ESA is primed to play a crucial role in the revitalised international drive to combat global warming set out at the COP26 climate talks.  

After two weeks of negotiations, the summit – which was held in Glasgow in the UK – concluded with world governments working to agree on a renewed commitment to dial back planet-warming emissions.

As set out in its recently released vision for European space activities, ESA is stepping up its efforts to help tackle the climate crisis.

At COP26, the agency showcased how it is using space technology to boost global understanding of the changing environment and accelerate the transition to a green, sustainable economy.

A critical decade for climate action

Copernicus Sentinel-6 over Northern Europe
Copernicus Sentinel-6 over Northern Europe

A fleet of Earth observing satellites called the Sentinels – developed by ESA as part of the European Union’s Copernicus programme – provide data on different aspects of the environment.

ESA’s Climate Change Initiative – which uses space data to generate long-term observations for key aspects of the climate – enables scientists to understand the Earth system and helps governments and businesses work towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty that aims to limit global warming.

Possible future temperature rise
Possible future temperature rise

The initiative made strong contributions to a recently released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that revealed the urgent need to accelerate climate action.

Over the next decade, ESA’s space activities will help the international community monitor how well mitigation and adaption strategies are working, supporting the ambition of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Several new ESA missions that will facilitate these efforts were highlighted as part of the summit.

The agency reported that Europe’s new satellite for monitoring and tracking carbon dioxide emissions from human activity is being put through its paces at ESA’s Test Centre in the Netherlands ahead of its launch in 2025.

The satellite is one of six Copernicus Sentinel Expansion missions being developed by ESA on behalf of the European Union.

Setting the gold standard for climate measurements
Setting the gold standard for climate measurements

In addition, it was announced that the UK-led Truths mission – which will provide radiation measurements to improve scientists’ understanding of climate change and help increase the precision of climate models – is moving into its next stage of development.

Other upcoming activities include ESA’s Biomass mission, which is set to improve understanding of how the world’s forests are responding to climate change.

During the conference, ESA also premiered a documentary that follows ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, along with a team of glaciologists and climate experts, on a journey across the Alps to investigate the impact of rising global temperatures on glaciers.

Speeding the green transition

On top of helping to monitor the environment, space technology is enabling businesses in Europe to develop and commercialise sustainable solutions for a decarbonised economy.

ESA showcases the 5G/6G Hub at COP26
ESA showcases the 5G/6G Hub at COP26

As part of the summit, ESA highlighted how the integration of satellites and terrestrial communications networks is set to enable next-generation connectivity, supporting innovative applications across society, including low-emissions autonomous vehicles, green energy production and even entire smart city ecosystems.

ESA is developing a centre for business innovation – called the 5G/6G Hub – at its site in the UK to showcase the immense potential of these converged telecommunications networks.

In addition, the agency’s Space Solutions programme is helping European businesses to devise space-based products and services that address key environmental and social challenges.

ESA held a joint stand with Space4Climate in the COP26 Green Zone. The agency was joined by many of its partners, including the UK Space Agency, RAL Space, and Darwin Innovation Group. ESA 5G/6G Hub: space to expand connectivity

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