Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2007
Q340 Dr Turner: How effective is
BNSC's current Earth Observation Programme Board? Can it be said
at the moment that the UK has an identifiable earth observation
Professor Dalton: There is a programme
that we have and it has been co-ordinated to some extent through
BNSC and various government departments. How well organised and
how well structured that is open to question. More work clearly
needs to be done.
Professor Thorpe: I think that
is a slightly negative outlook. From a NERC perspective, we have
a substantial earth observation strategy, a published strategy.
BNSC's partnership via the UK Space Board is consulting on an
overall strategy at the moment. In terms of investment, NERC invests
something like £45 million in earth observation in terms
of subscription to ESA and we invest £10 million in basic
research in the UK on earth observation. I think it would be wrong
to say that we do not have a strong earth observation activity,
particularly on the research side, in the UK. We do exercise a
considerable amount of influence on what happens in ESA with the
missions. I am not saying that co-ordination could not be improved.
The UK Space Board, which is a relatively new structure, is the
forum where I believe that will be effective and it is being effective
in making the most of those investments.
Q341 Dr Turner: So the programme
Professor Thorpe: It is definitely
evolving and I see good signs in the right direction.
Mr Douglas: May I make one observation?
I support all of that. Again, from our perspective, in terms of
the amount of investment, the UK is putting in an average of £32
million into EUMETSAT a year as a further contribution. On your
original question about the agency, one of the reasons why potentially
the partnership approach can be very supportive is that you run
the risk, if you make all of the agency just on satellite, of
removing the part of other forms of observation. One of the strengths,
certainly from ourselves, is that we have an integrated observing
system where satellites play an important part but so do other
remote and earth-based observations. It is crucial to make sure
that that is kept together. Therefore, it will be a balance between
partnership and agency for BNSC, but there are arguments for a
strong partnership allowing the user to draw out, going forward,
their particular needs as groups.
Q342 Dr Turner: Howard, Defra has
suggested having a climate equivalent of the Ordnance Survey.
Could you put some flesh on that suggestion and tell us exactly
what you mean by it?
Professor Dalton: The idea is
principally that we need to have an organisational structure that
allows activities to take place. They can either be funded through
various private activities or funded through government activities.
A lot needs to be done from the Government's point of view in
terms of the public good but also to encourage individual organisations
to be able to put money into it and to resource it. The biggest
problem we have right now is resourcing. As long as we can find
ways of being able to get resources into that system, so much
the better. It is a way of organising in the same way that Ordnance
Survey does. Work is commissioned from them; they do it; and they
also do public good work as well. It is a mixture of the two.
Q343 Dr Turner: So we will not be
able to buy our hiking equivalent of a map from this?
Professor Dalton: You might and
there may well be a way of being able to stimulate it.
Q344 Dr Turner: That puts real meaning
into The Hitchhiker's Guide! Another criticism that has
been made to usthese are not our views so we are not levelling
accusations, we are simply passing them onis that the take-up
of earth observation research outputs by government departments
is patchy. Do you agree? Do you have any comments on that?
Professor Dalton: Are you saying
that take-up by government departments is patchy?
Q345 Dr Turner: What use are government
departments making of the data?
Professor Dalton: We make a lot
of use of the data. That is the whole purpose behind it. We have
a major programme on climate change, as indeed have the Natural
Environment Research Council and other research councils and other
government departments. We make tremendous use of it. From our
perspective, the information we get is extremely valuable and
necessary in order to be able to do all the predictions we are
doing. I do not say it is patchy from our perspective.
Mr Douglas: Equally, there is
a wide range and an increasing range of government departments
and organisations taking up both the original data and indeed
the output. There is so much of government departments, both in
UK and in its international responsibilities, for the UK Government
to make use of in the outputs, whether they be forecasts or climate
predictions to help develop policy. I really do not see the basis
for that particular observation.
Professor Thorpe: I would say
that we are at an interesting point in the sense that there is
a huge expansion in the ability to observe from space a whole
set of new properties of the environment under the clouds. There
are real opportunities. Those could be used in a number of areas
that previously have not been involved in using those data. I
hope that more departments pervasively start to see that opportunity.
There is definite scope for seeing that opportunity and it is
just becoming available because of the plans for a whole range
of new instruments to be flown in space.
Q346 Dr Turner: So we can expect
to see a much greater use of the data?
Professor Thorpe: I really hope
so. I think there is a real opportunity.
Q347 Dr Iddon: This is to Alan Douglas
first. Given the Met Office's heavy involvement in the Group on
Earth observations, are you happy that Defra is taking the lead
in that area?
