This news couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. As the world gathers up for the biggest ever meet on climate change — the COP 21 or 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, a statement from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Earth Observation Center (EOC) revealed that the ozone hole over Antarctica has increased by 2.5 million square km than what it was at the same time in 2014. This just less than the record in 2006 when it was 27 million square km.
DLR researchers used earth-observation satellites to determine that the ozone hole over Antarctica currently extends more than 26 million square km — an area larger than the North American continent.
The size of the ozone hole and its belated appearance surprised the scientists, who, by analysing satellite data, observed changes in the air currents in the stratosphere, which are a possible cause of the size of the current ozone hole.
A couple of months back, in another prediction that could be called nothing but catastrophic, NASA had warned that the oceans are rising much faster than it was estimated. Three years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that by 2100 sea levels could rise 28 to 98 cm (11 to 38 inches), depending on the volumes of greenhouse gases emitted. NASA scientists are now warning that recent projections seem to be too conservative: Since 1992, sea levels have increased by an average of 3 inches around the world. Of the world’s ten largest cities, eight are located on coasts. Over the next century and beyond, rising seas will threaten Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai, and other megacities.
The stakes could not be higher at COP21. Twenty-three years after the signing of the Framework Convention, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, dangerously disrupting the climate system, and posing a grave threat to sustainable development in all countries. Avoiding highly dangerous climate change will require sustained efforts and profound changes in the world’s energy systems, land-use patterns, and socio-economic development trajectories.
Even though the United Nations New York forum on sustainable development goals (SGDs) agreed on the importance of geoinformation and space technologies for meeting the SDGs, in the COP21 Climate change agreement, there is no explicit role for space technologies in the official draft yet. This despite the fact that the the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) focuses on space technology and sustainable development in a major way. The UN’s General Assembly had had recognised space technologies as an important tool in the area of disaster management as far back in 2006: “Ensure all countries have access to and develop the capacity to use all types of space-based information to support the full disaster management cycle”. This is in fact the mission statement of UN’s special office for Space-Based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN–SPIDER).
Space technologies have been used for decades now for environment monitoring and protection. But given that any global agreement reached at COP21 in Paris must be a decisive turning point for the world’s efforts to fight climate change, it’s time there is special focus on space technologies and use of EO data.
COP21 after all will be the last chance to adopt a global agreement that makes it possible to secure a safe climate.