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GEO 2016 transitional Work Program


Earth Observations in Service of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Activity ID: 52

Objectives and Overview

General objectives
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a universal development agenda for all countries and stakeholders to use as a blueprint of action for people, the planet and prosperity. The agenda is anchored by seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), associated targets, and a global indicator framework. Collectively, these items assist countries and the global community to measure, manage, and monitor progress on economic, social and environmental sustainability.
The 2030 Agenda specifically demands new data acquisition and integration approaches to improve the quality, coverage and availability of data to support the implementation of the development agenda at all levels. The 2030 Agenda includes efforts to exploit the contribution to be made by a wide range of data, including Earth observation and geospatial information, while ensuring national ownership in supporting and tracking progress.
Earth observations and derived information have already played key roles in supporting sustainable development. Serving the 2030 Agenda, they can play insightful roles in monitoring targets, planning, tracking progress, and helping nations and other stakeholders make informed decisions, plans, and on-going adjustments that will contribute toward achieving the SDGs. Combined with demographic and statistical data, these sources enable nations to analyze and model conditions, create maps and other visualizations, evaluate impacts across sectors and regions, monitor change over time in a consistent and standardized manner, and improve accountability.
The primary purpose of GEO Initiative 18 (GI-18) is to organize and realize the potential of Earth observations to advance the 2030 Agenda and enable societal benefits through achievement of the SDGs.
A primary objective is to integrate Earth observations and geospatial information into national development and monitoring frameworks for the SDGs. Activities within GI-18 underscore and support GEO’s emphasis on sustained observations, open data, and capacity building. The initiative also serves to advance GEO’s strategic engagement with entities at national to international levels, such as UN agencies, foundations, and development banks. Overall, GI-18 enables countries and organizations to leverage Earth observations to support the implementation, planning, monitoring, reporting, and evaluation of the SDGs and their normative societal benefits.
Areas of Action
The GI-18 initiative pursues actions in several coordinated areas, addressing technical, organizational and programmatic components. Collectively, these actions support methods, engagement, data advancement, communications, capacity building, and evaluation on how Earth observations can support the 2030 Agenda. The Areas of Action include:
a) Methods I: Development of a general approach on the contributions of Earth observations data and derived information in achieving the SDGs and in monitoring the relevant indicators. Using specific examples in selected countries, this action will examine and document case studies of methods to integrate Earth observations in monitoring, planning, and reporting the SDGs.
b) Methods II: Development of tools and methodologies to measure relevant SDG indicators.
This action includes suitability assessment, sensitivity analysis, frequency testing, and other factors to characterize uses of Earth observations and their appropriateness across users and regions. This action includes analyses and practices on innovative methods, visualizations, and graphic design approaches to communicate status and trends in SDG indicators.
c)  Capacity Building and Engagement: Support to countries in the implementation of all appropriate measures to properly address the 2030 Agenda.
Drawing on capacity building activities within GEO, this action coordinates and fosters capacity building efforts at appropriate levels on effective ways to convey methods, enable data access, and sustain use of Earth observations in context of SDGs. Activities here will draw on and support GEO efforts to characterize user needs.
Given the basis of the SDGs in statistical data, this action includes engagement with the SDG statistical community about Earth observations as well as capacity building within GEO and the Earth observations community about SDG statistical principles and practices.
d) Data Advancement: Advances in the provision, access, discoverability, and applicability of Earth observations data and derived information for use with the SDG indicators.
This action supports the development and progressive implementation of provisions that allow the connection with the providers of basic data, information and knowledge and the access to users.
This activity includes the collection of feedback from SDG user organizations about data characteristics, usability, preferred formats, etc. to help GEO refine approaches to enable greater use of Earth observations.

e) Communications: Development of activities for GEO community engagement of national and international entities about uses of Earth observations with the SDGs.
This action develops of portfolio of materials, organizes events, publishes articles, and supports trainings and other activities to promote awareness about Earth observations and the SDGs.
Some activities within these Areas of Action are and will be overlapping.  In addition, other Work Programme elements refer to and encompass the SDGs. This GI-18 initiative is the primary element dedicated specifically to address GEO’s broad engagement on the SDGs.  Coordination with all elements related to the SDGs is appropriate and expected.

