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Ministers and government officials have signed a declaration to make earth observation research more accessible and support efforts to create a global satellite monitoring system.

The agreement was signed at the Ministerial Summit of the Group on Earth Observations in Cape Town, South Africa last month (28–30 November) by ministers and officials from 70 countries, including representatives from the African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment (AARSE).

It will facilitate the connection of the world's diverse monitoring systems in a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), initially launched in 2005.

This network of ocean, atmospheric and terrestrial sensors intends to share and disseminate comprehensive, near-real-time environmental data among policymakers and others, in fields such as natural resources, disasters, health threats, energy sources and forestry, according to South Africa's Die Burger newspaper.

GEOSS has particular relevance in Africa where early warnings of climate-related illnesses and natural disasters would play a vital role in sustainable development and capacity building, said Mosibudi Mangena South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology.

The summit heard how individual programmes around the world are contributing to GEOSS, including a US$100 million Brazilian-Chinese initiative — launched in September — to share satellite landmass data with Africa at no cost.

The sharing of information showed that nations were prepared to work together to solve global problems, Mangena said, adding that monitoring the earth will help developing nations with environmental decision-making.

Earth observation is not about satisfying curiosity but is a way to ensure our continued survival, he told the summit.

"We are using more resources than our planet can provide each year. If we carry on at this rate, we will need 1.4 earths to sustain our present levels of consumption," said Janez Potočnik, science and research commissioner of the European Union, at the summit.

The European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), funding mechanisms for environmental research, is amongst those financing the GEOSS project.

FP7 will ensure the continuity of these activities, forging explicit links with the GEOSS Implementation Plan — including work on climate change. Over the duration of the programme, an estimated 200 million euros will be spent on monitoring the planet's environment, including developing capacity.

Potočnik encouraged more African scientists, including those working in climate change, to set up partnerships with European scientists through FP7.

''I would encourage all African scientists to learn as much as possible about the types of funding available in this young programme,'' Potočnik said.

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