Beijing environmental conference underway

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pretoria - Ministers and senior officials from governments and organisations that constitute the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) are meeting in Beijing, China, to strengthen global cooperation on monitoring the planet's environment and natural resources.

With 86 governments, the European Commission and 58 intergovernmental and international organisations, GEO is the world's premier forum for coordinating Earth observation strategies, investments and operations.

South Africa is a founding member and co-chair of GEO, together with China, the United States of America and the European Commission.

GEO addresses issues from climate change and biodiversity to agriculture and health, and encompasses technologies including satellites, supercomputers, ocean buoys and hand-held GPS.

The GEO Ministerial Meeting and Seventh Plenary Session take place shortly after the Nagoya Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and shortly before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun.

It follows on the Renewable Energy and Climate Change Summit held in Cape Town in 2007. A number of GEO activities and outputs support the goals of these conventions.

"Investments in environmental monitoring and forecasting have now reached a critical mass, resulting in a vast and expanding array of observation systems," said GEO Secretariat Director, Jos, Achache.

"Governments are cooperating through GEO to gather and then share the scientific facts and information we need to mitigate natural disasters and disease epidemics, predict severe weather events, manage natural resources sustainability and maintain our ecological balance," he said.

According to Dr Phil Mjwara, the Director General of Science and Technology, the initial phase of GEO has seen a lot of effort being invested in establishing the organisation and its internal processes and governance structure.

He said he was now satisfied that members and participating organisations of GEO were reaping the rewards as the process of establishing a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) was coming together.

GEOSS is being built according to a 10-year implementation plan that runs through to 2015.

The Beijing Ministerial Meeting marks the half-way point in this plan, and will give political leaders an opportunity to assess progress and set priorities.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, will invite delegates to visit the South African demonstration stand showcasing, among other things, pictures captured by South African microsatellite SumbandilaSat, the Risk and Vulnerability Atlas, South African Earth Observation Portal, and the Earth Observation Data Centre.