Minister's Introductory Remarks
Allow me first to thank the government of Switzerland for hosting this important event, not only in the calendar of GEO but also for the sustainability of life on this precious planet of ours.
Honourable members of this distinguished community, ladies and gentlemen, there is abundant evidence that humankind has made a severe impact on the planet upon which sustainable human life depends.
The anthropogenic impact and changes to natural environment are being driven by increasing human demands such as, the need for provision of water, food, energy and shelter at the time when more than seven billion people on inhabit the Earth.
Unfortunately, these human activities impact on biophysical environments, hydrology, biodiversity, climate, socioeconomic stability and food security. The well being of the natural environment which is one of the major factors that contribute to sustainability is therefore becoming severely compromised.
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) offers a unique platform for timely observation, analyses, dissemination and access to comprehensive and appropriate Earth observation data that can be operationally utilised in decision making, planning, guiding policy formulation, and monitoring systems for all nations.
Therefore, we all need to be empowered to generate, and utilise Earth observation data to generate knowledge and smart systems for informed policy formulation and decision making.
Building on the past successes
Back in 2005, this community endorsed the 10-Year Implementation Plan for building a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), a decision that represented an essential step forward for the realisation of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) objectives.
Importantly for GEO, the Earth observation community (both member states and participating organisations) have taken lead and made significant contributions on ensuring full and open access to Earth observation data.
The announcement at the 2007 Cape Town Ministerial that China-Brazil Earth Resource Satellite (CBERS) data will be provided free of charge was particularly a dramatic step towards achieving the strategic goals of GEO.
These significant developments prompted the establishment of a process with the objective to reach a consensus on the implementation of the Data Sharing Principles for GEOSS. In November 2010, the GEOSS Data Sharing Action Plan was accepted by the GEO-VII Plenary and incorporated into the Beijing Declaration and adopted by the Beijing Ministerial Summit. This milestone demonstrated how the framework of GEO could advance solutions to global challenges.
Being a member of GEO, South Africa, has made major strides in the development and implementation of the South African Earth Observation Strategy (SAEOS), which is aimed at promoting an integrated Earth observation system. The strategy, approved in October 2006 and launched during the margins of the GEO IV Plenary in Cape Town, captures the country's response to the 10-year Implementation Plan for a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). The SAEOS Earth Observation Data Centre and the web-based Portal have been developed and are
currently being operationalised and institutionalised. The Portal is integrated to the GCI and contributed resources to the GEOSS Data-CORE.
South Africa – through National Earth Observation and Space Secretariat (NEOSS), has also played a significant support role in launching AfriGEOSS and promoting the initiative within GEO. Further, South Africa is involved in (and will continue to be involved in) initiatives such as the African Working Group on Land Cover Mapping, GEO Global Agriculture Monitoring (GEOGLAM), Blue Planet, GEO Biodiversity Observation Network (GEOBON), African Water Cycle Initiative and GEO Common Infrastructure (GCI). In all these initiatives South Africa has both contributed and benefited from its participation.
Keeping up the momentum gained on data sharing thus far is critical. The GEO community will need to build on the Cape Town and Beijing breakthroughs and advances. We urge the entire GEO community to embrace this spirit and advance the principles of data sharing, full and open access of critical Earth observation and fundamental datasets.
GEO would however be required to go beyond just open access of data. GEO would be required to pay more focus on deriving value, generating knowledge and developing innovative solutions from these datasets for the benefit of mankind and improving our understanding of the Earth systems.
It must be acknowledged that the long term sustainability of GEOSS depend on the member states and participating organisations. More effort and emphasis should be put in strengthening and promoting National GEO and regional coordination mechanisms. The full endorsement of AfriGEOSS initiative by the GEO-IX Plenary in 2012 is the step in the right direction. This initiative will ensure that the African continent actively participate and contribute to the GEO vision. The regional coordination will also ensure that certain aspects of GEOSS are built or tailored to respond to the technological challenges faced by the developing nations. The
regions should make efforts to develop collaborative capabilities to implement system of systems solutions pertinent to their challenges.
Furthermore, significant progress made by the GEO community in implementing the global initiatives and programmes such as GEO Global Agriculture Monitoring (GEOGLAM), Global Forest Observation Initiative (GFOI), Global Land Cover, Advanced Fire Information System, Global Biodiversity Observation Network (GEOBON), GEONETCast among others will ensure that GEO's primary objectives are accomplished.
It is therefore critical that we think about GEO beyond its current mandate and consider its renewal for the next ten years. We need to build on the strong foundation laid so far and make sure that the gains made are consolidated while we work to elevate GEO to its rightful place of influence. GEO occupies a unique position which is demonstrated by its achievements in a short space of time.
The GEO community must be commended for the sterling job done thus far (in implementing GEO vision and GEOSS).