Making Nature Count at GEO Week 2021

The Group on Earth Observation (GEO) held its annual GEO Week from November 23rd to 26th, bringing together representatives and experts from over 100 countries around the world to discuss the role of Earth observation (EO) in achieving ambitious global targets. Over the course of four days the EO community presented a wide range of activities to address the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the UN Decades on Ocean Science and Ecosystem Restoration. A key theme that emerged during the week was the need for integrated action in achieving global targets, and the role of the SEEA Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) was referenced and well represented throughout the week. The SEEA was also featured in both a side event and a plenary anchor session.

The side event, entitled “Making statistics geospatial: Mobilizing the GEO community to support Ecosystem Accounting and data interoperability”, was hosted by the Earth Observation for Ecosystem Accounting (EO4EA) Initiative and featured members of the SEEA and EO communities, including Alessandra Alfieri (UN Statistics Division), Ken Bagstad (US Geological Survey), Eva Ivits (European Environment Agency), and François Soulard (Statistics Canada). The side event made a call to the GEO community to support the greater interoperability of EO datasets, showed examples of how EO data is being used to support accounting, and provided a demo of the ARIES for SEEA platform. A common message throughout the side event was the need to make geospatial data more accessible for national statistical offices developing SEEA EA accounts; and the advantages, necessity, and urgency to making data and models interoperable to scale implementation of the SEEA EA to support national and global policy goals.

The SEEA was also featured in the plenary anchor session on Nature Based Solutions. The session included panelists from the CBD, GEOBON, GEO Indigenous Alliance, GEO Land Degradation Neutrality and EO4EA. The Executive Secretary of the CBD, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, opened the event by highlighting the upcoming post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and the important role of EO in nature-based solutions. The panelists discussed the critical role of nature for supporting sustainable development and the need for robust and consistent data on the interactions between nature, society, and the economy. The SEEA was highlighted as a unifying framework for monitoring the contributions of nature that could be used to track progress toward achieving multilateral environmental agreements. From the discussion, it was clear that there is a policy demand for the information that the accounts can provide and a desire for the GEO community to support and align with the SEEA as nature-based solutions emerges as a key organizing principle for action for GEO members. 

As GEO Week closed, there was a sense of optimism that the role of nature would become central to GEO’s mission. The EO4EA Initiative seeks to bridge the EO and SEEA communities together toward developing the data, platforms and standards needed to support ecosystem accounting. With the adoption of the SEEA EA in March 2021, the message at GEO Week was clear -- now is the time to engage with the SEEA community and make nature count!

This article was contributed by Max Wright