ESA joins UN climate talks in Kenya

The United Nations annual summit on climate change this week in Nairobi, Kenya, seeks to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol strategy, which becomes obsolete in 2012, to restrict emissions of heat-trapping gases that drive climate change. ESA joins the activities to share results of its satellite-based Kyoto-supporting services.

More than 6 000 representatives of national governments, international organisations and non-governmental organisations are present at the second meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 2), held in conjunction with the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 12) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This joint summit is taking place at the UN Office in Nairobi, Gigiri, from 6 to 17 November.

Hot on the summit's agenda is the 'Greenhouse Gas Data 2006' report released on 30 October by the UN Climate Secretariat that found greenhouse emissions by industrialised countries showed a "worrying" upward trend in the 2000-2004 period despite the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol requires 35 industrialised nations to reduce levels of greenhouse gas emissions chief among them carbon dioxide by 5 percent compared to reference year 1990 between 2008 and 2012, with the European Union committed to a reduction of 8 percent. The UN report states the overall emissions dropped by 3.3 percent in the 1990-2004 period but mostly because of a 36.8 percent decrease by economies in transition in eastern and central Europe; the other industrialised parties of the UNFCCC increased their emissions by 11 percent.

Around 25 billion tonnes of extra carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere annually by human activities, mainly through wildfires, land clearance and the burning of fossil fuels. The total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by a quarter since the start of the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago.

In addition to reducing greenhouse emissions to clear the air of excess carbon dioxide, plant growth absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, so the Protocol includes a mechanism for signatories to offset emissions against increases in the stock of carbon stored in vegetation, especially forests.

What the Protocol requires for such offsetting to take place is annual reporting of land use changes especially afforestation, reforestation and deforestation (ARD) - associated with shifts in the terrestrial carbon stock, to be carried out at the national level.

ESA has a long-standing commitment to extend the use of satellite data beyond science into operational applications, and in particular to strengthen the effectiveness of international conventions. To this end, a project called GSE Forest Monitoring (GSE-FM), which began in February 2003, integrates the most relevant and recent scientific research and monitoring practices with the latest analytical tools and information technologies aimed at detecting changes in forest area and density in order to establish baselines and projections and estimate averted emissions.

This operational forest and land use monitoring service is provided to the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Switzerland. Beyond Europe, services are provided for countries, including Indonesia, South Africa, Uganda and Paraguay, and include the evaluation of Kyoto-authorised Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) afforestation to foster inward investment and sustainable development in developing countries.

GSE Forest Monitoring is being carried out as part of the initial portfolio of services offered through Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), a joint initiative between ESA and the European Commission (EC) to build a global monitoring capability in support of Europe's environmental and sustainable development goals.

ESA will be operating an exhibit throughout this historic summit to communicate its activities developed to support the Protocol. It is demonstrating ESA's contribution to systematic global observations for understanding climate change. Some of the variables essential for understanding and monitoring the climate system can be efficiently observed from space since this enables their systematic, global and homogeneous measurement. Several ESA global-scale projects transform satellite data into meaningful parameters that provide insight into climate change issues.

Renewable energy has limitless resources, but harnessing its full potential requires careful management of the fluctuations in the energy source. Earth Observation (EO) from space can assist with timely information on available resources such as met-ocean conditions, solar radiation and snow water content as well as environmental factors affecting the yield such as weather conditions, land cover and surface roughness.

The ability of satellites to deliver synoptic information (providing spatial variability) and long-term time series from the archive (providing temporal variability) make them particularly useful to optimise energy production and complement traditional in-situ measurements, which are costly and provide only local information.

ESA is also organising a Side Event 'Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: can it be measured?' on 9 November.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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