Can we See the Green Shoots of Spring? - 27/01/2019

Not from this side of Westminster. But hopefully by now the Brexit shenanigans will have died down and the business of government can resume.

Winter 2018/19 has seen some strong geospatial activity by what is fast becoming a coherent and robust industry. All rivalries are dying away as, unlike many other things, we are really all in this geospatial industry together. To emphasis this point, RICS was delighted to read that two of our major UK geospatial events – GeoBusiness & Digital Construction Show have come together to share resources and intelligence for 2019. Great news.

Clarissa Augustinus, ex-head of UN Habitat GLTN, gave the RICS Christmas lecture to a full house at RICS HQ. Clarissa regaled the audience with her lecture on megatrends in land administration and her work around the world. She is a great ambassador for the UN and is a brave soul. I was struck by her work in Mosul and the resilience and recovery from the ISIS/Daesh onslaught on land & property rights amongst much worse atrocities. We have two more lectures in the New Year. On Thursday 24 January 2019, there is the UK Geo Forum on Cold War Mapping, USSR global coverage: The Red Atlas - the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World (, and on Wednesday 27 February 2019, a joint lecture with the UK Hydrographic Society.


A major highlight of this period has been the inaugural UN-GGIM World Geospatial Information Congress (UNWGIC - held in Deqing, China. This congress was a serious statement of intent by the global geospatial professional and by the hosts - the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources (MLR). The overwhelming narrative of this congress was the interaction between geospatial and the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs -

Over 2,000 delegates were treated to not only a brand-new venue, but also a geo-star-studded line up of speakers and sessions. A three-hall exhibition was packed to the gills with all the geo-tech that you might wish for and the surrounding area had several geospatial information sectors and attractions. The congress site featured a Geospatial Technology Experience Park that brought together Smart Travel, (I had my first ride in an autonomous vehicle, quite a discombobulating experience), Smart City, Smart Environment and Smart Equipment. It even had ‘robot’ police wandering around asking if you were ok!

Face recognition software was everywhere, slightly scary for westerners but very normal for our South East Asian colleagues. Another must see was the Geospatial Information Technology Museum. This was amazing, incredibly high tech and future orientated but with an eye to the great land surveying and geographical achievements of the past. Fantastic stuff.

Three days of plenaries and parallel sessions were held with numerous stand-out moments. Monday started with the welcome ceremony, messages of encouragement, and thanks from regional Chinese party officials, the host Ministry MLR, and a message from UN Sec Gen Antonio Guterres. Jack Dangermond, ESRI, gave an outstanding lecture that enthused all in the plenary hall, and parallel sessions on artificial intelligence (AI) (standouts include the session on AI and spatial planning) before afternoon plenary sessions on ministerial dialogue (chaired by Vanessa Lawrence where she was joined by ministers from across the globe). The final plenary featured Nigel Clifford (ex DG OS), Daniel Zhang of Alibaba and William Priest from the UK Geospatial Commission. The Geospatial Commission was well represented and is being feted as a good example of direct government support for geospatial information. Indeed, the UK was very strongly represented at the congress with OS GB and Colin Bray, DG OSI and new EuroGeographics president, who gave several papers including an excellent plenary on building smart societies.

Standouts from day two include very strong parallel sessions which covered the future of geomatics science, the need for a complete re-structuring of geospatial education, standards and innovation (a new ISO/OGC initiative was announced ‘TC59’ looking at interoperable standards between BIM and GIS) and a joint FIG, RICS, OSGB and Kadastre session on linking people to land: the framework for effective land administration. This session was especially important as it linked cadastre, registry agencies and mapping agencies to land and property markets and related issues such as land transfer (ILMS) and taxation.

The Word Bank was ably represented by Dr Wael Zakout (land) and a session on Africa and geospatial information for sustainable development was further enlivened by a World Bank pledge of US$150m for building a geospatial African framework. Eve Maria Unger led the young surveyor’s session and reported to a full plenary on the final day - a refreshing report and narrative. Spatially enabled future cities were on the agenda as John Kedar, OS International, gave an excellent presentation of everything from 5G to Manchester CityVerve, Singapore was also presented - a truly smart city.

The final plenary was chaired by Ingrid Vanden Berghe (Belgium) and featured some serious discussion. I was particularly struck by the technical brilliance of Dr Stuart Minchin, Geosciences Australia, and his presentation of Digital Earth Australia ( and the extension of the concept to Africa. The time-based visualisation of the Darwin-Murray river basins was stark ( and worth looking at.

Alexandre Caldas (UNEP - gave an impassioned paper on the critical issues of climate change and the existential threat that human civilisation faces, from marine plastics to ecosystem collapse to mass migration. Very powerful stuff.

The final session saw the issuing of the Moganshan Declaration ( This brought numerous strands of the congress together and reiterated the importance of geospatial information to the SDGs, the commitment of government to our sectors, the critical issue of professional and technical capacity across the world, the work of UN-GGIM and its partners and a commitment to bring the congress back to China in four years. This really was a wonderful event and along with the World Bank Land conference and FIG working week(s), helps create a very powerful triumvirate of geospatial global milestone events.

AGI GeoCom 2018

I know that many of you will have attended the admirable AGI GeoCom event at the RGS in November 2018. This consistently excellent conference featured some wonderful papers (the Uber presentation on geodata visualisation was brilliant). A full press release of the presentations can be found at

UK Geospatial Commission

Geospatial Commission is an impartial expert committee within the UK Cabinet Office, supported by £40 million of new funding in each of the next two years, and will drive the move to use public and private sector geospatial data more productively. RICS has worked hard to produce a well-rounded and holistic response to the Commissions call for evidence and the response is available on request ( or

Do keep an eye on various RICS channels for the release of the above outputs and hopefully we will see as many of you as possible at 2019 geospatial surveying events and conferences.

This article was published in Geomatics World January/February 2019

Last updated: 05/03/2020