Space has an increasingly important role in ensuring global leaders deliver on their Earthly promises made during the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow. These promises centre around how to deliver the ambitious Paris target of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. To meet this goal (and to keep our politicians accountable) we need access to more and better quality data to track the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, monitor progress and inform policy decision-making. Space can (and increasingly does) play host to Earth observation satellites that aim to capture this information.

Having this data is vital - you can’t fix a problem until you know about it. It also provides opportunities. For example, identifying methane leakage from a landfill site could allow it to be captured and used to power homes rather than dissipate into the atmosphere.

The European Union has long-recognised the importance of this data and, with the European Space Agency, recently announced plans to launch a constellation of dedicated satellites to monitor greenhouse gas emissions in unprecedented detail. Forming part of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, the satellites (which are expected to be fully operational by 2026) will be capable of looking at individual carbon dioxide and methane sources, such as power plants and fossil fuel production sites, in near real time. Access to reliable and comprehensive data allows nations to be held to account if they are not meeting their agreed-upon commitments, but the greater level of granularity offered by this new constellation goes one step further, by enabling the biggest polluting sites to be specifically identified. This information becomes a powerful tool to help decision making, particularly with respect to the decommissioning timelines for certain sites. It will also help inform the level of emissions we should target in our future energy-mix. While the challenge of climate change is significant, this new constellation serves as a tool to help pave the way to net zero.

For more information on the latest space and satellite developments and regulations, visit our dedicated Space page.