The significance of “spatial information” in responding to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, is gradually receiving more attention. As a result, the United Nations has launched the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) with countries and relevant organizations around the world. The UN-led global cooperation system for natural disasters has finally been created. The “Inaugural forum” of the UN-GGIM will be held on October 24 to 26 in Seoul. We sat down with President Leem Seong-an of the National Geographic Information Institute, the joint organizer for the upcoming event, and talked over the national spatial information industry.
Q: Please introduce your organization.
A: The National Geographic Information Institute (NGII) was established in 1958 as the geographical research institute of the Ministry of National Defense, before being handed over to the Ministry of Construction, which is now the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs. The current name of the organization was created in 2003, replacing the previous one, the National Geography Institute. The NGII is a national agency of Korea that handles everything regarding cartography and cadastral surveying.
What it is engaged in constitutes an essential part of national defense, economic development and many other aspects of national governance. The agency is responsible for, above everything else, raising the reliability of maps and survey standards and updating them for the sake of the better design and construction of social overhead capital. The digital maps available on internet portal sites and car navigation systems are founded on the national base map we charted. At the same time, the NGII provides various types of spatial data demanded by the public and private sectors, including aerial photographs and satellite images.
Q: What are the fields that your organization is focusing on these days?
A: First of all, the NGII is advancing the cadastral survey and mapmaking industry through technological innovation and system and policy improvement. This is in order to provide the public with more accurate spatial data in a timely manner.
With the development of ICT, or information and communication technologies, an increasing number of entities are making use of the data offered by us. To better suit their needs, while reducing redundant costs, we have introduced diverse cutting-edge technologies and created integrated reference points that combine horizontal and vertical control points with gravity stations. We are also striving to make better use of global positioning systems (GPS) and space geodesy, while working on the development of a gravity survey and other basic fields of geography. In this context, the agency is planning to run a very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) system from later this year. Characterized by receiving signals from a very distant star, it is one of the most precise tools for finding the location of a celestial body. It will help us raise our measurement accuracy substantially. Furthermore, we have adjusted our map renewal interval from four years to two in an effort to better reflect the changes Korean territory is undergoing due to large-scale civil engineering projects, and so on.
Q: Where is Korea standing in terms of geospatial technological maturity and what is the GNII doing to globalize Korea’s geospatial information industry?
A: Nowadays, the global geospatial industry is growing rapidly, and building on the development of ICT. The market size was estimated at 89 trillion won in 2010 and is expected to climb to 150 trillion by 2015. The annual average growth rate is forecast at 11% during this period.
The geospatial sector of Korea, nevertheless, stood at just three trillion won in size as of 2010, while its global market share is no more than between 3% and 4%. However, this is not the whole story. The Korean government launched a project in 1995 to establish a national geographical information system (NGIS) and has accumulated experience and refined its infrastructure ever since. In 2010, the World Bank recognized the excellence of the system, including it in its list of top picks. Furthermore, Korea is the only country to have a nationwide map in the scale of 1:5,000 and continues to show strength in high-tech segments, such as 3D mapping.
In the meantime, we are stepping up our cooperation activities overseas in order to contribute more to the international community. As of now, the Korea International Cooperation Agency is taking the initiative in this aspect on an official development assistance (ODA) basis. Though Korea is currently regarded as home to the most advanced technologies and policy in the field, its presence in the global arena, however, still has a long way to go and not many companies have succeeded in penetrating foreign markets.
That is why the KGII is intending to share its top-notch survey techniques with emerging nations. It will boost Korea’s international standing in the global industry and contribute to the continuous creation of a Korean surveyors’ market in the future. As part of such endeavor, we hosted the secretariat of the Permanent Committee on GIS Infrastructure for Asia and the Pacific (PCGIAP) in 2009 and will hold the very first High Level Forum on UN Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) in October this year.
Q: The inaugural assembly you just mentioned sounds like a huge event. Could you please tell us more about it as well as the implications for Seoul hosting it?
A: Recent natural disasters like the tsunami in Indonesia and Sendai earthquake are creating the need for global cooperation. There is no doubt that these are not region-specific but worldwide problems that the international community should jointly deal with. However, it has been mostly regions and the private sector up to now that have made more use of spatial data, and this has revealed some limitations in the utilization of such information.
The UN-GGIM has its roots in the consensus that spatial data can be an effective and systemic tool to cope with numerous global issues, such as those mentioned above. Its general meeting is scheduled in Seoul for three days from October 24, 2011. The event is meaningful in that it is the first UN meeting regarding the space information industry. It will be the biggest occasion of its kind, with more than 500 individuals participating from over 130 countries, 50 international organizations and 20 global leading enterprises. It will also serve a cornerstone on which we build our presence in the industry, publicize our advanced policy and technological strength, and take the first step to becoming the global hub for geospatial informatics.
Q: What issues will be discussed at the meeting?
A: At present, the UN’s spatial data is under individual management, i.e., those of the Asia-pacific region have no link with those of the Americas or Africa, and it has brought about some drawbacks. Conference participants are to seek ways of improving this.
As we all know, each country has its own interests, and the fundamental nature of international politics has hindered bilateral or multilateral collaborations in some cases, even when it is much needed. As such, the UN-GGIM will first strive to find some consensus as to the direction of cooperation, as well as establish the role of each member country. Additionally, technical matters such as standardization and data acquisition will be addressed, while various methods should be devised to raise the accessibility to and timeliness of spatial data.
Considering the fact that it is a UN conference, measures to reduce the data divide between emerging nations and their advanced counterparts will also have to be sought. It is none other than the group of underdeveloped countries that is experiencing the most severe lack of space information. They are suffering greatly from damage caused by such a deficiency. The UN-GGIM should be the one to counter such imbalance.
On the last day of the event, participants will discuss who should lead and participate in the Committee of Experts, which will take the helm of the organization. We will continue to strive to earn a leading role in the committee and boost Korea’s international standing in the sector.