Earth Observation satellites have the unique ability to provide objective information about climate change, with time series dating back to the 80s showing change and variations over time.
Whether it’s about saving tropical forests, stopping illegal fishing or controlling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the data can be collected and development tracked accurately and in real-time by satellites.
There are 54 Essential Climate Variables (ECVs), that are tracked to support evidence-based decision-making on climate change and to manage associated risks. The ECVs are key for sustainable climate observations - and half of these can only be monitored by using satellites.
Based on these facts, policy makers, regulators, environmental organizations and local communities can make informed decisions and take action contributing to a more sustainable and green future.
We have highlighted 3 ways satellites can contribute to combat climate change and its impacts.
1: Deforestation/Tropical forest monitoring
Did you know that currently an area of natural tropical forests the size of a football pitch is cleared every 6 seconds? And that without the rainforests there is no sustainable future on the planet?
The latter is because tropical forests are large sources of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, due to deforestation. They could instead be a big part of the climate solution.
Tropical forests are some of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The animals are important in their own ecosystems, and invaluable to humans as sources of food and medicine. For instance, on a single bush in the Amazon, you can find more species of ants than on all the British Isles.
These forests also guarantee fresh water supplies to millions of people living in and around them. Tropical forest influence regional rain patterns. They are essential to life on the planet.
In September 2020 Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment through NICFI (Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative) awarded an international contract to KSAT, who together with Planet and Airbus now provide universal access to high-resolution satellite images of tropical forests.
One year into the NICFI Satellite Data Program more than 9.000 users from 136 countries around the world are now using this universal tool to combat deforestation of our tropical forests.
A total of 45 million square kilometres of high resolution satellite data is made available every month for free. The program is designed to be as broad as possible to ensure it is useful for as many groups as possible, which has led to more than 300 user stories being collected this first year alone.
The program is now heading into its second year, and we look forward to continuing to engage and enable users working to reduce and reverse deforestation, preserving biodiversity and providing sustainable pathways to economic development for forest communities and countries.
2: Ocean monitoring
Every day Earth Observing satellites contribute to the protection of our oceans. From early warning of oil spills to vessel detection and fisheries monitoring, as well as locating marine plastics and toxic algae blooms, satellites are invaluable as our eyes in the sky.
Acute pollution and dumping of toxic waste is happening at sea, every day. KSAT has pioneered the use of satellite data for early detection of oil slicks for the last 25 years, and the service is now a critical part of national preparedness and response in countries all over the world.
And it works. In Europe the number of spills from vessels in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Sea is significantly reduced since regular monitoring and reporting started (EMSA Clean Sea Net).
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing represents for 26 million tons every year. The activity threatens fish stocks and marine ecosystems and jeopardizes the livelihoods and food security of legitimate fishers and local communities. IUU fishing is often conducted by “dark fleets” – vessels that do not appear in public monitoring systems – and this activity is therefore difficult to monitor and enforce.
By using satellite images in combination with other data inputs, dark vessels and dark fleets are exposed and sanctions can be made. Objective information from space is needed to protect our oceans and ensure sustainable fisheries management. Satellites are key to provide knowledge of what is otherwise hidden.
As part of implementing UNs sustainability goals, KSAT has committed to contribute to the fight against IUU fishing through international cooperation.
If you want to learn more about how this works in real life, you can read how satellite data from KSAT and partners were used by Global Fishing Watch to expose large scale IUU fishing: Satellite data from KSAT and partners used to expose IUU fishing
3: Greenhouse Gas (GHG) monitoring
With satellite imagery high emission of methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) can effectively be pinpointed and the source identified. This makes reporting of greenhouse gas emissions more transparent and accurate – and in return urgent and necessary decisions can be made.
At COP26 in Glasgow the European Union and the United States announced a global partnership to cut emissions of methane by 2030. The Global Methane Pledge initiated by EU and US has committed to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030.
With the ability to map emissions by the help of satellites, regulators, environmental groups and other stakeholders can take urgent and long-term decisions that will help contribute to lowering emissions and to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius goal within reach.
GHG monitoring by satellites also enables a much larger area to be monitored compared to ground or aircraft-based solutions.
Climate change is one of the world’s most pressing problems and the message from COP26 is that we have to act now.
Therefore, we are glad that world leaders are committing to stopping and reversing deforestation of tropical forests by 2030. And here at KSAT we are proud to be a part of this through our role in the NICFI data program.
Satellites can help us understand climate change and will play a key role in achieving The Paris Agreement Goals.
Header photo: Sentinel-1 is providing satellite imagery of Earth's surface. Photo: ESA