Our cities are the frontier where the battle to achieve the global sustainable development agenda over the next decade would be won or lost. This requires an evidence-based approach to local decision-making and resource allocation, which can only be possible if current gaps in urban data are bridged. Earth observation (EO) offers opportunities to provide timely, spatially disaggregated information that supports this need. Spatially disaggregated information, which is also demanded by cities for forward planning and land management, has not received much attention largely due to three reasons: (i) the cost of generating this data through traditional methods remains high; (ii) the technical capacity in geospatial sciences in many countries is low due to a shortage of skilled professionals who can find and/or process available data; and (iii) the inertia against disturbing routine workflows and adopting new practices that are not imposed through legal requirements at the country level. In support of overcoming the first two challenges, this paper discusses the importance of EO data in the urban context, how it is already being used by some city leaders for decision making, and what other applications it offers in the realm of urban sustainability monitoring. It also illustrates how the EO community, via the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and its members, is working to make this data more easily accessible and lower barriers of use by policymakers and urban practitioners that are interested in implementing and tracking sustainable development in their jurisdictions. The paper concludes by shining a light on the challenges that remain to be overcome for better adoption of EO data for urban decision making through better communication between the two groups, to enable a more effective alignment of the produced data with the users’ needs.
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