How Can the Outer Space Help Us Fight against Climate Change? By Iván Daniel Martínez
The use and exploration of outer space are some of the most important issues for the future of humanity. The Outer Space Treaty, the most important international agreement in that aspect, states that all exploration or use of outer space and celestial bodies must be carried out for the benefit of all countries and the province of all humanity. (UNGA, 1966) Climate change, as a problem that will affect the province of all humanity, must be addressed from all fronts, including space. Meanwhile, there are truly important advances in the use and exploration of outer space from rich countries, and now, big companies; on Earth there is an undeniable climate crisis that will affect us all, but especially the most vulnerable states and social groups. According to NASA, 2020 is predicted to be the hottest year on record, and according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC), from 2015, there has been an exponent increase of greenhouse gases emissions in the atmosphere (CO2 growth 20% higher than previous 5 years). (UN, 2020)
One of the ways in which we can use the space as a tool to address climate change is by using the information collected from satellites into the prediction of its impacts. The space-based information is used to measure some Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). For example, it is used to monitor ECVs related to land, such as the degradation of forests in Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, and India (UNGA, 2016, pp. 6-9); or the snow cover and melting of glaciers in Uzbekistan. Space-based information is also used to monitor the ocean’s ECVs, such as the sea level (since 1992, it has been measured from the satellites), which is important especially for the small island states, like Jamaica. Finally, space technologies can also help in weather forecasting and the monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, with the GHG Observing Satellite, completely created for that end.
The second way in which space is a tool to address climate change, is by providing indicators that can help the vulnerable communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change. For example, in Africa, the multiple droughts that affect the availability of water resources for agriculture in Ethiopia, or the locust swarms in Algeria, can be predicted and combatted. The space-based technologies can, as well, help during the full disaster management cycle. This can be exemplified by EO-ALERT, an Austrian system that seeks the rapid civil response to extreme events with real-time information.
Due to the importance of these great technological and scientific advances, there is a need to democratize them in a better way, so that they are not only managed by the most powerful actors in the international system. It is also fundamental to actualize the space law concerning the activities of private entities in space (which were inaugurated with the launching of Space X Demo-2 in May 2020), so that, they be carried out for the welfare of all humanity, as stated in the Outer Space Treaty, instead of only for profit.
There are already high-level initiatives where those two issues are being discussed, such as Space 2030 agenda, which will be reviewed in the coming United Nations General Assembly. I consider fundamental that we, the young people, be aware of these negotiations so that we can fight to assure that all the space-based initiatives made in public and private institutions be used for the welfare of all humanity, and also to assure that those initiatives do not replicate the same unsustainable rationality, applied on Earth that led it to the Anthropocene era, in the outer space and celestial bodies. In this process, it is important that we hear and make hear the voices of all the vulnerable social groups from an intersectional perspective.
About the Author
Iván Daniel Martínez Pichardo (@IvanIvandmp) is a Mexican International Relations student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Sciences Po, Paris. He was one of the Mexican youth delegates to the United Nations in 2018, he is the founder of a youth-led organization dedicated to sustainable development in his university, and he is part of SDSN Youth Mexico in the area of reduction of inequalities.
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