“When we give young people tools to be creative, they will proactively take the future into their own hands!” With these words, Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, South Africa, opened the Ministerial Summit on the final day of GEO Week 2023 and encouraged GEO to reaffirm its commitments to full and open access to Earth observations data to empower evidence-based decision making.
The highlight of the day was indeed the energetic and passionate plea from the first-ever panel of youth representatives. In what was termed a “defining moment for GEO,”these young leaders issued the first GEO Youth Declaration and strove to explain how Earth intelligence will benefit the leaders of tomorrow, highlighting:
- youth’s strong sense of innovation, which can help through inter-cultural bottlenecks and optimize GEO’s values of mutual respect and fair and equal cooperation;
- the fact that youth represent a flexible generation capable of using multiple data sources to address the triple planetary crisis, especially to raise awareness of the role of Earth observations; and
- the role of industry to help youth gain practical work experience, and the role of academic institutions to ensure the youth have better opportunities to acquire the necessary theoretical and practical skills.
The Ministerial Summit also celebrated GEO’s progress and achievements since the last Summit, with Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director-General, Department of Science and Innovation, South Africa, presenting GEO’s achievements and notable activities since the 2019 Summit in Canberra, Australia, which he said was all the more remarkable since the COVID-19 disruption meant that most of it was done in only one year. He highlighted:
- work on urban settlements and on land degradation, particularly for meeting various Sustainable Development Goals; and
- numerous community activities, GEO coordination mechanisms with national and regional GEOs, and the development of GEO’s Post-2025 Strategy.
A video presentation further summarized the achievements, speaking of advances in, among others, real-time flood forecasting systems, hydrological and agricultural monitoring, forest observation initiatives, early warning, land degradation mapping, and ecosystem protection.
Presenting an overview of the Post-2025 Strategy, Yana Gevorgyan, Director, GEO Secretariat, outlined the Strategy’s mission to: create and curate demand-driven services and operations; ensure that youth, civil society and private sector involvement becomes part of GEO’s mainstream work; and evolve GEO’s own operating model and governance to “walk the talk” of being participatory and inclusive and thus continue to be a neutral, trusted convener of partnerships around the world.
In the afternoon, Humbulani Mudau, Chief Executive Officer, South Africa National Space Agency, presented the text of the Ministerial Declaration and the 2023 Ministerial Summit endorsed the Ministerial Declaration.
Following many closing remarks thanking the generous hosts, applauding the progress made, and affirming the role of GEO in connecting the technological advances in Earth observations and Earth intelligence to informed decision making to reduce disasters and arrest mismanagement of natural resources, the meeting was closed at 4:07 pm.
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