Brussels, 16 February 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Earth Observation matters to the international community. This is clear from the number of countries and organisations represented here. And the reason it matters is very simple: because it can help us deal with some of the most pressing problems our world faces today.
Natural and human-induced disasters, environment and health, climate change, sustainable management of water, energy, ecosystems, land, agriculture and biodiversity: these matters are currently at the top of the environment and sustainable development agendas.
The scale of these problems is simultaneously global, regional and local and they occur all over the world, without distinction between North and South.
The reason that Earth Observation has become a global priority is that it can help to solve these problems through providing information that:
- Allows the development of better, science-based policies.
- Allows us to manage resources in a sustainable way.
- Allows us to react efficiently to disasters.
It is fitting that this summit is taking place today, the date of the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. Earth observation has a key role to play - the linking of different observation systems allows us to gain a much better understanding of this highly complex phenomena. This allows us to improve our models for predicting its evolution and ultimately allows us to better manage its effects.
The basic point is that good policy needs good science. Or in other words, we need to understand our environment in order to protect it. I am convinced that Earth Observation has a major contribution to make in this regard.
The recent tsunami in Asia is another type of situation where Earth Observation can help policy-makers reduce the impact of such events.
The tsunami also demonstrated how global problems need global responses. It is for this reason that today’s Summit is so important. It shows the commitment from nations and from organisations from around the world to work together to address common challenges. And the fundamental reason for working together is efficiency: it allows us to save money, time and ultimately lives.
Firstly, collecting and managing observation data is an expensive business, so acting globally and sharing the information freely - between stakeholders, between governments, between institutions and with the public - ensures that scarce resources are used as efficiently as possible, reducing overlap and double-funding.
Secondly, by pooling existing systems, we give ourselves a solid basis to work on, rather than building systems from scratch. This approach gains us valuable years.
Finally, better Earth observation will help us to identify potential dangers and alert populations that may be affected. It can also help us to respond better when disasters occur. The potential for improving and saving lives must not be under-estimated.
The arguments for working together to create and use a Global System of Systems are clear. This will be the most important aspect of the 10-year Implementation Plan that we are going to adopt.
The European Union has already demonstrated its firm commitment to the Global System of Systems. We are contributing by establishing policies and systems through the INSPIRE directive which will allow us to share information more efficiently. In order to feed the systems with data we need to invest in monitoring and observation capacities such as the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative. This will be at the heart of our contribution to the System of Systems.
We have undertaken these initiatives together with our partners in the Member States and in collaboration with the European Space Agency. The logic that led to the creation of GMES and INSPIRE is exactly the same as that which has brought us all here today – we can do this better together than we can alone.
We still have a lot of work ahead of us. There are major organisational challenges to be faced:
- We need to fully exploit the knowledge gained from the new systems.
- We need to ensure that by freely sharing our information we do not endanger the financing of our observation systems.
- We need to involve more users and spark the interest of the general public.
We are taking an important step today. We are showing that the international community is prepared to come together and work hard to address its common problems. That is, in itself, a step forward. My hope is that we will build on this momentum to create a system that lives up to its possibilities. Then we will be able to look back at a job well done.