GEO was launched in response to calls for action by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development and by the G8 (Group of Eight) leading industrialized countries. These high-level meetings recognized that international collaboration is essential for exploiting the growing potential of Earth observations to support decision making in an increasingly complex and environmentally stressed world.
GEO is a voluntary partnership of governments and international organizations. It provides a framework within which these partners can develop new projects and coordinate their strategies and investments. As of September 2011, GEO’s Members include 87 Governments and the European Commission. In addition, 64 intergovernmental, international, and regional organizations with a mandate in Earth observation or related issues have been recognized as Participating Organizations.
GEO is constructing a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) that will link together the many thousands of scientific observation instruments that have until now been operating in isolation.
This is necessary because the need for data and forecasts has evolved beyond the capabilities of single-purpose, stand-alone information systems. It is also possible because today’s new and emerging technologies, which are generating fast quantities of data, can be made "interoperable."
Because the complexity and dynamism of modern civilization is placing ever greater demands on political and economic decision-makers, GEO aims to make it possible for policymakers and managers to act on the basis of the most comprehensive and detailed environmental information available.