Jan 27, 2010

European Earth Observation Programme under scrutiny

Estimated Article Reading Time: 2 min.

A European monitoring system that can detect floods and help target help in natural disasters like in Haiti is being discussed by MEPs. The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security system (GMES) can provide data on a range of issues from climate change and environmental pollution to security. But, with rising costs in a time of economic crisis, is this the right time to bring European support (and finance) to this project?

We spoke to German Socialist Norbert Glante who is drafting Parliament’s report on the European Earth Observation Programme.

Why do we need a European Earth Observation Programme?

The GMES is an earth monitoring initiative, managed by the EU, in collaboration with member states. Currently, data is collected by nations, research institutes, private companies and military observation. But there is a lack of compatibility. GMES is about collecting and preparing reliable data using satellites and terrestrial facilities.

The EU is building satellites in partnership with the European Space Agency, while member states will use air, ground and sea-based facilities to record and process data and make it available to users. The project will soon move into the operational phase.

How will it help citizens?

The aim is to guarantee better management of the environment through information about the earth’s surface, biodiversity, condition of oceans and composition of the atmosphere. This should provide greater security for the population, for example in connection with natural disasters.

In concrete terms, if an earthquake occurs accurate maps can be produced using satellites allowing improved management of rescue teams. Sea levels can also be accurately measured in order to observe the consequences of climate change and GMES can track the spread of an oil slick if there is a tanker disaster and warn people on the coast.

Had GMES been fully operational could disasters like the one in Haiti have been prevented?

Of course natural catastrophes cannot be prevented by systems like GMES. But they can limit the negative effects.

Once a disaster has happened, GMES can help organise the rescue teams faster. Images can help identify the problem regions. You can see broken infrastructure -streets, trains, you can see if the airport is damaged or not. The population can be evacuated or helped more efficiently.

Unemployment is at its highest in 10 years. How can you justify the heavy costs of the project for the European taxpayers?

The total costs are not clearly defined yet. In any case, we are talking about a few hundred millions – that is really not much for an infrastructure project. Nobody would argue against building a motorway during a period of high unemployment because it is too costly.

What’s under discussion in the EP at the moment?

Three problems: first budget, the price rose over 70%, so we must find new money to launch the satellites; second, what we do with the data – will it be free or will users have to pay? Third is the question of how to coexist with private companies providing similar services and data.


The report under discussion in Parliament’s Industry Committee on Wednesday. MEPs on the committee will vote in March and the full parliament is expcted to vote in June.

REF. : 20100121STO67828

Further information

“Draft report”:
“Norbert Glante”:
“Industry, Research and Energy”:
GMES – further info”: