#02 2023

Fostering coordination of Earth observations for maximum impact

By Lulu Makapela, GEO Correspondent, NEOSS

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), supported by its National Earth Observations and Space Secretariat (NEOSS), represented South Africa and led the deliberations of the 60th Group on Earth Observations Executive Committee Meeting (GEO ExCom 60th) in Geneva, Switzerland, from 2123 March 2023.

NEOSS is hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). SAEON managing director, Dr Mary-Jane Bopape, serves on the Strategic Advisory Committee of NEOSS.

The GEO ExCom 60th marked an important milestone and devised a roadmap towards the GEO Ministerial Summit that will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 6–10 November 2023.

South Africa chairing the GEO ExCom 60th in Geneva

GEO currently holds four seats for co-chairs appointed by regional caucuses – in Africa, Asia Pacific, America and Europe, represented by South Africa, China, the United States of America (USA) and the European Commission (EC) respectively. Each co-chair assumes 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 threefold:

  • 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, South Africa presides over the GEO Excom, its Plenary and the Ministerial Summit. South Africa will also help to maintain focus on the priorities for the year, while working closely with the GEO Secretariat to advance GEO’s mission.

Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, GEO Principal, DSI (left), Adv Lulu Makapela, GEO Correspondent, NEOSS (centre) and Mr Humbu Mudau, GEO Principal Alternate at GEO Excom 60th in Geneva

The GEO ExCom 60th marked an important milestone and devised a roadmap towards the GEO Ministerial Summit that will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 6–10 November 2023

About the Executive Committee and GEO  

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

Establishing GEO ExCom priorities for 2023  

To help guide the work, South Africa has developed a GEO ExCom priority themes document that was adopted by the Committee at this session. The priority themes set for 2023 are based on the continuation of the work done by the United States Lead Co-Chair and were revised as follows:

  • Theme 1: Ensuring that priorities established by the GEO ExCom 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 (MTE) 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, who currently holds the role of South Africa’s 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, thus developing countries to exploit Earth observations.

Dr Muofhe stressed that GEO was at a critical phase of its existence, with a huge demand for Earth Observation products amid ongoing natural disasters, the outbreak of diseases, a sluggish global economy and high inflation. “Therefore, as GEO prepares and plans for the path post-2025 and builds towards the 2023 Ministerial Summit in Cape Town, it is important to recall some of the commitments made in 2019 in Canberra and take stock of how far we have come,” he said.  Dr Muofhe brings plenty of experience to GEO, having served as a member of the South African 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 the following eight Communities of Practice (CoPs) under NEOSS:

  • 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 Earth Observations. The CoPs also contribute to 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 of Earth observation data and information  

SA-GEO seeks to promote the use of data and improve the availability of and access to data. The SA government, including agencies and partners, are the biggest users and providers of Earth observation 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 and the economy. The data also supports research and development to foster scientific advances. Accordingly, if the data is provided through public funding, data products 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, visit www.neoss.co.za and register to join a CoP.