GMES ready for implementation phase

February 6, 2004

Brussels, 05 Feb 2004

After a three year exploratory period, the EU's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative is ready for the next step on the road to becoming operational, the Commission has decided.

A communication was published on 3 February outlining the key lessons learnt from the exploratory phase, and summarising the actions necessary in order to establish a GMES capacity by 2008.

'At a time when command of information has geo-strategic implications, GMES aims at providing an independent capacity at the service of European political needs,' states the communication. Information provided by GMES, collected from space-borne, airborne and in-situ observation systems, is expected to primarily support Europe's environmental commitments, such as monitoring atmospheric processes, oceanic conditions and coastal zones.

Data would also help in the monitoring and prediction of natural and technical hazards, such as floods, forest fires, oil spills and ice monitoring, and would provide support to many other EU policy areas with an environmental aspect, including agriculture, fisheries and regional policy.

Presenting the communication on 3 February, EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin highlighted the important contribution that GMES could have made at the time of the Prestige oil spill. It was known that the sunken ship, the Prestige, was spilling oil into the Atlantic Ocean off Spain's Galician coast, and it was also known that moving the tanker would exacerbate the problem. However, it was not possible to combine this information quickly enough with data on tides, weather forecasts and sea beds. Had GMES been in operation and able to provide a more comprehensive picture of the situation, the ship could have been towed to an area where the oil spill could have been kept under control.

On a humanitarian level, GMES will facilitate decisions on the prioritisation and distribution of aid, and will also support the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The system will allow the establishment of a framework for improved acquisition, access and exchange of information in the context of conflict prevention and crisis management. Specific attention will be given to the monitoring of international treaties aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; and monitoring population movements and settlements.

The Commission does not exclude the possibility that GMES could also be used for military purposes, claiming that the 'observation and information needs associated with relief efforts for floods, forest fires, earthquakes, industrial disasters or terrorist actions against civilians may have significant commonality with classic defence operations.' The inherent benefit to civilian and military users supports 'an implicit dual use or multi-use scenario,' states the communication.

But there are other advantages to be derived from GMES, ones that will be more visible to Europe's citizens. 'Overall, the costs and benefits of GMES services should be assessed against the extraordinary expenses caused when disasters occur, often due to insufficient or low quality monitoring,' claims the Commission.

It is estimated that a better understanding of natural disasters could lead to a saving of around 370 million euro per year, while the ability to forecast, predict and therefore prepare for a situation could result in savings of up to 1,000 million euro per year. The loss of life through air pollution would also be reduced significantly.

During the implementation phase, from 2004 until 2007, the Commission proposes to focus on: establishing a structured dialogue between users and providers; developing cost-beneficial services; designing and procuring space components; assessing and upgrading in-situ components; encouraging data integration and information management activities; and developing a long term funding strategy. From 2007, the initiative will enter its operational phase.

The exploratory phase has identified a number of areas which could prove challenging to GMES stakeholders. With these in mind, the Commission outlines a number of fields to be addressed during the coming period. The overall continuity, comparability and integration of space and in-situ data, modelling activities and interoperability of systems need to be strengthened, states the communication, by way of an example. A more accurate picture of information needs should also be fostered, and user friendly, cost effective access to standardised data must be promoted.

The preparation of the different components of GMES between 2004 and 2006 will be funded under several thematic priorities of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), namely 'aeronautics and space', 'research networking' and 'information society technologies (IST)' - 150 million euro in total. The European Space Agency will also provide 83 million euro. The inclusion of GMES on the 'Quick Start' list of the Commission's Initiative for Growth may provide funding opportunities from the European Investment Bank (EIB). Resources beyond 2007 are conditional upon EU budgetary decisions.

For further information on GMES, please visit:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/space/prog/gme s/gmes_en.html

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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