UK statement on space and climate change
Delivered by Lauren Newell, UK Space Agency International Policy Lead, at the United Nations in Vienna, 2 September 2021. The UK is delighted to be assuming the Presidency of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), in partnership with Italy, later this year.
During the past three decades, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority, and space is playing an increasing role in enabling us to monitor and tackle climate change.
The UK’s expertise in the analysis and exploitation of climate data from satellites supports the development of global policy on climate change and our collective efforts to reach Net Zero. The UK is also working with partner organisations and specialised bodies such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO), and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), to make sure that the importance of space-based climate action is properly represented at COP26.
In the field of Earth Observation, the UK funds and help deliver work at the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as through bilateral missions and national programmes. These programmes range from technology innovation to applications, and the use of Earth Observation and other tools for decision making.
The UK works through ESA on programmes that will help us understand and tackle climate change. Missions like Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring (FORUM), which will measure radiation emitted by Earth into space, will improve climate models and, therefore, climate prediction. And the Biomass mission, which will survey Earth’s forests and improve our understanding of the effects of climate change on the global carbon cycle.
Also through ESA, the UK is leading on the TRUTHS mission, which will create a space-based climate observatory, collecting the most accurate measurements of energy coming into the Earth from the Sun, and light reflected off Earth’s surface, to help understand changes in balance and the human impact on the planet.
The TRUTHS mission will not only make measurements itself, but also improve the performance of other missions through calibration from space and allow rigorous testing of model forecasts to support decision-making on climate strategies. It will enable a 10-fold improvement in accuracy of data, which will halve the time required for making decisions.
The UK is working bilaterally with France on the MicroCarb mission, which will measure sources and sinks of carbon, the primary greenhouse gas driving global warming. MicroCarb is the first European mission intended to characterise greenhouse gas fluxes on Earth’s surface and determine how much carbon is being absorbed by oceans and forests. Monitoring the data will allow us to anticipate how ecosystems will react to global warming.
The UK Space Agency’s International Partnerships Programme (the IPP) plays a significant role in tackling climate change. Since its launch in 2016, the programme has supported 43 projects in 47 countries across Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.
The IPP uses UK expertise in satellite technology and data services to deliver sustainable economic, societal or environmental benefits to developing countries that are seeking to increase their capacity to respond to global challenges such as climate and disaster resilience, maritime issues, for example maritime pollution, and deforestation.
For example, the Earth And Sea Observation System (EASOS) has developed three tools with Malaysia to help tackle environmental, security and human challenges. These tools provide regular automatic flood forecasts; have detected over 3,000 hectares of deforestation and helped identify and map the trajectory of three oil spills, saving clean-up costs of over £3 million.
Furthermore, the UK Space Agency supports educational and outreach programmes, including this year’s UNOOSA Space4Youth Competition, where the focus was on “Space as a tool to foster climate mitigation and adaptation”.
Alongside this, the UK Space Agency co-funds and chairs Space4Climate, a public-private-academic partnership, which brings together those with expertise across government, industry and academia in the development of satellites, analysis, exploitation of data, and production of data and climate services. Space4Climate supports the UK’s climate community to deliver and make use of climate information from space.
The UK believes that only through multi-stakeholder partnerships can we collectively tackle climate change and deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs). We encourage international and regional organisations to work together to understand their comparative advantages and avoid duplication.
Within COPUOS, the UK has been a leading advocate for the development of a Space 2030 Agenda, a valuable tool to help countries to use space-based applications to achieve their SDG commitments.
The UK is looking forward to the World Space Forum that will be hosted by UNOOSA and Austria in December, focusing on the theme of ‘Space and Climate Action’, and where the UK will lead some of the sessions.
Chair, Distinguished Delegates, these are just a few examples of how the UK is using space to tackle and understand climate change. We believe international collaboration is crucial to address the climate crisis and we look forward to engaging further and working with all nations on this in the run up to COP26 and beyond.