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How the Space Sector Can Respond to The Glasgow Climate Pact

Amanda Campbell
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COP26 concluded with The Glasgow Climate Pact, signed by all participating nations. The Pact acknowledges the shortcomings of the COP26 policy outcomes and suggests to varying degrees how nations must improve. The outcomes of COP26, as the ‘last, best chance to keep 1.5°C alive’ is very concerning. The collective commitments made by 197 countries, through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) put us on track for 2.4°C by the end of this century, on the assumption that all nations fully deliver on their NDCs. This will lead to catastrophic impacts and the creation of an ‘unliveable’ planet.

Whilst the international policy outcomes seem bleak, there has been significant progress and momentum since the Paris Agreement in 2015; from the unprecedented number of public and private sectors committing to net zero and embedding policy into business decisions; to increasingly radical individual action, witnessed across growing global civic movements. To truly ‘keep 1.5°C alive’, everyone must act to deliver on the commitments made at COP26. There is an urgency for businesses and civil society to mitigate the shortcomings of policy and to accelerate delivery.

In light of this call to action, we have considered our response to COP26’s Glasgow Climate Pact and what it means for the Space Technology ecosystem, notably satellite applications covering remote sensing, positioning and communication capabilities. We call for everyone within these Space Technology sectors to act in response to the shortcomings of COP, utilising our capabilities and leveraging new opportunities.

Science & Urgency 

Often in recent times, climate science has been about measuring and predicting impacts. Now there is a need to move…to science for solutions. Science can embrace the wider challenge of accelerating the social, economic, cultural and political change to reach net zero.

Paul Monks, Chief Scientific Advisor, BEIS.

Systematic Earth Observation (EO) data is fundamental for climate science and climate-related policy decisions. EO data from satellites addresses more than 60% of Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) as defined by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). Satellite Technology offers impartial, traceable, consistent data sources, with global coverage and some climate data sets stretching back over 30 years. The detail and breadth of this data has been critical in driving the policy outcomes of COP26, and now the science must also be used to inform action at all levels; from nations delivering NDCs, to informing business decisions to fulfil net zero commitments and support ESG reporting, down to more aggregate applications to inform consumer behaviour.

Adaptation 

Climate Change already impacts everyone, and we all need to adapt to the increasing risk and severity of socioeconomic consequences as temperatures increase.

Satellite data has a role to inform how countries and regions can increase their resilience and reduce their vulnerability to the effects of climate change, providing both real-time and historic modelling of impacts. It can also inform decisions on where the impacts cannot be avoided and where full adaptation measures are required. This is already happening in some Small Island Developing Nations where satellite data is being used to assist with relocation decisions when land becomes unliveable.

Adaptation will become an inevitability of life and satellite data will be needed to predict and respond to increasing threats.

Adaptation Finance

The existing annual public $100 billion climate finance commitment was heavily scrutinised as many wealthy nations failed to deliver on their commitments. The new financial industries commitment to allocate $130 trillion of private funds towards net zero investments demonstrates the economic drivers for all businesses to change and respond to climate risk. Space and satellite data is increasingly being called upon to support the finance sector due to the capabilities in providing unbiased insights for monitoring company ESG commitments, land use, potential threats from natural disasters, insurance verification and credit risk. The sources of information are also objective, timely and scalable, and complement traditional financial data sources such as company disclosures. This acknowledgement of how the financial sector can gain insights from the space industry is illustrated in the creation of the Centre for Greening Finance at Oxford University, to evaluate financial risk to climate change.

The requirements of the financial sector to deliver evidence-based solutions, needs to be better understood by our satellite and wider space technology ecosystem. This requires engagement between the financial sector, research institutions, and businesses within the space technology ecosystem.

Mitigation

To limit warming to 1.5°C, we must reduce GHG emissions by 45% by the end of this decade. Now, more than ever, data insights must drive action towards significant reductions.

‘What gets measured, get done,’ and satellite data plays a crucial role in measuring and monitoring of GHG emissions. Data insights are urgently required to drive action for mitigation and achieve the drastic reductions required. Whilst our sector has a large portfolio of emerging businesses delivering mitigation solutions, there are barriers to adoption, that need to be overcome.

The mitigation solutions that the space sector can offer must be disseminated and understood by all sectors. For this to occur, new mechanisms within the space sector must be created to focus on speaking to as broad an audience as possible.

Finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for mitigation and adaptation

Satellite data and space technology is widely accessible across the planet. It has capacity and capabilities to respond to needs and demands across all sectors, at all scales and at near real-time. It can tackle ESG challenges for financial institutions, inform businesses mitigating emissions in their supply chains, and define how emerging economies should adapt to mitigate climate risk.

Coordination across the space technology ecosystem is critical to ensure the breakdown of silos and to drive the cross-pollination of ideas. Part of the solution is also in capacity building: making satellite data more accessible globally, enabling better data interpretation, and overcoming shared challenges.

The Satellite Applications Catapult will continue to drive collaboration between the space sector and other sectors. We will work with experts within the sector to define best practice for climate change and will disseminate this knowledge. We will also work with others to respond to the most urgent challenges through the provision of satellite technologies and data. Finally, we will promote access to data and the underpinning infrastructure to drive solutions for climate change

Loss and Damage 

Satellites offer a critical, scalable tool for consistent measurement over time and are essential to accurately characterising loss and damage, with some data sets going back 30 years. Perhaps the best-known use of this is in the monitoring of polar ice caps, and more applications are being developed as earth observation technology advances.

We should be building on this historic data to best predict future loss and damage. We can build trust, maximise the strengths, capabilities, and applications of earth observations by working together as one geospatial community.

Implementation

Global change should not be focused on what could have been achieved in just two weeks of COP, it should instead focus on the action required post-COP to deliver commitments and drive the 1.5°C target. The urgency of this crisis means that decisive action is required immediately. We do not have the luxury of time to keep nuancing our understanding.

There is an understanding of what ‘can’ be done, but less on what ‘should’ be done; including optimal market applications for space technologies and conversely, what technologies are best for specific customer challenges. We encourage the ecosystem to implement systematic processes driven by impact and net zero.  

In the space sector, and in all sectors; we must be aware and address the barriers to implementation. These include the willingness to work across disciplines, and therefore we need to evolve to become more collaborative in pursuit of solutions driven by impact. Barriers to access to the funding from the public and private commitments from COP must be overcome to ensure the best solutions are implemented, regardless of business size or influence.

Collaboration

Collaboration is critical. We all must make changes and overcome shared challenges and barriers. Space technology is an enabling technology and has the potential to link solutions to all sectors and markets. The full potential of satellite applications remains untapped; more can be done and more can be shared. The required technological knowledge to deliver impact already exists and the focus on innovation needs to be on new applications or markets.

Collaboration is critical to overcoming shared challenges, identifying optimal solutions and disseminating best-practice.

The Catapult considers collaboration crucial to its mandate, bridging gaps between academia, businesses, and the public sector. However, we must acknowledge our limitations and when to collaborate with the wider ecosystem and problem holders. We call for data to be open and widely accessible for exploitation, and to working together to solving climate challenges.

Finally, we are calling for a Net Zero Space Coalition, calling for the Space technology ecosystem to urgently respond to what is needed to maintain a liveable planet. We encourage everyone in the sector, regardless of size or role, to find out more about how they can contribute via this form.

In conclusion

What this (COP26) will be judged on, is not just the fact that countries have signed up, but on whether they meet and deliver on the commitments.”

Alok Sharma, UK COP26 President

Space technology touches all sectors, and the space technology ecosystem has a critical part to play in enabling and empowering solutions for climate change. Everyone has a role and now COP26 is over all space sector organisations must reflect on the capabilities they can develop to drive the change we urgently need to see.

For the Catapult, we see our strengths in bridging the gap between research, industry and policy. Through the Net Zero Space Coalition, we aim to maximise our impact by fostering collaboration between stakeholders to share sectorial best-practice and implement solutions. We are also committed to Net Zero by 2030 and are embedding climate change into our business decisions. We are at the start of our journey, but we encourage the whole space technology ecosystem to also reflect, share best practice and strategize to maximise climate impact.

For organisations outside the space technology ecosystem, it’s vital you engage our sector when you are looking at solutions to your climate change challenges. We will communicate these challenges back to the UK space technology ecosystem and help facilitate new partnerships to co-develop and implement the impactful solutions that are urgently needed.


To explore how the space and satellite technology can assist in tackling climate challenges in your sector or business, please contact amanda.campbell@sa.catapult.org.uk.

If you are part of the space technology ecosystem and would like to participate in the Net Zero Coalition, please complete this expression of interest form.