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Interview with Prof. McGlade, Director of the European Environmental Agency (EEA)

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC will have the opportunity to feature an interview with Mrs. Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Director General. First of all, thank you very much for taking some time from your busy agenda and giving us the occasion to talk about some aspects relevant for the European Earth Observation sector .

Today climate change and environmental issues are major factors determining the framework for international and national policy actions. What’s the position of EEA in the newly developed European Space Policy?
EEA is very pleased to see the importance that is given to GMES in the European Space Policy. GMES is a user driven initiative, EEA and its network EIONET are users of EO data and derived products for their environmental monitoring, assessments and reporting. EEA plays an active role in GMES service implementation. As such we are fostering all issues tackling GMES and environmental monitoring as described in the European Space Policy Document. EEA’s activities on monitoring of the environment from local to global dimension strengthening Europe’s leading role in this sector (esp. climate change) which is in line with the goals of the Lisbon strategy concerning the environmental sector for sustainable development.
What role do EEA play as a part of the global community? Could you comment on the EEA strategy?
EEA is coordinating and contributing to a number of global and activities beyond the borders of Europe: GEO/GEOSS, UNEP Global Environmental Outlook, environmental assessment of ECCA countries (Belgrade Report, including Eastern Europe, northern Eurasia, Balkan) and is supporting and coordinating, assessing and delivering information in the context of UN Conventions (e.g. CBD,SEBI2010, UNFCCC). EEA is considering to put more emphasis on information related to Europe’s environment in a global perspective in its new 5-year strategy for 2009-2013.
Which is the expected role of EEA in GMES?
EEA is committed to take a leading role in coordinating the in-situ component of GMES and establishes data flows for GMES services together with its operational network (EIONET). EEA is supporting the GMES bureau in cooperation with different Commission Services the coordination and implementation of GMES core services (esp. Land, Marine and Atmosphere). EEA/EIONET is also setting user requirements to fulfil its mandate on reporting on the state and outlook of Europe’s environment. EEA is also an end-user of GMES services to fulfil its mandate.
What would you recommend to put the Earth observation into the EU sustainable development agenda strategies?
Key issue for environmental monitoring is sustainable permanent service provision in high quality over long time periods. Providing such services strengthens the environmental component of the Lisbon Strategy and will put it on the same level of importance than the social and economic dimension.
Over the past five years we have seen how valuable earth observation data really are because we can match it with observations on the ground and it is that combination that gives confidence to policy makers to implement environmental policies. Which is in your opinion the role of earth observation satellites implementing international agreements (collection, analysis and understanding of information from local to global scale)?
There are numerous applications where EO data are today used for monitoring environmental changes in the context of international agreements (land cover / land use changes including forestation/deforestation, GhG concentrations, air pollution, sea surface temperatures, climate in the context of UNFCCC, CBD, CCD, LRTRAP etc.)
What type of satellite data EEA is using from internal projects? What are the main features you expect to monitor by integrating EO in current methodologies?
Currently EEA is using different EO data for environmental monitoring and assessment. This includes both high resolution data (European data like SPOT and non European sensors like IRS) for monitoring urban sprawl, forests or landscape fragmentation and coarse resolution data e.g. for global land-cover mapping (GLOBCOVER using Meris data). In the context of GMES service implementation EEA will use data from more and more different EO platforms e.g. for air quality near real time monitoring, monitoring seasonal variation in vegetation, marine (e.g. ocean color, altimetry, waves), and data for supporting emergency response (real time, rapid mapping and forecasting)
Can you briefly outline the planning and budgeting process in EEA for using earth observation data? Do you see any major obstacle, perhaps related to data policy, to effective progress using Earth Observation data?
Use of EO data is fully integrated in EEA’s work programme and budgeting process. Major obstacles arise from data availability and access getting the right quality data at the right time. In this context data policies and business models are often outdated since too much efforts and time have to be set on getting access to data. Data policy should foster free access to raw data for multiple use for generating services which are competitive on local, regional and global scale.

The private sector represents major providers, enablers, and consumers of Earth observation and environmental information. Therefore, the private sector stands to benefit greatly from the efforts underway to establish an integrated Earth observation system-a system that will provide unprecedented access to space-based, ground-based, and airborne observations of the Earth. Which could be the role of the EO value added industry collaborating with EEA? How do you see the interaction with EO VA companies? How could an effective dialogue be established between EEA and the EO industry?
As a user of EO products with very strong link to Member States EEA is interested on high quality and operational products provided by industries, including a solid industrial capacity for EO data processing. Innovative products for down-stream services can be fostered as well by mutual communication of requests by users and technical potential for applications by industry. EEA is participating in many EO related projects as a main user of the end products. Closer communication between EO industry and EEA in early stage of project design can help to set added value of EO products for environmental monitoring and assessment and help industries to develop market compatible products
In recent years, remote sensing has become an important element of European space policy. How is EEA developing to seek industry partners? Can you debrief on the latest Improvements for EEA using earth observation data with different stakeholders?
EEA’s strategy is based on consultation of the market for the best available product (best value for money).For example, involving the industry in fast delivery of products and services allows to increase the production time for updating a European land cover map from 4 to 2 years. High resolution data improves also the information content and consequently the value of the product. There is a clear trend towards real time data for real time decision making.
The progress achieved in remote sensing has also opened our eyes to numerous other applications, the main one being the monitoring of the earth‘s condition. How crucial is the role of monitoring the planet Earth is in our economy?
Monitoring is crucial to detect environmental trends. Key questions are: what happens in the environment (observation), does it matter (assessment), is there need for action (decision making). EO helps to monitor the ecological footprint of our economy in the Earth system and delivers the basic information for developing adaptation and mitigation strategies to avoid severe harm for our society and foster sustainable development.
What is your vision for a comprehensive, integrated and sustained infrastructure for observation and early warning to apprehend natural disasters? How should Europe respond to Environmental issues affecting our planet (i.e crisis management?)
EEA in its role as partner of the Group of Four (DG Env, JRC, ESTAT) strongly supports the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) to be set from concept into reality. Distributed data from local to global scale will be made accessible and services can be set up using this data. Beside sufficient funding of this process data policies and business models enabling free and fast access to all types of environmental data (EO, in-situ, surveys a.s.o) are the key issue, especially in the context of near real / real time mapping and forecasts.
How do you feel then overall about the future of Earth Observation within environmental policies?
Fostering EO in the context of environmental policies will strengthen Europe’s competitiveness on the global market and its leading role on environmental issues (e.g. climate change) for sustainable development. Currently there is broad consensus and political willingness to foster EO for environmental monitoring and security in the process of GMES implementation. So we should definitively not miss this window of opportunity for expanding the operationalisation of remote sensing.