Implementation approach
Under a GI-18 Implementation Plan, GEO Members and Participating Organizations use several physical and virtual tools to address the areas of action. GEO conducts them in partnership with relevant UN agencies and other involved entities.  Key implementation approaches in the GI-18 Initiative include:
A series of pilot projects apply and test uses of Earth observations to support the assessment and tracking of the SDGs, including integration with national statistical accounts for the indicators. Such projects will develop and test relevant methodologies and/or capacity building approaches, scaling up existing initiatives and bringing innovative applications from other examples. Projects encompass simple feasibility studies to in-depth endeavors. Some pilot project activities may focus on one country and address several SDG indicators; others may focus on a particular SDG indicator and apply it to several countries.
Building on these projects, the GI-18 initiative documents examples, case studies, lessons learned, and smart practices using Earth observations with the SDG indicators.  The initiative identifies and conveys feedback from user organizations on their experiences with and recommendations for Earth observations data and derived information, such as formats and access.  The projects include efforts to support qualitative and quantitative evaluation on the benefits of Earth observations to enable societal benefits.
A program of activities related to outreach and engagement about Earth observations and SDGs.  Implementation of this includes the creation and maintenance of a portfolio of materials, such as examples, stories, articles, and web features. For instance, a series of thematic examples can articulate how Earth observations relate to specific SDGs and can be integrated with traditional statistical approaches; these examples support efforts by GEO members to engage with their national statistical offices.
Additional outreach activities envisioned include events, such as workshops and sessions at key conferences; trainings, including webinars and hands-on sessions; side events at key UN agency meetings; awards for innovative uses of Earth observations to advance the SDGs; and publications, such as a library of guidance handbooks on uses of Earth observations with SDG indicators.
GI-18 will work to expand GEO’s current partnerships, enhance its strong relationship with the UN, and foster consolidated engagement of the individual Member countries and Participating Organizations. Associated with the SDGs, key UN entities includes the UN Statistics Division, the UN Initiative on Global Geospatial Information (UN GGIM), the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Additional potential partners including development banks, non-governmental organizations (NGO), and international entities (e.g., Skoll Global Threats Fund, Packard Foundation). Engagement and partnership with these entities help build processes, mechanisms and human capacity to include Earth observations into national development plans and integrate them with national statistical accounts to improve the measuring, monitoring and achievement of the SDGs.

2. Leader(s) and Point of Contact
TBD (the Secretariat will ensure coordination among contributors, while the task leadership is being defined)

3. 2016 Activities and outputs

  • Develop a multiyear implementation plan for the initiative.
  • Scope a communications and outreach strategy, plan, and calendar.
  • Produce multiple examples on uses of Earth observations in the indicator framework.
  • Scope a framework of projects and initiate two or more projects.
  • Hold a side event at the 47th Session of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC), where the SDG indicator framework is to be approved.
  • Prepare a report on the value that Earth observations adds in SDG monitoring and implementation in support of the UNSC meeting in 2017.
  • Prepare a partnership plan.
  • Continue the development and implementation of the GEMI initiative (with a particular focus on integrating Earth observations into existing, traditional water quality and water management measuring and monitoring mechanisms).
  • Develop a concept on methods for access to SDG related data, information and knowledge.
  • Scope an Earth observations SDG toolbox capable to process EO data and information.
  • Develop a general outline for a handbook describing use of Earth observations for SDGs
  • Conduct a side event at GEO-XIII

4. List of activity contributors (no particular order)



GEO Member/ PO

Email Address




Giovani RUM






Lawrence FRIEDL




CIESIN / Columbia University





Marie-Josee BOURASSA









Khonkar Rifat HOSSAIN



Jonathon ROSS

Geoscience Australia


Gregory SCOTT






Olav Eggers

Danish Geodata Agency


5. Funding Sources for 2016 and Indicative amounts (includes in-kind contributions)


6. Future Plans (and resource requirements).

The Initiative team strives to complete the GI-18 Implementation Plan for presentation and release at the 2016 GEO Work Programme Symposium.

Leadership & Contributors (this list is being populated)




Implementing Entity



Alex Held




Samuel Djavidnia




Luc St-Pierre





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phone: +41 22 730 8505
fax: +41 22 730 8520