A short while ago, actors the Copernicus ecosystem gathered in Brussels for its traditional annual eponymous event: the Copernicus Ecosystem Workshop.
For one and a half day, 250 representatives from the European Commission, delegates from Participating Countries, from industry, from academic and research institutions, and Copernicus entrepreneurs were able to exchange and network in an informal setting. The idea was not to celebrate the programme’s many successes, but to look into the future, into the role of the ecosystem in general and of the industry in particular in Copernicus’ future development, and into the further growth of its user base.
For me and my team, it was obviously a pleasure to see so many familiar faces, and to meet newcomers who have become part of the ecosystem since last year. But it was first and foremost an occasion to listen. To listen to what the representatives of the various “species” that make up the ecosystem have to say about the future and about the many Copernicus market development initiatives that have borne fruit in 2018 (e.g. the DIAS Data and Information Access Services platforms) or have been recently launched by the European Commission (e.g. Copernicus Skills Programme or new elements of our start-programme such as the Copernicus Hackathons).
With seven satellites in orbit, the core of our constellation of Sentinel is now complete. With the launch of the Copernicus Climate Change Service’s Climate Data Store, we can now proudly proclaim that we have developed six operational services at the service of users in Europe and beyond. Our data distribution system is improving at a rapid pace, while our user base is growing at record speed and shows no sign of having reached a plateau.
This success is not only a success of the European Commission. The members of the Copernicus ecosystem deserve our praises and thanks, as they have vastly contributed to this magnificent showcase of what the European Union can achieve when common, public and global good is the objective of a collaborative effort. No single EU Member State, no country in the world could have developed an Earth Observation system of systems as ambitious and successful as Copernicus. We, of course, needed the combined financial resources, but more than anything else, we needed the vision as much as the complementary scientific and industrial capabilities of the Participating Countries.
Indeed, Copernicus is highly sought-after internationally and the international presence of the programme is growing through a set of Cooperation Arrangements which in many cases allow us to access additional Contributing Missions, provide a new source of in situ and validation data, but also provide new business development opportunities to European service providers.
But we should in no way believe that the job is done. Technology is evolving, the industry is changing with the rise of the New Space actors, user requirements are evolving, and new ones emerge, while new users are looking into our data and information.
We therefore need to continue to grow the programme. This is why the European Commission is seeking a budget of € 16 billion for the next 2020-2017 Financial Framework, of which € 5.8 billion are earmarked for Copernicus. We are also looking into expanding our fleet of Sentinel to fill observation gaps in areas such as CO2 monitoring from satellites or thermal remote sensing. But, above all, we must ensure the continuity, the stability and the predictability of the future of the main components of the programme. Indeed, these three elements are a condition sine qua non of the investments by industry and users, of the market development and data uptake.
Copernicus is a public programme and should therefore keep the general societal good at its heart, address negative externalities and address the challenges of the next 15 years, in particular climate change and security. It should invest in areas in which the private sector is not willing or able to venture. Its first objective is to play an ever-increasing role in support of policy-making and implementation at European, national, local but also at international level, for instance to monitor compliance of international agreements aiming to fight climate change.
A second objective should remain to support innovation, and by consequence the creation of jobs and economic growth. In this regard, the full, free and open access to Copernicus data and information should continue to be the cornerstone of the programme. The best way to maximise the societal and economic potential of Copernicus is to put the data in the hands of as many users, organisations or individuals as possible, so that innovative ideas and solutions can emerge. Our data policy is an enabler, a trigger of economic development, and a direct contribution to European and global welfare and sustainable development.
We will continue to support both the supply and the demand sides of the Copernicus ecosystem. But we, at the European Commission, cannot do it alone!
We, of course, need the support of the European Parliament and of the Member States. But we also need industry to play its role. To write the scenario of Copernicus Season 2, industry must definitely be part of the casting.
I was happy to hear at the Ecosystem Workshop that industry is ready to take the lead, with adequate support from the EC, and that buying services rather than infrastructure is the way forward. We, at the EC, are prepared to provide the required anchor tenancy support, with adequate public funding, to continue facilitating access to the data, support research and innovation as well as access to finance, while stimulating demand through Copernicus services procurement contracts.
Copernicus does not belong to the European Commission. It is funded by taxpayers’ money and therefore belongs to the citizens of the EU, and, ultimately, to the citizens and ecosystems of our fragile planet. They should take the future of the programme into their hands!
The past year has been important in the life of Copernicus. Many crucial milestones have been reached, on time and on budget, but there is much more to come. I look forward to measuring the progress made and to meeting many new happy users at the 2019 Copernicus Ecosystem Workshop.