GEO Week 2019 Launches Initiatives to Enhance Digital Inclusion
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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GEO Week 2019 explored how the integration of Earth Observations data into digital economies can drive progress on three major global policy frameworks: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Ahead of the Week, APEC published a report estimating that the value of Earth and marine observing technologies in the region will reach US$2 trillion by 2030.

The GEO Ministerial Summit issued the Canberra Ministerial Declaration, affirming GEO’s inclusive approach to applying Earth Observations to deliver benefits to all sectors of society.

The 2019 annual meeting of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the four-yearly GEO Ministerial Summit convened under the theme, ‘Earth Observations: Investments in the Digital Economy.’ The discussions explored how the integration of Earth Observations (EO) data into digital economies can drive progress on three major global policy frameworks: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Held in Canberra, Australia, from 5-9 November 2019, GEO Week 2019 gathered more than 1,500 participants from 57 countries, including ministers and ambassadors from more than 15 countries. The meeting launched GEO Week’s first-ever Industry Track, which brought together more than 50 representatives from space and technology companies, including web platforms such as Planet, Google and Amazon Web Services.

Ahead of GEO Week 2019, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) published the first-ever assessment of the current economic value of Earth and marine observations to APEC economies. The report estimates that the value of Earth and marine observing technologies in the region will reach US$2 trillion by 2030. The GEO Ministerial Summit issued the Canberra Ministerial Declaration, affirming GEO’s inclusive approach to applying EO to deliver benefits to all sectors of society. The Declaration highlights findings contained in the ‘GEO Report on Impact 2016-2019’ on the GEO community’s responsiveness to emerging policy issues such as land degradation, urbanization and mercury pollution. It also calls for supporting opportunities for the private sector, especially small-medium-micro enterprises, to use GEO’s work and to develop tailored solutions and job opportunities at the local level by leveraging Earth observations. 

GEO Week 2019 unveiled a number of international alliances and EO capacity programmes.

The two-year, US$3 million GEO-Google Earth Engine Programme aims to award up to 25 free licenses to organizations and initiatives that deliver significant impacts using Earth Observations and data science to address the world’s greatest challenges, with respect to global environmental and development goals, including ocean conservation and biodiversity preservation.

As part of the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced support for the Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa) platform, which aims to support African countries to track changes across the continent by making EO data more easily accessible. The project seeks to support decision making and disaster risk reduction related to flooding, droughts, soil and coastal erosion, agriculture, forest cover, land use change, and water availability.

In other announcements, several countries reported they would share high-resolution EO data through the GEO platform. China, GEO 2020 Lead Co-Chair, announced it will provide free access to historical records, as well as daily updated Wide-Field-of-View (WFV) images and global coverage data gathered by its Gaofen-1 and Gaofen-6 satellites. Japan said it will newly provide free and open access to the wide-swath observation data from its L-band Radar satellites.

A side event facilitated by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) featured several data initiatives, including: the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data – a network that brings together governments, private sector and civil society to harness and leverage data and technology towards achieving the SDGs; and the Digital Belt and Road Platform, part of the China Academy of Sciences’ Big Earth Data Programme, a cloud-based service that supports data sharing for SDG policy making.

Dedicated events focusing on inclusive dialogue with Indigenous communities took place throughout the week. The (G)EOHack19 hackathon facilitated a series of regional consultations in various Indigenous communities around the world to identify challenges that can be addressed using open EO data. The winners, Team Triton from Australia, showcased ‘Our Map,’ which aims to preserve inter-generational cultural experience and knowledge through digital culture.

GEO Week 2019 also welcomed the first member from the Pacific Island region, Tonga, and hosted a Talanoa Session on Earth Observations in the Pacific. The discussions emphasized the crucial need for the GEO community to support the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs), and their regional organizations, to improve access and coordination of EO to support environmental protection, food security and disaster risk reduction, areas all increasingly impacted by climate change. The Pacific Community (SPC) announced a new partnership to better understand how to harness EO technology for the Pacific region, working with partners in the region.

On the final day of GEO Week, representatives of Indigenous communities from the Americas, Australia and Africa delivered a statement on behalf of the newly established GEO Indigenous Alliance, calling for a continued, effective, respectful and reciprocal relationship with GEO. [GEO Press Release] [GEO 2019 Canberra Declaration] [GEO Week 2019 Website] [Publication: Current and future value of earth and marine observing to the Asia-Pacific region]


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