February 17, 2005

Summit Calls for More Space Cooperation

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The European Union's head office on Thursday called for more international cooperation in space as plans move ahead for a combined global observation system to predict natural disasters like tsunamis and drastic weather changes.

European Enterprise Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said the European Space Agency and all EU nations should "step up cooperation" in space, echoing comments earlier this week by nations speaking at the third-annual Earth Observation Summit.

Nearly 60 countries, 30 international organizations and the EU launched a 10-year plan to integrate many satellite observing systems currently operating independently to allow for more collaboration internationally. The new project is called the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said at the meeting that integrating the international observing systems will bring fundamental change, especially when it comes to predicting disasters like the tsunami in Asia Dec. 26.

"While we may not be able to control when nature decides to flex its incredible power, we can control our ability to warn citizens and keep them out of harm's way," Gutierrez said.

Predicting temperatures only one degree more accurately would save in the United States alone $1 billion a year in electricity, he said.

"I believe there are some actions that can only be accomplished by transcending political borders," he said. "The integrated earth observation system is one of those."

The United States now spends $2 billion a year on earth-observing systems, said Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "And about $10 billion or so is spent around the globe. Combining those systems could save billions."

Predicting drought could save farmers millions of dollars, preventing them from wasting money planting crops in years where there would be little rain.

Lautenbacher said satellite technology will be available in the next three to four years that will allow scientists to determine the chemical composition of the atmosphere and track how greenhouse gases travel from country to country.

European Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik said the tsunami disaster has shown the importance of earth observation to support humanitarian response and reconstruction.

"By working together across the world to interlink all our earth observation systems, whether in space, in the air or on the ground, we will be giving ourselves the instruments to tackle these problems more effectively," he said.