South Africa will become Lead Co-Chair of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), taking over from the United States. The announcement was made during the GEO Week currently under way in Japan. GEO is an intergovernmental organisation working to improve access to Earth observations (EO) and the use of EO for the benefit of society.


As Lead Co-Chair, South Africa will preside over the GEO Plenaries and Executive Committees, as well as help to maintain focus on the priorities for the year, working closely with the GEO Secretariat to advance GEO’s mission. South Africa will co-chair with the United States, the European Commission and China.


South Africa is a founding member of GEO, and played a significant role in its establishment in 2005, following the call for the development of an integrated Earth observation system at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in South Africa in 2002.  South Africa has remained an active participant in GEO, and has supported the organisation in its quest to implement the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).


South Africa has established its own national coordinating mechanism for Earth observations (SA-GEO), with 10 communities of practice under the National Earth Observation and Space Secretariat.  These developments were informed by the Cabinet approval of the South African Earth Observation Strategy (SAEOS) in 2006.  


In 2012, South Africa conceptualised a new approach to enhance the participation of African countries in GEO, and strengthen regional coordination through the establishment of the AfriGEOSS initiative. AfriGEOSS has set a precedent for GEO as other regions realise the importance of strengthening regional coordination by creating their own mechanisms such as AmeriGEOSS, Asia-Oceania GEOSS and EuroGEOSS.


The Department of Science and Technology (DST) represented South Africa at the GEO Week, with Deputy Director-General: Technology Innovation, Mmboneni Muofhe, leading the delegation. The DDG has served on the South African delegation to GEO since 2005.  Under his guidance, the 2019 Lead Co-Chair will prioritise engagement with the Global South in building a results-orientated GEOSS, supporting global policy priorities through Earth observations and strengthening the sustainability of the GEO enterprise.


“As GEO moves towards its 5th Ministerial Meeting in 2019, it is important to emphasise the diversity and inclusivity of its vision through the active engagement of the Global South. GEO can only be effective if all regions are contributors to this vision, particularly the youth and entrepreneurs located in the Global South,” said Muofhe.


The Deputy Director-General will be supported by the DST’s Space Science and Technology team, the South African National Space Agency, the national EO community, the African Caucus and AfriGEOSS.