UK provides high-resolution greenhouse gas data to UNEP’s International Methane Emissions Observatory

Samantha Amy
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The UK is to provide high-resolution greenhouse gas data to the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO), as part of a contract between Satellite Applications Catapult and UK Space Agency to provide GHGSat archive data to public and private UK organizations for R&D purposes. The direct measurement initiative will see GHGSat satellites make 300 observations at sites identified by IMEO, with mission time funded by the UK Space Agency.

Launched at the G20 Summit in 2021, IMEO is a major climate change initiative by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is building a global dataset of methane emissions. IMEO collects, integrates, and reconciles information from scientific research campaigns, industry (especially those involved in fossil fuel production), and national inventories. Data is derived from a wide range of sources including satellite monitoring and made actionable through initiatives like the Methane Alert and Response System, which provides comprehensive, verified satellite data so countries and businesses can mitigate methane pollution.

IMEO said that combining satellite data with ground-based measurements holds “the potential to be a game changer for methane emissions reduction.” GHGSat pioneered industrial greenhouse gas emissions monitoring from space in 2016, with the launch of Claire, a demonstrator satellite. Its patented high-resolution technology, combining low detection thresholds (down to 100kg/h) with high spatial resolution (25m on the ground), revolutionised our understanding of the sources of methane emissions. Today, GHGSat is the global leader in greenhouse gas intelligence, making over two million facility measurements in 2023, on and offshore, with a constellation of nine satellites and three additional satellites currently undergoing commissioning. The company was the first to supply high-resolution satellite emissions data to UNEP’s IMEO, a contribution made possible by the Government of Canada.

From November 2023, the UNEP programme will be able to directly task GHGSat satellites to monitor targets that it selects. Data will be provided on a quick-turnaround basis, allowing for actionable insights.

UK Space Agency funded the activity as part of its wider effort to champion the use of space-based emissions measurement in climate policy and mitigation. Earlier this year, GHGSat was awarded a £5.5m contract to provide high-resolution data for research and development2, accessible via the Satellite Applications Catapult, the UK lead for developing new commercial applications for satellite data. GHGSat will also supply greenhouse gas observations directly to UK public organizations, including the Ordnance Survey, EO Data Hub, Department of Energy Security and Net Zero, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and Environment Agency, and Office for Environmental Protection as part of the deal.

Manfredi Caltagirone, Head of UNEP’s International Methane Emissions Observatory said, “Satellite data is an important part of IMEO’s work: it provides unique insight and helps validate emissions information from other sources. Our goal is to provide comprehensive data that is open and reliable but also – actionable. Being able to directly task GHGSat’s, satellites, which can pinpoint the exact source of emissions, is a welcome addition to our capability.”

Paul Bate, UK Space Agency CEO said, “Harnessing satellite technologies such as those developed by GHGSat are key to driving forward the UK’s commitment to Net Zero emissions by 2050 and protecting our planet. Today’s announcement shows we remain at the forefront of climate action: using the strengths of the UK space sector in Earth Observation and data analytics to provide trusted information and intelligence to international partners, including the United Nations.”

Lucy Edge, Satellite Applications Catapult COO said, “Satellites are playing a vital role in helping us understand methane emissions, identifying sources of pollution, and reducing releases of this potent greenhouse gas. Thanks to the UK Space Agency, our unique partnership with GHGSat and the UNEP’s IMEO, UK organisations have access to actionable, reliable data, for solving the methane challenge.”

Stephane Germain, CEO at GHGSat, said, “No one doubts time is against us if we are to limit global warming to 2°C or less. To act effectively, we need better data. UNEP’s IMEO was set up in recognition of this. So too was GHGSat: we pioneered high-resolution technology so we could identify the sources of emissions accurately and fix them. That is why we are proud to partner with the Satellite Applications Catapult and UK Space Agency on this initiative.”

(Left to right) Dan Wicks, Managing Director, GHGSat, Beth Greenaway, Head of Earth Observation and Climate, UKSA and Steven P. Hamburg, Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, IMEO Scientific Oversight Committee at COP28 in Dubai.