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Editorial Autumn 2012

As most of you will know, I am convinced that a free and open data policy for GMES will be the best way to help develop the geo-information services industry and hence the right and best way to gather the maximum economic benefits for Europe This conviction is based on two premises: firstly that making data available at zero cost leads to increased use and more business revenues and secondly, that the economic value to the government is high to fully justify the public sector investment in the first case.

The study we are currently finishing aims to make the first point by drawing comparison with other domains where information gathered by a public-sector body (PSB) has been made available for re-use. There is growing evidence that such a PSI free re-use policy will give greater returns to public treasuries through taxation than charging for the data in the first place (as is often the case today). Nevertheless, firm figures are hard to find and the arguments still rest largely on other considerations.

In this respect I was especially interested to see a new paper published by the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC) – Landsat Advisory Group. This makes a statement on Landsat data use and charges with the overarching recommendation that Landsat data must continue to be distributed at no cost. It puts forward 9 reasons why Landsat data should continue to be freely available of which 7 of these are equally applicable to GMES as to Landsat.

The same group has also published another paper which addresses the second point by looking at the economic value of certain services enabled by Landsat. This shows between $178m and $235m savings to government departments through use of the data for 10 EO services. As we know this represents just a small fraction of the uses for which EO services may be applied and hence the total benefits that may be expected and the total annual economic value of Landsat data has been estimated separately as $1,7b.

At a time when Europe’s policy makers are yet again hesitating about the funding with arguments going back and forth about EU funding or intercommunity funding. They must not lose sight of the enormous benefits that GMES will bring to Europe. Firstly, the straightforward economic benefit is huge; up to €50b estimated by Booz & Co. Secondly, the growth in high-value jobs and the spin-off these provide into other sectors. Thirdly, and most importantly, foreign policy, industrial policy, security policy will all be enhanced by the availability of regular and timely information not to mention the regular observations that are essential to monitor the impacts of climate change and to determine many environmental policies.

There seems a risk that GMES will falter due to complex political negotiations surrounding EU budgets against inter-governmental ones, about priorities for economic growth versus austerity and even about priorities between research and operational data gathering. Understanding what is going on around the world is of vital importance to our decision makers. As the US report shows the economic benefits are high in many diverse policy-linked areas.

There are arguments being made about technology such as crowd-sourcing and local measurements such as aircraft or UAV’s replacing satellite observations. Whilst they may complement a satellite system, none can provide regular, reliable, global-scale observations that only a fleet of satellites can deliver. Other technologies are important but the Sentinel satellites are at the heart of GMES. I suggest that all EARSC members and supporters remind their national representatives that this is the case and to urge that GMES funding is approved urgently as a European Union programme.

Finally, just a brief word and reminder about the survey that we are about to launch – see elsewhere in the magazine. It is over 5 years since a comprehensive analysis has been made on the EO services industry. It is vital that we have up-to-date information on the industry in Europe. It is important for us and it is important for the decision makers. If you work for a company in Europe it is most likely that you will receive an invitation to participate in the next few weeks. Please let us know if you do not or in any case let us know that you do wish to participate and tell us who the company contact should be. We look forward to hearing from you.

Geoff Sawyer
EARSC Secretary General

(*) Ref. Landsat articles
NGAC Paper: Statement on Landsat Data Use and Charges
NGAC Paper: The Value Proposition for Ten Landsat Applications