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Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Global Monitoring for Environment and Security

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Lille Symposium, Lille


Tuesday, October 17, 2000


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I was delighted to be invited here today in my capacity as Chairman of the Ministerial Council of the European Space Agency. I would like to begin by congratulating the French Presidency, and in particular our host today Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg, for arranging this two day symposium on global monitoring for environment and security, the GMES initiative. I have no doubt that the Presidency is extremely busy, driving forward many important dossiers, notably in following up the agenda set by the Lisbon Summit. That M Schwartzenberg could devote time to arranging this symposium indicates the importance which he attaches to GMES.

This symposium has shone the spotlight onto a concept which has been developing over the past two years in discussions between the European Commission, the European Space Agency, the European Meteorological Satellite Organisation (EUMETSAT) and a number of national space agencies. That concept - the proposal systematically to develop satellite-derived information in order to assist government to monitor environmental pressures and their effects on security - depends crucially on identifying who in government needs such information to underpin the policy decisions they take or implement.

GMES thus represents a good example of the issues we face today in seeking to develop space systems for the benefit of European society and its place in the global economy. The role of space in Europe must include facilitating the establishment of an information society and the scientific research and exploration which underpins it.

Investing in the development of information systems of this nature will lead to high value-added business and create high quality employment opportunities across Europe. I make no apology for this, nor should anyone in this room today.

The challenge facing us as policy makers is how to make initiatives like this come to fruition, how to develop an institutional framework in which they can flourish. In a complex European society, there is no simple answer. The clue to the way forward may, however, lie in the location of this symposium. The Presidency has chosen a vibrant and attractive city in which to host our discussions. But it is symbolic that it has selected a location which is conveniently half way between Brussels - the seat of the European Commission - and Paris, the headquarters of the European Space Agency. (I could have added that it is also roughly equidistant from London, as I discovered coming here through the Channel Tunnel today, but I am sure that is just coincidence!)

The UK has taken a leading role in promoting closer co-operation between these two institutions and the Member States they serve. It was under the UK Presidency that the Councils in both organisations passed the common resolution on closer co-operation, in June 1998. Then, in May of last year, I was privileged to chair the Ministerial Council of ESA. This took the process further forward by calling on the Director General to prepare jointly with the Commission a European Strategy for Space, a request which was mirrored by the EU Research Council under the Finnish Presidency later in the year.

As you will know, that Strategy has been set out in a joint document under the title 'Europe and Space: Turning to a new chapter'.I want to congratulate the Commission and the Executive for their success in producing this document, which provides the backdrop against which progress on GMES, the subject of this symposium, can be played out.

The Strategy is based on recognition that European society has become critically dependent on satellite systems in areas as diverse as communications, navigation and earth observation. As a result, these systems take on strategic significance. User-driven exploitation of satellite technology combined with co-operation between the public and private sectors, and underpinned by the appropriate regulatory structures and political and economic support from the Union, will allow companies to seize market opportunities for the benefit of Europe's economy and society. Such industrial innovation must be bolstered by a broad technological base, which is essential to the continuation of Europe's leading position in space science research. The strategy also recognises the role of satellites as a tool for furthering goals associated with enlargement and integration, and hence their importance in the development of a Common European Security and Defence Policy.

The Strategy identifies three broad objectives:

  • strengthening the foundation, through technology and industrial capability;
  • enhancing scientific knowledge for a better understanding of the Earth, the solar system and the Universe; and
  • reaping the benefits through user-driven exploitation of the technologies.

Underpinning these is a partnership between public and private sectors.

This emphasis on user-driven exploitation has become a recurrent theme in European space policy, highlighted in the ESA Ministerial Council resolutions. It is an approach which has driven UK space policy for many years and we have introduced a number of national activities since the Ministerial which focus on this theme and compliment our participation in European programmes.

