Europe Launches Space Program for Environment and Security

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 20, 2002 (ENS) - For the first time, the European Union is developing its own autonomous capacity to monitor the global environment, detect natural catastrophes and manage mass movements of refugees using satellite observation and remote sensing.

Currently, space data for information on environment and security is derived from experimental satellite systems that are national or bilateral among the bloc's 15 Member States.


European Commissioner Philippe Busquin of Belgium (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
Philippe Busquin, the EU research commissioner who is responsible for space policy, opened the first meeting of the Global Monitoring of Environment and Security (GMES) Steering Committee in Brussels Tuesday.

GMES, a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency, is an initiative to federate Europe's many separate activities in satellite observation and remote sensing, in support of European Community policies. Tuesday's meeting is the first that gathers the users and suppliers of GMES services and technologies together.

The steering committee will help implement the EU's Action Plan which aims to develop the autonomous system by 2008.

Participants in the steering committee meeting include representatives from the European Commission, the European Space Agency, the European Council, EU Member States, the European Environment Agency, EUMETSAT and other key players in the area of space security and environment.


Ariane 5 rocket loaded with ENVISAT is launched March 1 from the Guyana Space Centre at Kourou, Guyana. (Two photos courtesy European Space Agency)
The meeting follows the successful launch on March 1 of ENVISAT - the largest earth observation satellite ever built and a key component of GMES.

ENVISAT is orbiting the Earth 14 times a day, probing for environmental pollution and climate change. By means of 10 sensitive instruments aboard, it will measure and analyze greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, locate environmental polluters, identify ocean currents and algae growth, and monitor the Antarctic and Arctic ozone holes.

Busquin said the new space capabilities will be used to promote sustainable development. "GMES is not only of strategic importance for space research," the commissioner said, "it will also help Europe to better project its values and policies in the world, for example to ensure sustainable development."

Natural and human caused disasters take what Busquin called a "staggering toll" in economic and human terms. Over 665,000 people have lost their lives in natural disasters over the past decade.

Damages from the 1999 floods in France cost 500 million; average yearly costs from floods in the United States amount to US$1.8 billion and U.S. storms cost an equal amount.

One single ecological disaster, the 68.7 million gallon oil spill from the tanker Amoco-Cadiz in March 1978, fouled the Atlantic Ocean and the French coast at a cost of 9.3 billion.


One hour after launch ENVISAT deploys solar panels to generate energy in flight
GMES is expected to play an important role in responding to such disasters. "We have first rate science and space technologies in Europe," Busquin said. "We must put them to greater and better use to help us meet the challenges of our globalizing society."

The steering committee meeting comes a few days in advance of the formal adoption of the GALILEO space navigation program by European Union transport ministers.

At the global level, the Global Monitoring of Environment and Security system will provide new verification tools to contribute to the precise monitoring of the implementation of international protocols, such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, as well as security and international aid agreements.

At the other end of the spectrum, GMES will help local authorities to pinpoint problems such as shoreline erosion and better react to catastrophic events such as floods, mudslides, avalanches, and forest fires.