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Data is the key to tackling climate change threat

Data is the key to tackling climate change threat

With the launch of the EU Space Programme this month, the new unified EU Space Regulation has come into force, consolidating Europe’s position as a global player in space.

One of the programme’s keystone objectives is to support the European Green Deal to effectively tackle the increasing climate change threat, monitoring biodiversity, environmental compliance and CO2 emissions. But this is only possible when you are armed with insightful, trustworthy data that informs decision-making across sectors. With Copernicus, the flagship Earth monitoring programme of the EU, data from satellites and ‘in-situ’ stations such as ground, sea and air, provide this essential information freely and openly to anyone who wants it.

Climate change is one of the most significant threats of our century and it affects every single one of us. And how to mitigate and adapt to its effects is undoubtedly a real challenge. This is not something that is going to just disappear – in fact, it is quite the opposite. We are already seeing how difficult it will be to keep to the target temperature rise limit of the Paris Agreement of 2°C above pre-industrial levels and attempt to curb the increase further to 1.5°C. On the current trajectory that the data is showing us this 1.5°C limit is likely to be reached by the middle of this century – and that’s not very far away at all.

It is our role in the Climate Change and Atmosphere Monitoring Copernicus Services implemented by ECMWF, to monitor and inform; and our mission to support the European Union’s mitigation and adaptation policies across all economic sectors, from agriculture to energy. We accomplish this by providing consistent and authoritative information about climate change and our atmosphere to help decision-makers make informed choices. Our most important asset for that is our open and free data policy.

Looking back on the last seven years since the launch of Copernicus, we have achieved policy-relevance, working closely with organisations such as the European Environment Agency (EEA) on whom we partner for in-situ monitoring such as ground, sea and air, to calibrate and validate satellite data. Our activities are also closely aligned with the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA) which leads the European Commission’s efforts to fight climate change at EU and international level. And we are also an important point of reference to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

An example of our monitoring is the annual European State of the Climate report, that provides a snapshot of Europe’s climate and is the result of great international collaboration within the European Union. This kind of information is vital to help policymakers put together roadmaps and evidence-based frameworks towards the goals of the Paris Agreement as well as the European Green Deal.

Which brings us to the signing of the EU Space Regulation in May. It was such a huge and important milestone in securing a greener future for Europe and could be a real game-changer for policymakers. The new €14.8 billion regulation aims to make the EU a global player in space, unifying the European Space Programme under one umbrella, thus streamlining and simplifying activities. Also, it specifically mentions the necessity of operational Earth observation systems to further monitor the effects of climate change.

For us, it is gratifying that ECMWF is specifically mentioned in the EU Space Regulation as an important player in the Earth observation ecosystem, illustrating the trust built during the first phase of Copernicus and allowing ECMWF to continue its monitoring programmes.

With the new Copernicus Contribution Agreement, another milestone to be signed in July 2021, we are looking ahead to the next seven years to be drivers of change.

All EU Member States are required to report on their adaptation progress every two years. The access to high quality data for this reporting differed a lot between the countries. We are therefore enhancing our portfolio of information products to help policymakers. Our European Climate Data Explorer, launched in collaboration with the EEA, provides consistent datasets covering all Member States to help them with their adaptation strategies – this ensures the best possible adaptation to climate change. And we constantly seek to improve our portfolio further.

The EU’s target plan to reduce net greenhouse emissions by at least 55% by 2030 is one key goal of the Green Deal. For that, it is crucial that emissions are monitored effectively. We will be implementing a new CO2 Monitoring and Verification Support capacity to provide important data on anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, with the first dedicated satellite to be launched in 2026.

The CO2 Monitoring and Verification Support capacity is not only relevant to evaluate mitigation strategies but also for adaptation. We know that there are many plans for cutting emissions, however it is going to be extremely difficult to reduce the recent trend and to find the right and most effective adaptation strategies. This will become one important element for both Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring and Climate Change Services in the future.

A key test of our joint efforts will come with the global stock takes of the Paris Agreement to assess collective progress towards achieving its goals in a comprehensive and facilitative manner.

We are more determined than ever to play our role in this value chain that starts with data, is transformed into information and leads to real action. As 18th Century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant said: “Thoughts without contents are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” I think that sums it up very well as it is only by being armed with the right data that we can tackle climate change collectively.

By Jean-Noël Thépaut, Director of the ECMWF Copernicus services


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