Fostering co-ordination of Earth observations for maximum impact

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) supported by its National Earth Observations and Space Secretariat (NEOSS), that is hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), represented South Africa, and led the deliberations of the Group on Earth Observations Executive Committee (GEO ExCom 60th), that took place in Geneva Switzerland, from 21-23 March 2023. The GEO 60th ExCom marked an important milestone and roadmap towards the GEO Ministerial Summit that will take place on 06 -10 November 2023 in Cape Town South Africa.

GEO currently holds four seats for Co-Chairs appointed by regional caucuses, in Africa, Asia Pacific, America and Europe, represented respectively by SA, China, United States of America (USA), and European Commission (EC). Each co-chair takes the Lead Co-Chair role for a year on a rotational basis. South Africa has taken the Lead Co-Chairmanship for 2023. The primary role of the Lead Co-Chair is three-fold:

  • To communicate consistent strategic guidance from the Executive Committee and Plenary to the GEO Programme Board and Secretariat
  • To ensure continuity of executive leadership and engagement to both the Programme Board and Secretariat throughout the year and during the intersessional periods; and
  • To serve as an active and strong ambassador of GEO, championing and advocating for GEO’s priorities and goals in external fora, wherever possible.

As GEO Lead Co-Chair, SA presides over GEO Excom, its Plenary, and the Ministerial Summit. SA will also help to maintain focus on the priorities for the year, whilst working closely with the GEO Secretariat to advance GEO’s mission.

The role of the executive Committee and GEO

The Executive Committee oversees GEO’s activities and is also responsible for guiding the Secretariat. South Africa has been an active executive committee member since its formal establishment of GEO in 2005, following the World Summit on Sustainable development in 2003. GEO is an intergovernmental organisation that is working to improve availability and access to Earth observation for improved decision making through the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).

Establishing GEO Excom Priorities for 2023

To help guide the work, SA has developed GEO Executive Committee Priority themes document that was adopted by the Committee at its session. The Priority themes set for 2023 are based on the continuation of the work of United States Lead Co-Chair and revised as follows;

  • Theme 1: Ensuring that priorities established by the GEO Executive Committee for the year are met, as GEO looks to the implementation of its 2023-2025 GEO Work Programme and development of the vision for GEO post-2025.
  • Theme 2: Applying lessons from the Mid Term Evaluation (MTEF) and tracking response actions to the MTE as agreed to during the GEO XVII Plenary.
  • Theme 3: GEOSS Evolution and Knowledge hub.
  • Theme 4:  Continue Supporting further enhancement of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) across GEO as was approved in the GEO EDI Statement and noted in the Canberra Declaration.

According to Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director General at the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), who currently holds the role of South African GEO Principal and GEO Lead Co-chair,

the ultimate goal this year is to fast-track the vision by GEO Ministers in the Canberra Declaration, particularly making data available and accessible and for the GEO community to accelerate its work to build on the capacity of all countries”, mainly developing countries to exploit Earth observations. He further stressed that “GEO is at a very critical phase of its existence with huge demand for Earth Observation products amidst ongoing natural disasters, outbreak of diseases, a sluggish global economy and high inflation”, therefore ….”As GEO prepares for the path towards post-2025 and build towards the 2023 Ministerial in Cape Town , it is important to recall some of the commitments made in 2019 , in Canberra, Australia and take stock of how far we’ve come”. Dr Muofhe brings plenty of experience in GEO having served as the South African member of delegation to GEO since its inception in 2005.

Strengthening linkages with Regional and National GEOs

South Africa has its own national coordinating mechanism for Earth observations (SA-GEO), Satellite Communications (SA-GSC) and Navigations (SA-GSN) with 8 Communities of Practice (CoPs) under NEOSS as follows.

  • Agriculture and Food Security
  • Climate Action
  • Circular Economy and Natural Resources Management
  • Data Governance
  • Earth Observations Infrastructure
  • Human Settlements and Spatial Planning
  • Natural Capital Accounting
  • Satellite Communications and Navigations

 The current CoPs seek to address the pertinent socio-economic challenges, through integrated use of EO. The CoPs also contribute the GEO Work Programme and the AfriGEO activities to ensure that there is downscaling of GEO products and services to the broader community.

The importance Earth Observations data and Information

SA-GEO also seek to promote the use of data as well as to improve access and availability of data, as the SA government including agencies and partners are the biggest users and providers of Earth observations data and information for policy and decision making. This is critical as the data forms the foundation of applications and services to protect “human life, property, the economy” and they also support research and development to foster scientific advances. Accordingly, If the data is provided through public funding, they ought to be made open and available to the greatest extent or means possible, to advance human knowledge, to enable private industry to provide value-added services, and for general public use.

To participate in GEO, AfriGEO, SA-GEO and the CoPs please visit and register to join a Community of Practice.  Author, L Makapela, NEOSS Secretariat.