Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 73

Submission from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


  1.  This paper represents the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) submission to the Science and Technology Committee Inquiry on Space Policy. The paper sets out Defra's approach to the use of space-based technology and services including detail on past and current investments. It includes plans for the future and offers views about the public benefits derived from space, the coordination of UK space activities and the value obtained from international programmes.


  2.1  Defra is interested in space insofar as space-based technology and services contribute to the objectives and mission of the Department. Defra involvement in and use of space occurs at two levels:

    —  Providing HMG policy lead on specific space-related projects.

    —  Investment as a user of space-related technology, data and/or applications.

  2.2 In addition to this, Defra is represented in various fora as a Member of the British National Space Centre (BNSC). These include:

    —  Space Advisory Council.

    —  Earth Observation Programme Board.

    —  European Union Advisory Board.

  2.3 Annex A provides a summary of the various groups that Defra belongs to or leads that have direct or indirect interests in space.


Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)

  3.1  Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) is a joint "flagship" initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA). GMES aims to provide the information and services to improve the development, implementation and monitoring of environment and civil security policy in Europe.

  3.2  In theory, the Commission has the lead for GMES in terms of specifying the information and evidence that is required to underpin current and future environment and civil security policy. It is the responsibility of ESA to manage the space-based observation component to meet these needs, building on existing infrastructure and complementing in-situ data sources.

  3.3  Defra is the UK policy lead on GMES, reflecting the potential for GMES to play an important role in developing future environment policy in Europe and the UK. However, the potential impacts of GMES are not confined to Defra and, in the future departments and organisations such as DfID, DTI, MoD, NERC, Met Office may be faced with opportunities and threats.

  3.4  In view of the wide remit of GMES and relevance to a number of UK stakeholders, Defra has been working with a number of Government departments through a GMES Whitehall Group (chaired by Defra's Environment Strategy Director). This group is underpinned by a working level team, with membership from Defra, DTI, NERC, MoD and Met Office.

  3.5  In December 2005, the UK subscribed £7.23 million over three years to the first phase of the ESA GMES Space Component Programme with contributions from Defra (£2.5 million), NERC (£2.2 million), DTI (£1.53 million) and MoD (£1.5 million). This subscription level amounted to approximately a 5% share of the ESA programme, compared to a 30% share for Italy and 31% for Germany. The UK contribution has been heavily criticised by industry as the geographic return rules of ESA mean that UK companies are unable to secure major contracts in this programme.

  3.6  The Defra funding contribution is based on a recognition that space-based observations are an important element of GMES and that GMES has the potential to deliver to our policy needs in the future and is based on a sound concept of addressing common European user needs. However, at this stage of the ESA programme, the main benefits of UK investment are industrial. At present there is no UK funding model for this type of programme and this is a major challenge that BNSC and its partners need to address urgently. Defra employ a full time GMES Coordinator to handle the work load associated with our policy lead position.

Group on Earth Observation (GEO)/Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)

  3.7  The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) was established by a series of three ministerial-level summits. GEO includes 65 member countries, the European Commission, and 43 participating organizations working together to establish a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). The GEO vision for GEOSS is to realise a future wherein decisions and actions for the benefit of humankind are informed via coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth Observations and information.

  3.8  GEOSS will build on and add value to existing Earth Observation systems by coordinating their efforts, addressing critical gaps, supporting their interoperability, sharing information, reaching a common understanding of user requirements, and improving delivery of information to users.

  3.9  Defra currently provides HMG policy lead on GEO by virtue of `owning' many of the policy areas. These include nine so-called societal benefit areas, namely:

    —  Reducing loss of life and property from natural and human-induced disasters.

    —  Understanding environmental factors affecting human health and well-being.

    —  Improving management of energy resources.

    —  Understanding, assessing, predicting, mitigating, and adapting to climate variability and change.

    —  Improving water resource management through better understanding of the water cycle.

    —  Improving weather information, forecasting and warning.

    —  Improving the management and protection of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.

    —  Supporting sustainable agriculture and combating desertification.

    —  Understanding, monitoring and conserving biodiversity.

  3.10  The climate component of GEOSS is effectively GCOS, the Global Climate Observing System. Defra GA Division funded Prof. Paul Mason, former Chief Scientist of the Met Office, in his role as GCOS chair, and continues to fund him now he is vice-chair. Defra GA Division represents the UK on climate observing systems at the international level, eg at the annual meetings of the UNFCCC and its subsidiary body SBSTA, and on the Donor Board of the GCOS Co-operation mechanism. Defra GA Division funds contributions to a number of climate monitoring and observing systems eg AATSR (see Table 5.1) and ARGO (a network of buoys that acquire various in-situ marine measurements). GA also sit on GECC Observations sub-committee and represent the Department's interests in all fora where observations for climate are discussed.

  3.11  The UK line on GEO suffers a similar problem to that affecting GMES, namely the cross-cutting nature of the project and the related interests in government, academia and industry. Defra is currently considering development of a UK GEO strategy but is first seeking the views of various stakeholders on whether such a strategy is (a) necessary and (b) what should such a strategy look like? It would require broad support to be successful.


Earth Observation

  4.1  Meteorology: Defra is a major government customer for a range of Met Office services. As such, Defra is indirectly a major user of services with a large satellite component. Defra contracts with the Met Office cover a wide range of areas including weather forecasts, climate modelling, air quality monitoring and flood warning systems.

  4.2  Envisat Advanced Along-Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR): Defra agreed to take the lead in commissioning AATSR when NERC, having funded its predecessors ATSR1 and ATSR2, was unable to fund the 3rd instrument, vital for providing a sufficiently long data record for the detection of an emerging global-warming signal. AATSR contributes data of unprecedented accuracy to the global sea surface temperature datasets compiled and analysed by the UK Met Office.

