Officials at international groups dealing with some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems agree that satellite imagery could be of enormous benefit in implementing environmental treaties.
Less certain, however, is which imagery-based products and services will prove useful, how they will be developed, and by what means they will reach end users, particularly in poorer countries, in a timely, cost-effective manner.
Representatives from four such groups, more formally known as “Conventions” in diplomatic parlance, met for two days in mid-June to discuss these and other issues as part of the second users’ brainstorming session, TUBE II, organized by ESA’s TESEO activity.
TESEO, for Treaty Enforcement Support using Earth Observation, was started last year to explore the potential of satellite imagery in supporting the implementation of environmental treaties.
Earth observation data will contribute to the ability of signatories to multilateral environmental agreements to move from detecting problems to mitigating them, according to Jan Sheltinga, environmental affairs officer for the Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The desertification treaty is designed to stem land degradation in dryland ecosystems, one-third of the world’s land area, through local programmes and supportive international partnerships. “Parties to the UNCCD recognize that strategies to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought will be most effective if they are based on sound, systematic observation and rigorous scientific knowledge,” she said. “Earth observation can contribute to this global bank of technical knowledge, especially when the Parties [treaty signatories] are identifying strategies to reduce the vulnerability of affected populations.”
“Recent advances in space technology have improved the ability to use various Earth observation tools for efficient environmental monitoring and to address issues related to early warning, especially for drought,” she added.
Climate change and the Kyoto Protocol
Another TUBE II participant, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was adopted in 1992 as the first step in addressing one of the most urgent environmental problems facing mankind. Five years later, many nations took another step and adopted the landmark Kyoto Protocol with its groundbreaking, legally binding limitations restraints on greenhouse gas anthropogenic emissions.
For Claudio Forner, an officer for the MIS programme at the climate-change Secretariat, Earth observation data could help the Convention fulfil some of its responsibilities. The most relevant area for satellite imagery to be beneficial, Forner continued, could be in monitoring and analysing the dynamics of forests and other land-use related activities where size is a problem. Satellite imagery could be an important tool in supporting emissions estimates and the removal of greenhouse gases. In addition, Earth observation data could be used to assess the impact of global climate changes.
“There exists a great potential in assessing the consequences of climate change on ecosystems, urban areas and others,” the UNFCC official added.