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How Satellites Can Help Local Communities Fight Climate Change

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By Andrea Marinoni

· 4 min read

Climate change is already affecting economies, communities and ecosystems worldwide, with consequences for people and the environment alike. In this situation, the aim of the EU to reach climate neutrality by 2050 through its Green Deal seems like a good and reasonable start. However, since climate change is not affecting all European regions equally, it is also becoming clear that we need to address the way we implement policy decisions in local communities.

Increasing temperatures can cause more evaporation, leading to floods in Germany and water shortages in Italy at the same time. Meanwhile, wildfires can occur in France and Greece due to the same warmer climate. Because of such differing impacts, it is fundamental that every region prepares specific contingencies based on the local environment response to rapid changes in the atmosphere. During the past 10 thousand years, the climate had remained relatively stable. Many believe this was one of the reasons why human civilisation began. It's possible, therefore, that future changes in the atmosphere may pose a threat to this stability.

The difference is in the choices we make today

Decarbonising the atmosphere is our main goal, but we also need to find creative solutions for the present situation to better adapt to future changes. However, there cannot be one plan for all the EU member states, let alone the 45 nations that inhabit Europe - a continent that stretches over 10 million square kilometres and encompasses several climatic regions.

That's why policy makers must consider bioclimatic and other regional factors when planning and implementing climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Only then can local governments and communities pick the most effective investments and solutions. And, of course, to make these changes, government officials must also maintain societal consensus. This means that such measures should always take economic recovery into account, primarily to avoid leaving anyone behind.

In essence, boosting social participation and creating regional regulatory strategies are crucial to coping with climate change. But how do you make these choices? What's the most effective tool governments and local communities can use to keep track of the challenges we face?

A solution from the sky

This is where remote sensing comes into the picture. This term describes the process of acquiring information about phenomena without making physical contact with them. Simply put, keeping the environment under constant monitoring from afar using cutting-edge technology. And what better way to watch over our planet than from the sky?

A large portion of the European Space Agency's budget (22.2%) already goes toward its Earth observation programme, making ESA's satellite fleet ideal for data collection and in-depth analysis. Due to an increasing array of data at differing spatial, spectral, temporal, and radiometric resolutions, ‘multimodal’ remote sensing has already demonstrated a high potential for data mining – the discovery and extraction of patterns in large data sets. As a matter of fact, with this approach, we can gain a better understanding of physical phenomena on the ground by combining data from multiple platforms.

With ESA's instruments, we can obtain a global picture of factors influencing our climate, such as temperatures, vegetation, water quantity and quality. For example, researchers could provide public administrations, citizens and businesses with tools for better preparing for water crises – like the one experienced in Europe this August.

These developments offer the opportunity for better monitoring and more precise characterisation of critical environmental parameters, such as biophysical assessment, natural resources use, potentials and limits for water quality examination, atmospheric pollution, and monitoring of natural disasters and catastrophic events. Many European initiatives are already making use of these opportunities, including the recent EU-funded H2020 Green Deal project IMPETUS.

Spreading new knowledge

A coherent climate change adaptation framework must integrate remote sensing datasets with other kinds of inputs and tools to accelerate the transition towards a climate-neutral, sustainable economy. However, the raw data remain complicated and abstract for those trying to plan and implement a rational adaptation approach. So, how do we bring novel insights to local authorities and communities in a clear and understandable way? How do you turn them into useful and lasting policies? The solution may lie in creating digital toolkits and human interactions that build bridges between local authorities, civil society and the scientists that collect and interpret the data in the first place. Open knowledge spaces and competence centres tailored to the needs of different regions, where stakeholders can use local environmental, policy and financial data in an integrated way to design climate adaptation measures.

An architecture of this type can be employed at multiple levels of governance and administration. Using this approach, regional pathways towards adaptation and mitigation can be developed through the exploration of possible measures, while also increasing community involvement and empowerment. Scientists, policy makers, citizens and other stakeholders all need to work together to make this happen. Still, this may be the only feasible way to help us prepare for climate change's toughest challenges.

This article is part of an ongoing collaboration between Illuminem and ESCI, a science communication not-for-profit based in Germany helping EU funded research projects to communicate to the public.

Illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Dr Andrea Marinoni is an associate professor at UiT – The Arctic University of Norway. Currently, he is one of the lead consultants in the EU climate project IMPETUS, helping to develop regional adaptation pathways and innovation packages through the assessment and definition of new methodologies.

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