As space-based data resources provide an ever-clearer overview of climate change’s impact on the Earth, it’s essential to build the trust necessary to persuade policymakers and the public to take the right decisions to protect the planet, a Friends of Europe online debate concluded.
“The central idea of what we’re doing globally as an international community on climate change is that trust is the basis of cooperation,” (6:49) said Koko Warner, Lead Author of the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land and Manager for Impacts, Vulnerabilities and Risks at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“This is a tremendous decade ahead of all of us, as humanity, to build a bright future and it centres on trust,” (6:53) Warner added. “So, a key question … is how can Earth observation and other technologies build trust and help us actually see that future that we’re going to build together? That’s, for me, the main idea.”
Warner joined stakeholders from the private and public sector, international organisations and civil society for the debate as part of Friends of Europe’s new Making Space Matter initiative, run in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).
She stressed the role of experts and technology in monitoring efforts by governments to meet their climate commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, a theme at November’s UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
From the European Space Agency, Toni Tolker-Nielsen, Acting Director of the ESA Earth Observation Programmes and Head of the European Space Research Institute (ESRIN), underscored the increasingly crucial role that space-based monitoring plays in the fight to contain climate change.
“Observation from space is essential to understand and react to what we now call the climate crisis or the climate emergency,” (17:59) he said. “Everybody has understood that things are changing and we are taking the pulse of the Earth from space.”
Tolker-Nielsen explained how the use of big data, artificial intelligence and high-performance computing is enabling the Agency to create ‘digital twins of the Earth’ to boost foresight analysis that can feed into informed decision-making.
From the private sector, Christian Hoffmann, Founder and Managing Director of Geoville, an Austrian company providing satellite-based land-monitoring and geo-information, explained the importance of translating data from space into practical solutions on the ground.
“The cause of climate change is, of course, global, but the impact is very local,” (33:42) he said.
Hoffmann outlined how Geoville works in 135 countries, deploying data to help communities adapt to climate impacts at a local level. As an example, he cited work monitoring seawater levels off the archipelago nation of São Tomé e Príncipe that helped 9,200 people protect their homes.
The importance of local action was also highlighted by Ida Auken, Member of the Danish National Parliament and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40). She said humanity needs to invent a ‘macroscope’ to help citizens see “the big picture and see our role in the big picture, see that small actions matter in the big picture”.
Doing that can inspire change and help make it easier for people to do the right thing.
“All the data, the space data that we’re getting, it should help us see our small actions in the big picture,” (52:40) Auken said, pointing to examples in Denmark such as using weather data to manage waste-water flows, or the publication of maps that show people if their homes are at risk from climate-related flooding.
Such down-to-earth solutions are needed to take full advantage of the ‘transformational’ tools provided by geospatial data assessments, said Veronika Hunt Šafránková, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Brussels Office.
“Linking science to policy and decision-making on different levels, whether it’s local or regional, national, international remains stronger than ever,” (44:23) Hunt Šafránková added. “Science most definitely must lie at the heart of all decision-making.”
Like other speakers, Hunt Šafránková stressed the importance of individual responsibility in the climate emergency. She pointed out that almost two-thirds of global emissions are linked to households and the mobility, residential and food sectors: “Our impact as individuals is actually huge and what we can do as individuals is also huge.” (47:10)
2020 saw states across the globe strengthen their resolve towards achieving carbon neutrality and speeding up the green transition. But while these commitments represent critical steps in the right direction, the world will continue to grapple with the outcomes of the climate emergency for years to come. Foresight will be crucial to mitigate the impacts. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) World Environment Room will be an important tool in this regard. Supported by EU-provided space data, this open and interactive platform is still in a trial phase, but already boasts numerous partners worldwide. Displaying statistics such as global temperature and CO2 levels, users also have the ability to check the licenses of mining concessions in Africa and observe the movement of plastic pollution in the ocean. The European Space Agency also has an interactive display room showing how space is used to inform civilian work in areas ranging from pollution to refugee camps. Such interactive data is vital for policymakers as they address issues of security, development cooperation, the environment and risk reduction. Could these approaches be used to inform a European Climate Situation Room, capable of enhancing responses and providing evidence to speed up decision-making?