Mr Douglas: I think it is right
that a government department rather than an agency takes the political
lead in something as important as Group of Earth Observations
which both the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and others have all
been supporting. There is more that we can do within the UK still
to co-ordinate and make the arrangements across the UK more effective.
We will be having discussions later today on that and there will
be some further discussion when we will be trying to improve that
working relationship across the UK to maximise our involvement
Q348 Dr Iddon: Does Professor Dalton
have anything to add to that or are you happy?
Professor Dalton: At the moment,
we are happy to act as a co-ordinator and catalyst for these activities
in government, yes.
Q349 Dr Iddon: Sir Howard, you have
been very critical of the apparent domination of the British National
Space Centre by the DTI. Your written evidence talks of a conflict
of interest for DTI. Could you explain that for us?
Professor Dalton: I think there
is a concern. Effectively in the British National Space Committee
we are wondering in many respects whether or not the agenda that
has been set by BNSC is coming from the DTI or from the membership
as a whole. That has been a concern of ours. It is quite important,
we think, possibly to put the BNSC outside of all of that and
have them as an independent agency, as we talked about earlier.
That would give it a greater degree of independence and would
allow it to be able to come in and involve itself in government
activity as well. Independence is an important part of it. I do
not think it is very sensible to have BNSC associated with any
government department particularly. Independence is a good part
Q350 Dr Iddon: You have also said
that you would like to see more user representation in BNSC advisory
boards. Why do you say that and which users do you mean?
Professor Dalton: I mean the various
users within Government, the people use it. We are a user of the
information that comes out of this. There are a number of government
departments that are users of the data and there are number of
private concerns that are users of that information. It is important
that those user groups are engaged and involved in the activities.
Q351 Dr Iddon: Have we got the balance
right between the private users and the public users?
Professor Dalton: It is probably
about right but it needs a much closer investigation and much
careful thought going into try to look at what should be done
to develop all the independent organisation That should be made
up largely of the industry and certainly of government activity
as well but do not align it with any one government department.
Q352 Dr Iddon: How do the private
users pay? Do they pay on the basis of information received or
do they support
Professor Dalton: I do not how
they are paying at the moment.
Q353 Chairman: Are we just talking
about private companies here, EUMESTAT,
the Surrey satellites and things like that?
Professor Dalton: Yes.
Q354 Dr Harris: This is a question
to Professor Thorpe. Are you aware of the UK Ionospheric Monitoring
Programme? It monitors global warming through measuring the ionosphere
from a series of space ships around the world?
Professor Thorpe: I am.
Q355 Dr Harris: I understand that
it is something that NERC does not fund because you see it as
on the edge of the atmosphere; it is a space thing and that is
PPARC and not you. PPARC might argue that it is monitoring the
environment and so it is your job, assuming the science is good
enough. Is this a basis for cross-council funding and co-operation?
Professor Thorpe: There are many
bases for cross-council funding and co-operation. In this Spending
Review we are coming together in a new initiative called Living
with Environmental Change, which involves all the research councils,
and government departments, to address what are strategically
critical science questions on environmental change. NERC's strategy
has to be focused on where we see the main scientific opportunities.
As part of our strategic development process, there has been a
question about space weather, which leads into the area you are
talking about, the upper atmosphere and charged particles, et
cetera. Where we think those issues are relevant to the big issues
associated with climate change, they are funded by NERC because
we think it is an important scientific area. Our responsive mode
grant schemes are open anyway, but in terms of our directed and
strategic research, we have to focus on where we think the critical
questions are. At the moment, we do not feel they are predominantly
in that area.
Q356 Dr Harris: In another setting,
in another inquiry, almost another universe, talking about CEH
and the importance of long-term datasets, you accepted that there
was merit in supporting long-term datasets, even if they were
not looking at the cutting edge, new science questions because
they are long-term datasets which we need to collect. There is
a real risk, if the obsession is with cutting edge science, that
things that have gone back decades which are still providing useful
information are going to be lost because no one will fund their
Professor Thorpe: I think I have
been clear with this committee and with CEH that it is critically
important for NERC to continue long-term monitoring of environmental
factors, but of course, as I have said before here, we have to
make choices about priorities and which are the critical datasets.
We do not monitor everything to do with environmental change at
the moment. We have to make choices as to what the critical areas
are. I am telling you that we have to make that scientific judgement
as to whether monitoring certain aspects of the environment are
more high priority or of lesser priority. We cannot monitor everything.
Chairman: On that note, thank you very
much indeed to Alan Douglas, Professor Alan Thorpe and Professor
Sir Howard Dalton.
1 Note by the witness: EUMETSAT is an intergovernmental
organisation, it is not a private company. Back