  4.3  Ozone and UV measurement: The observations we fund, to fulfil our monitoring obligations under the Montreal Protocol, are surface-based. Defra is a "customer" for scientific developments and assessments which rely on observations of all kinds, both surface- and space-based.

  4.4  Jason-2: Jason-2 is an international satellite mission to provide high quality radar altimetry data. The Chief Scientific Advisor provides a small annual contribution towards the UK share of the funding contribution via the Met Office. The mission is due to launch in 2007.

  4.5  RPA IACS checking: The Rural Payments Agency uses satellite remote sensing for subsidy claim checking in accordance with EC rules.

  4.6  LCM 2000/2007: The Countryside Survey provides a UK Land Cover map as one of its outputs. This map is generated using satellite imagery for the reference year in question. The product has over 1000 users and is an important dataset within many research, policy and commercial applications.

Satellite navigation and positioning

  4.7  Various Departments within Defra are users of satellite navigation related technology. Major uses include animal tagging and tracking (livestock and wildlife) and surveying.


  5.1  Table 5.1 shows the investments made by Defra into EO technology and applications.

Table 5.1


(incl data purchase)
TechnologyAmount (£)
Application (whole project,
% of EO unknown)
ApplicationAmount (£)

Global Atmosphere
£11 million
AATSR data validation and plans£228k
AATSR flight ops
AATSR management info system
AATSR archive
Measurement of ozone over UK£316k
Baseline measurements and analysis of ozone and UV £797k
Science Directorate
Jason 2
£60k pa
Agri and land management
Satellite imagery for IACS
£0—data purchased
by EC
Analysis~£450k pa
Methods for soil mapping£200k
Environment protection
European wildlife
LCM2000 £260k (from total of £769k)


Earth Observation Strategy

  6.1  Defra SESDG is leading development of a Departmental strategy on the use of Earth Observation. The stated vision of the EO strategy is:

    Defra will be an intelligent customer for policy-driven applications of Earth Observation data and services and will be an active partner in developing national and international programmes that meet our needs.

  6.2  Further work is now underway to determine Defra requirements from EO over the next decade and devise the best means to deliver those requirements. Defra has employed a full time Earth Observation Co-ordinator to undertake this work and act as a focal point for EO activities within the Department.

Earth Observation Forum

  6.3  The growing interest in EO across government has led to the formation of a small but growing interest group composed of various government departments. The Forum is discussing where common interest in EO lies and what activities should be undertaken to make the availability and use of EO data more efficient for all.

  6.4  The Defra Earth Observation Coordinator is helping manage the Forum and lead discussions on issues such as potential for a UK Earth Observation Data Acquisition strategy.


  7.1  The use of space clearly has significant public benefit where related to specific applications. Where the market can supply these benefits through particular products or services, Defra invests where most beneficial to do so.

  7.2  The greater difficulty lies in delivering public benefits that cannot be captured through normal market processes (ie where there is a market failure). Long-term monitoring of climate variables is a good example where there are continuing problems in identifying the right model for public financing of the UK share of these activities. This issue has been raised for some time now. Activities such as GMES and GEOSS and bringing the issues to fore again and Defra is working with other stakeholders to see what, if any, solutions exist.

  7.3  Maybe the answer is a climate equivalent to the National Interest in Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA) whereby HMG pays the Ordnance Survey a sum to undertake various mapping activities that do not get funded by normal commercial means. This ensures critical public good benefits are ensured, such as good quality mapping in times of severe emergency.


  8.1  UK space policy is rightly to pursue user-driven applications of space. When these applications require a direct UK investment in space hardware or infrastructure, then coordination and management of that investment is usually undertaken by the British National Space Centre (BNSC), particularly where it involves dealing with ESA.

  8.2  Defra is a partner within BNSC but since Defra does not invest heavily in space infrastructure (preferring to purchase products and services that meet specific policy needs) our role within BNSC is more in terms of policy advisory function rather than as funding body. This distinction between policy lead function and space infrastructure funding function has lead to difficulties with the UK position within programmes such as GMES and GEO and highlights one of the difficulties for a partnership organisation like BNSC.

  8.3  The situation is often made more difficult given strong industry interests in these programmes and the central role played by DTI as host to BNSC. UK industry rightly expects to play a role in delivering space infrastructure but can only do this if the UK invests through the usual mechanisms (normally ESA). So while industry may look to the likes of Defra for policy lead and user requirement, the early stages of infrastructure investment have to come from elsewhere.

  8.4  Defra accepts that there are many aspects of space that command industry interest and subsequent benefit to the UK. However, we would like to see a more transparent mechanism for aligning industry and user interests in the early stages of project development, especially where the "user" investment (from the likes of Defra and other government departments) is relatively small compared to say, investment coming from DTI.

  8.5  There needs to be a more transparent process by which conflicts of interest can be resolved. Defra would also like to see more user representation in key BNSC advisory boards such as the Earth Observation Programme Board.


  6.1  Defra experience is derived mainly from participation in projects such as AATSR and GMES. While Defra accepts the necessity for organisations such as ESA to play a role in coordinating European space R&D funding, the ESA approach often gives rise to costs and decisions that do not sit well with a user-oriented approach to space (usually driven by the need to find the most cost-effective and efficient solution rather than the best technical solution). This leads to difficulty in justifying user investment in systems that are perceived as driven by criteria other than the value for money criteria.

  6.2  A good example is the GMES Space Component Programme funding experience. For a Department used to an environment where the drive is to reduce financial exposure, it was enlightening to see how European counterparts competed to increase their commitment to the GMES programme. This was driven largely by commitment to their respective national space industry and demonstrated the difficulties of a user-driven approach in an environment that is not driven by the common constraints and objectives.

November 2006

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