This debate is part of Friends of Europe’s Making Space Matter initiative, in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).
- Friends of Europe interview with ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher “A true global Europe: destination space”
- Friends of Europe debate “A ‘Digital Twin Earth’: data, evidence and foresight tool”
- Friends of Europe event report “Space: the next frontier?”
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lucas Sandor on Unsplash
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Questions for discussion include:
- How could a European Climate Situation Room be made viable both politically and monetarily?
- What kind of data would be vital to such an undertaking’s success, and how might it rely on and support developments from other regions in the world?
- How could such foresight analysis bring together the right mix of civil society and the public and private sectors?
Member of the Danish National Parliament and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)
Founder and Managing Director of Geoville
Veronika Hunt Šafránková
Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Brussels Office
Acting Director of the European Space Agency’s Earth Observations Programmes and Head of the European Space Research Institute
Lead Author of the 2019 IPCC Special Report on ‘Climate Change and Land’; and Manager of the Vulnerability subdivision, Adaptation division at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Director, Asia, Peace, Security & Defense, Digital & Chief spokesperson
Ida became the Danish Minister for the Environment in October 2011, having been a Member of Parliament and spokesperson on environmental issues for the Danish Socialist People’s Party since 2007. She is well known in Denmark for her work on renewable energy, green cities and environmental protection. Ida studied theology and is also a priest who has written several books on the relationships between theology, politics and society.
An entrepreneur and Earth observation enthusiast, Christian Hoffmann is the founder and owner of the Austria-based company GeoVille Information Systems GmbH. After beginning his professional career working as an Earth observation (EO) and geographic information system (GIS) expert at Intergraph in the Netherlands, he went on to hold a position at the United Nations in New York. He later worked as a project manager at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Ispra, Italy. Since 1998, Hoffmann has run Geoville, a company specialising in EO and GIS services. Over the course of more than 22 years in operation, GeoVille has successfully accomplished more than 465 projects in 138 countries worldwide and has become a leading SME in Europe for land monitoring.
With over 15 years of experience in the field of international environmental affairs, Veronika Hunt Šafránková previously served in several posts at the Czech Ministry of Environment, including as director, director-general and deputy minister, with responsibility for relations with the European Union institutions, EU funds and the overall international agenda. Much of her career in the public sector has involved negotiating positions on EU environmental legislation. Šafránková coordinated environmental affairs during the 2009 Czech Presidency of the European Council. Prior to joining UN Environment, she worked in the academic sector; in the field of internationalisation and academic partnerships at Charles University in Prague.
Toni Tolker-Nielsen has served at the European Space Agency for over 30 years. Starting off in the Technical Directorate, he went on to hold a number of leadership roles including as Head of the Industrial Monitoring Office and later implementing a profound reorganisation of the launcher sector – taking Ariane 5, a heavy-lift space launch vehicle, from its infancy to successful exploitation with more than 100 flights today. He later took up the post of Inspector General with a mandate to guarantee consistent, affordable, technical excellence within the Agency, and became member of ESA’s Executive Board in 2015, contributing to the overall strategy and management of the Agency and supporting the preparation of Ministerial Councils.
Koko Warner manages the UN Climate Secretariat’s Vulnerability subdivision where she guides the adaptation knowledge hub, helping to scale up adaptation action, and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform. Warner is an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lead author for the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, and 5th Assessment Report on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Previously, she was a founder and Executive Director of the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative and Head of Research on Environmental Migration and Social Resilience at UN University in Bonn. In 2014, she was named one of the top 20 women making waves in the climate change debate by the International Council of Science.
Prior to joining Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani was director of policy at the European Foundation Centre (EFC). He was the England director at the Big Lottery Fund, the largest independent funder in the UK and fourth largest in the world. Dharmendra has held senior positions in the public and voluntary sector and advisor to numerous ministerial policy initiatives across the UK.
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