Alliances between international organizations

GEOSS has been designed to lead to comprehensive, coordinated and sustained observations across many different disciplines, and the benefits of such alliances are already proven.

José Achache

José Achache,
Director of the Secretariat for the Group on EarthObservations

José Achache is a former Director of Earth Observation for the European Space Agency (ESA). While there, he initiated the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program in partnership with the European Commission. The GEO Secretariat was established in May 2005 in Geneva and he became its first director in September 2005.


Getting the facts to set policies

One of the most promising alliances coordinated from Geneva aims to improve disaster prevention, adaptation to global changes and resource management planning. It works through a partnership of countries and organizations gathering observations of the Earth.

Q: How would you describe GEO's main objective?

A: The Group on Earth Observations has been established to coordinate all existing and future Earth observation systems to increase their efficiency and use. In their efforts to control environmental change and reduce disasters through better understanding of how the Earth works as a system, people have developed numerous ways of gathering information: satellites, buoys, seismometers and other devices. These observations of the Earth are transformed through computers and models into forecasts, maps and other decision-support tools.

All these observations systems speak different languages. They use different formats, produce different data and have different reference frames. GEO will get these systems to deliver comprehensive, coordinated and sustained observations that everyone can use - to get these disparate and disconnected systems speaking the same language.

Q: And how will you judge your success?

A: The objective of this 10-year coordination effort among 68 countries, the European Commission and 46 international organizations, including many UN agencies, is to establish what we have named the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). GEOSS will be successful only if the observations and integrated information it makes possible are put to good use, and that in turn means adopting a user focus. The communities that need to use Earth observations range from decision-makers and policy-makers to scientists, industry, reinsurance companies, emergency response specialists, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, the media and the general public.

Earth observations and integrated information must be put to good use, and that means focusing on the user.

For this reason, we are giving priority to the development of a Web portal open to all this variety of potential users. Because we recognize that not all users will be expert in using modern observation systems, the portal will include training modules and offer the technologies of interactive online software and services that are known as Web 2.0. In parallel, we are of course working on the technical issues of interoperability of systems and data collation.

Q: How does tying these observations together help in sustainable development?

A: This is a key point. The international community recognizes that understanding the Earth system - its weather, climate, oceans, atmosphere, water, land, geodynamics, natural resources, ecosystems, and natural and human-induced hazards - is crucial to enhancing human health, safety and welfare, to alleviating human suffering including poverty, to protecting the global environment, to reducing disaster losses and achieving sustainable development. The Earth is a system of systems. Understanding one process requires observations of many connected phenomena. Conversely, a single observation is needed for many different uses. By recognizing these synergies, GEOSS will deliver more value for money than a series of disparate systems.

Q: It sounds as if GEOSS has a lot to contribute to science...

A: GEOSS can make a critical contribution to our understanding of Earth by enabling scientists to analyze underlying processes, to connect disciplines, to develop models that make it possible to bring together data. In turn, such scientific advances will contribute to sustainable development by improving applications and forecasting systems. This is how GEO will make Earth observations useful to those who need them, whether to improve our understanding or help make better decisions.