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 GEO Societal Benefits

  GEOSS, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, is envisioned to be a global public infrastructure that generates comprehensive, near-real-time environmental data, information and analyses for a wide range of users. The general assumption regarding GEOSS is that the benefits to society by far outweigh the costs.  
   However, this notion is being increasingly challenged, and it is becoming necessary to provide rational, quantified and persuasive arguments to justify investment of what are often public funds. In particular, the identification of clear benefits is crucial to ensure long term sustained GEOSS operations.  
Not surprisingly, it is the estimation of many of these benefits which has proven difficult in the past. Numerous studies have been undertaken to describe and measure the Value of Information (VOI). They typically employ a wide variety of methods and generally find a large range of benefits, from quite small to very large, in part owing to differences in methodologies (Macauley, 2006). The state of the art in understanding the VOI reflects general agreement on how to model an individual’s or a government’s decision and some useful implications about the value of information: when it is most and least valuable, its relationship to subjective prior opinions, and the decision maker’s ability to take action in light of the information (Macauley, 2006).
As an example of impact, the economic importance of integrated assessment can be gauged by a recent survey of practitioners in Europe undertaking Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs). This survey indicates that the current barriers to the discovery, access, and use of the environmental and geographic data necessary to undertake EIAs and SEAs account for an added cost of € 150-200 million per annum in the EU alone, along with reports of lower quality, i.e. greater uncertainty on the environmental impacts of the projects proposed (Craglia et al., 2010).
The development of SDIs and of interoperable systems of systems in the GEOSS context can remove these barriers, and therefore provide significant economic benefits, in addition to the all important increased understanding of the complex relationships between environmental processes and human agency. With the implementation of INSPIRE requiring the development of SDIs at multiple levels across Europe, and the development of GEOSS at the global level, it is important to develop a portfolio of studies providing evidence of the benefits of these investments.

To date, however, there have been few integrated assessments of the economic, social and environmental benefits of Global Earth Observation (EO). In an effort to address these issues, the European Commission sponsored project “Global Earth Observation – Benefit Estimation: Now, Next and Emerging” (GEOBENE) developed methodologies and analytical tools to assess the societal benefit areas (SBAs) of GEO in the domains of: Disasters, Health, Energy, Climate, Water, Weather, Ecosystems, Agriculture and Biodiversity. Thus it is the aim of this article to present several of these overarching methodologies as a contribution to the ongoing effort to improve GEOSS.