Success for the Strategy will depend crucially on our ability to match user demands to the far-sighted technology development programmes which run through our industry and our space agencies. Working to lead times of ten years or more, we cannot pretend that satellite programmes can be driven only by user demand: many users do not know that they are users until the technology is up and running and demonstration services are available - and even then they may not realise that they are dependent on a satellite-based system. And yet, we must constantly ensure that we are creating the conditions for user demand to flourish and to take over responsibility for defining and developing satellite systems, whether in public or private sector markets, at the earliest opportunity.

Success also depends on whether we can create attractive user interfaces and be prepared to employ proven technologies in creating operational services. In the past we may have been guilty of focusing on technology development to the exclusion of such factors.

The additional complication we face in Europe is an institutional one. We have one institution, ESA, established to develop and demonstrate space technologies. We also have the Union, which is responsible for developing many policies capable of being advanced through the effective use of satellite systems: the information society, an integrated transport infrastructure, the protection and monitoring of the environment and, with the changes made to the Treaties in recent years, a Common Security and Defence Policy. In addition, there are operational bodies such as EUMETSAT. All have slightly different memberships and objectives.

This separation may at first sight appear as a weakness, as a barrier to success. But I am reminded of Sir Herman Bondi, that great scientist and former Director General of ESRO, who once said that Europe had the great advantage over America of speaking many different languages. The consequence of this was that we had to listen carefully to each other in order to understand what was being said. It also meant that we had a diversity of cultures and national strengths, which collectively we could bring to bear to overcome a problem.

Institutional diversity in Europe can equally lead to strength in space. How much more can we achieve when we can draw on not just one but several institutions with complementary objectives? In producing the strategy, the Commission and ESA have already displayed that flexibility. They propose to go further. They have announced in the document their intention to establish a joint Task Force, to continue to develop the strategy and to monitor its implementation. This will allow each organisation to respect its own mission but, by working together in a seamless way, to achieve it much more effectively.

This brings me back to the subject of this symposium, the GMES initiative. How can we plot a path forward and create momentum? It is anticipated that the Research Council next month and the ESA Council in December will call on the Commission and ESA respectively to produce firm plans for GMES, within the context of working together in the new Task Force. I would like to close by offering them some thoughts on the principles they may wish to follow in this preparation for the work of the Swedish and Belgian Presidencies.

First, we must keep in mind the goal of providing operational information services to primarily public sector bodies. These bodies are likely to be organised on a European or global scale or to have responsibilities for developing and implementing national policies which derive in some way from European responsibilities. There is a considerable challenge in listening to and capturing end-user needs, federating them and building a service to supply information that is integrated into management systems

Second, the service provider for an operational system will very likely be a private sector information management company. It will draw data from a variety of sources and process that data into timely, useful information. Some, but by no means all, of these sources will be satellite-based. Some of those satellite systems will be European, some will be global; others may be American, Indian or Russia, for example. Some will be commercially operated systems, while others may be experimental.

Third, the information management company may identify the need to establish a new operational satellite system. Such a system may or may not require development of technology under a national or ESA programme. The company may choose to operate such a system itself or to contract it out to another company or to an experienced public sector operator such as EUMETSAT.

The message for those who are playing a leading role in developing the concept of the GMES is that success will be achieved when you have created an intelligent customer for the service who commits the resources to procure it, perhaps drawing on your expertise as a consultant.

But this is nothing new for ESA. The history of European commercial space success has been a series of chapters in which ESA has created operational organisations and industrial capability to meet their needs: I have already mentioned EUMETSAT but one could add INMARSAT, EUTELSAT and Arianespace.

In this sense, the European Strategy for Space builds on sound experience. However, it introduces into the design and implementation of satellite systems three new elements:

  • a determination to bring the user interests in at an early stage and explicitly invite them to define their requirements;
  • a desire to promote private sector investment in tandem with public sector commitment; and
  • a recognition of the political and strategic elements of space-related policies through what is now the pre-eminent European institution, the European Union.

As space becomes increasingly commercial we face not only scientific and technical problems but also marketing, organisational and financial ones. The challenges become greater not less.


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