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ESA and sustainable development

By European Space Agency

Space applications like Earth observation, telecommunication or navigation enable the standard of living for modern societies and support the growth of developing countries. Space facilitates the implementation of key policy objectives at a global, national and regional level, and it features a significant economic potential. This is why space is considered a strategic asset, and many stakeholders from public, commercial and scientific domains are involved.

climate-esa-1The European Space Agency (ESA) is a renowned space actor. It is an international organisation composed of 20 Member States, and it serves as Europe’s gateway to space, coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members. Thus it is able to conduct programmes and activities that are far beyond reach of any single European country. ESA’s set up and way of working has led to remarkable successes in various areas.

Earth observation (EO) is an example where Europe has assumed worldwide responsibility through numerous missions like ENVISAT, ERS, Earth Explorers or the upcoming GMES/Copernicus. Earth observation provides objective coverage of our planet across both space and time. Space based sensors gather worldwide data, including from places too remote or inaccessible for ground based data acquisition. Monitoring the environment from space allows for an assessment of global impacts of human activity, and derived data and information form the basis for responsible decisions and effective action on long term issues like sustainable development and
climate change.

Sustainable development has been defined by the Brundtland Commission as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Several subdomains with a strong role of space and with a strong involvement of ESA are linked to sustainable development, for example, management of natural resources, food security, risk management or climate change monitoring.

Water management constitutes a particular challenge in developing regions like Africa. The United Nations consider that the average person needs 50 litres of water a day to meet their water and sanitation needs, but people living in 13 countries – nine of them in Africa – have to get by on less than 10 litres a day. Following the Johannesburg summit on Sustainable Development, ESA set up the TIGER initiative within the context of the Committee of Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). The TIGER initiative assists African countries to overcome problems faced in the collection, analysis and use of water related geo-information by exploiting the advantages of Earth observation technology. Its activities can be grouped into facilitating access to EO data, capacity building and training, knowledge and information networks, and development of EO information services. TIGER has been existing for 10 years by now, and it has involved more than 40 African countries and 150 African water authorities and research institutes.

The issue of food security is linked to the management of natural resources. More than 800 million people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. Earth observation allows for mapping of agricultural activities. This includes the distribution and condition of crops, the identification of planting and harvesting dates as well as early warning. Yields can be forecasted and potential regions of food insecurity can be pinpointed from space. In combination with ground-based information this can be used for strategic decisions on food security. ESA is involved in food security via the GMFS (Global Monitoring for Food Security) project.

Risk and disaster management is another domain where space contributes heavily. Earth observation data are used throughout the complete emergency management cycle of preparedness/warning, response, recovery and mitigation. The International Charter for Space and Major Disasters is an example of successful international cooperation within this area. It is a worldwide collaboration among space agencies to make satellite data available for the benefit of disaster management authorities during the response phase of an emergency. ESA’s contribution to the Charter consists of the functions of an Emergency on Call Officer and of the Executive Secretariat as well as data provision, a dedicated website and training opportunities.

As a final example, climate change is another domain requiring space based Earth observation. Climate change is arguably the greatest environmental challenge society faces in the twenty-first century. The consequences of a warming climate are far-reaching, potentially affecting fresh water resources, global food production and sea level. Observations from space provide unique information that greatly assist in the successful understanding and management of climate change. The global coverage and continuous measurements that satellites can provide give researchers vital information about the climate system. To respond to the need for high quality climate satellite data, ESA has set the Climate Change Initiative. The goal is to provide stable, long-term, satellite-based Essential Climate Variable (ECV) data products for climate modellers and researchers. ECVs will be derived from multiple satellite data sets, not just ESA ones. The Climate Change Initiative will establish lasting and transparent access to its results for global climate scientific and operational communities.

It goes without saying that the examples above are interconnected. Being involved in numerous different domains, ESA can also make use of synergy effects. Whatever the application domain is, ESA is ready to provide its expertise, experience, data products and services in order to harness the benefits of space activities for all citizens of planet Earth.



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