data is essential for training machine learning algorithms. Lastly, GEO is engaged in capacity building activities to enhance global understanding of the new generation of data analysis methods. The expected result will be new ways to measure global environmental challenges.
Group on Earth observations (GEO)