Supporting earth observation policy and coordination

January 19th, 2018, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT

The earth observations field is evolving, driven by the emergence of a more diverse and capable commercial sector, activities being pursued by emerging space nations, and the emergence of issues that cross communities within the space sector. Given this, it is imperative that new activities be coordinated to be supportive of space sustainability.

Krystal Wilson, Secure World Foundation

Krystal Wilson, Secure World Foundation

These trends are causing policy, legal, and regulatory shifts that can be seen in national and international organisations focused on earth observation. Many events and research efforts focus on technical capabilities rather than policy and overarching coordination. Secure World Foundation (SWF) – which promotes cooperative solutions for space sustainability – works with a variety of institutions, because connecting discussions and policy efforts across the space and science communities will facilitate the broader and more effective use of earth observation capabilities.

A key organisation that SWF contributes to is the Group on Earth Observation (GEO). GEO is a partnership of 105 national governments and more than 100 participating organisations that seeks to support a future where decisions and actions for the benefit of humankind are informed by coordinated, comprehensive, and sustained earth observations. This unique membership comprised of government institutions, academic and research institutions, data providers, businesses, engineers, and scientists allows GEO to create innovative solutions to global challenges at a time of exponential data growth, human development, and climate change that transcend national and disciplinary boundaries.

Currently, GEO is working on identifying gaps and reducing duplication in the areas of sustainable development and sound environmental management through a variety of programmes. GEO works to connect the demand for environmental information with the supply of data and information about the Earth that is collected through observing systems and made available by the GEO community. Broad, open data sharing policies and practices have been a key tenet of GEO since its inception. This includes establishing the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to better integrate observing systems and share data by connecting existing infrastructures using common standards. GEO’s work is carried out by its community and relies on regular coordination to reinforce activities and engagement at the regional and national level.

Regional initiatives such as AfriGEOSS and AmeriGEOSS seek to strengthen the link between the current GEO activities and existing capabilities and initiatives in those regions, and to provide the necessary framework for countries and organisations to access and leverage on-going bilateral and multilateral earth observation-based initiatives across their region. Global initiatives such as GEO BON or Blue Planet focus on specific issue areas and work to increase technical and human capacity to acquire, share, store, maintain and fully utilise earth observation data and information in the decision-making process.

SWF has worked to support linkages between GEO members and participating organisations and with outside partners to foster better coordination, new relationships, and to expand the reach of international earth observation initiatives. In the Mexico City Ministerial Declaration from the 2015 GEO Ministerial Meeting, world leaders committed to supporting open earth observation data for the next decade. Dr. Michael Simpson, SWF’s executive director, served on the GEO Ministerial Working Group, providing input and ideas as this document was crafted.

In October 2017, over 700 people from diverse geographies, sectors, and technical areas came together for the GEO-XIV Plenary and side events in Washington, DC, to explore the use and applications of earth observations for the benefit of humankind. As at previous plenaries, SWF worked with GEO partners to host activities and events that facilitated dialogue on a variety of topics; In 2017, those topics included AmeriGEOSS and citizen science. Outcomes from these events are then integrated into other SWF work, such as its recent Workshop on Opportunities and Challenges of Citizen Science for Earth Observation.

All of these activities are part of a larger effort to engage different stakeholders in discussions about the successes of these applications, their limitations, and the challenges they face in expanding their use, particularly in developing countries. SWF works to draw attention to the real-world application of space-based earth observations, one of the most relevant examples of why space sustainability is so critical.

This article first appeared on Secure World Foundation, and is republished here with permission.

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