The United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) has commissioned a new report under its £30 million per year programme; International Partnership Programme (IPP) to assess how space technology can aid policy formulation across developing countries. IPP’s commitment to development across developing nations, especially in Africa, has been well established. In this new report, the IPP of UKSA was able to draw a nexus between space technology and how governments can make sustainable policies that will enhance development in sectors like agriculture, climate change and the environment, disaster resilience, forestry, and urban and transport.
Data is an essential part of the policy formulation process as it helps policymakers to understand the challenges, their areas of strength, places where they need to take urgent actions and resources available to them. The report draws a connection between using Earth observation (EO) satellites, the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and other Satellite communications (SatComms) satellites to provide timely information to inform the government’s policy process, often more efficiently and cost-effectively than alternative data sources, towards achieving a common theme for space-based solutions.
To better understand the effectiveness of space tech in policy formulation, a juxtaposition was made in developed nations, especially the UK, and the findings show that space technologies in developed countries are well placed to provide intelligence on a range of economic and environmental activities at a lower cost than alternative methods of data collection. This advantage is critical to developing country governments that face budget constraints, increased demand, increasing global pressures and growing public scrutiny. Using space tech in policy formulation provides accountability, affordability, transparency and speed in making policies that affect developing economies.
In Agriculture, most applications of space in agriculture, such as rural payments and insurance products, aim to stabilise the incomes of farmers at low cost. Space solutions can also assist governments in maintaining food security and planning for disasters by providing early warning information and risk identification to support planning and mitigation. Earth observation (EO) can also provide accurate, updated maps of natural resources to support sustainable management. By 2050, the global population is predicted to be over 9 billion, and food demand will be 60% greater than it is today. The supply of natural resources (e.g. water and land) that underpin agricultural production is also under pressure, with unsustainable practices contributing to food shortages. Governments in developing economies, therefore, need to embrace satellite technology towards preparing for this future.
Climate Change and the Environment
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a warning in 2020 that there were now only ten years remaining to take action and avoid irreversible disruption from climate change. The Climate Change Vulnerability Index maps the degree to which countries are exposed to climate change risk, with countries in the Global South identified as being most affected by climate risk. These countries often have limited adaptive resources and are already facing issues such as food insecurity. This means that the increased risk of droughts, flooding, extreme weather events and rising temperatures is likely to hit these countries severely. For climate change and climate action, satellite data can be used to optimise renewable energy production and to underpin models that predict climate change risks and inform adaptation and mitigation strategies. The IPP report reveals that satellite data can help governments to make effective policies that will allow for climate change adaptation, renewable energy, carbon reduction and air quality to be monitored and worked on as the climate situation toughens.
This trend spills into disaster resilience. The use of satellite data can enhance disaster resilience by informing disaster preparedness, resilience and response. It can increase the survival and recovery rates of populations and economies in developing countries. During the 1980-2015 period, natural disasters have affected an average of 169 million people per year, resulting in the loss of 50,000 lives per year and US$2.6 trillion in total economic damage over the period. Developing countries are more affected by disasters, due to their lack of preparedness, weak infrastructure and inadequate emergency response capability. IPP is supporting ten disaster resilience projects, and three of these support government policy decisions: Earth and Sea Observation System (Malaysia) by the Satellite Applications Catapult; Drought and Flood Mitigation Service (Ethiopia and Kenya) by Rheatech Group, and SIBELIUs: Improved resilience for Mongolian herding communities (Mongolia) by eOsphere Limited. The use of satellite data can enable greater preparedness, resilience and response, thereby increasing the survival and recovery rates of populations and economies in affected nations. SatComms and EO can be used in unison to provide information on the location of affected communities and on roads that are unsafe for navigation. These data can be used to optimise response efforts.
80% of the Earth’s above-ground terrestrial carbon and 40 per cent of below-ground terrestrial carbon is contained in forests. Protection of the carbon sink is therefore essential for climate change mitigation. The study reveals that satellite imagery provides accurate, cost-effective surveillance and monitoring of forestry resources at frequent intervals so that changes to land coverage can be monitored and detected quickly. This means that illegal logging, or outbreaks of pests and diseases, can be detected promptly and at a lower cost than through other methods of data collection. Existing applications of space technology monitor the extent of forest loss, providing intelligence for policies that reduce deforestation and degradation. In this way, space-based data can help reduce carbon emissions, promote sustainable resource use, and maintain plant health. Space applications in policymaking will there focus on reducing carbon emission, sustainable resources use, law enforcement and plant health.
Urban and transport
By 2050, the UN estimates that the urban population will reach nearly 70% of the global community. Such a transformation will exacerbate the challenges for city councils and governments. It can only be managed with land use and land cover policies that account for the growing and future demand for urbanisation. Policymakers must have accurate access to data on land use and land cover change, as well as accurate predictions for how these might change over time. Satellite technologies offer an authoritative data source for governments that need to inform urban planning and update property databases in the face of rapid urban change. EO is useful for land use and change detection; traffic data can be used to detect hotspots of activity, and location data can support the development of universal geographic reference systems.
The IPP, having done extensive research on the need to embrace satellite technology, made a set of summative recommendations which governments in emerging economies need to take note. They are:
- Increased coordination between developing-country governments to consolidate requirements and points of engagement with industry
- Raise awareness and provide practical support to governments to increase the understanding of space capabilities and applications;
- Increased interaction and engagement between government entities and industry. This could involve greater communication of requirements by the government and technology development by industry. Ongoing commitment through the R&D to procurement phase would enable governments to steer technology developments to meet future needs. This could help accelerate the adoption and maturity of applications, building on the work of current initiatives such as the UKSA’s IPP;
- Greater use of existing tools, including downstream R&D programmes, to enable R&D efforts to be directed at developing-country requirements;
- Consideration of strategic infrastructure to facilitate the access to and use of exploitable satellite data for users and for applications development. This could enable greater integration with geospatial and other complementary datasets;
- Coordinated action between international donors to ensure that new projects are sustainable, nonduplicative and focused on under-addressed needs in the developing world;
- Seek opportunities to provide capacity building and training to developing world governments on the role of space solutions to support policy in their countries;
- For space agencies to continue the positive initiatives underway to promote the use of space solutions to address developing world challenges, including NASA SERVIR, Dutch G4AW, ESA Space in Support of International Development Assistance, and UKSA IPP.
The Authority on News, Data and Market Analysis for the African Space Industry.