The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced its plans to launch a fleet of satellites which will monitor carbon emissions around the world.
The three satellites are set to launch in 2025 in order to collate data for the United Nations’ (UN) global assessment of greenhouse gas emissions in 2028. Once the satellites are in orbit around the Earth, they will form the world’s first planet-wide emissions observation system: currently, CO2 emissions are measured by conducting ‘inventories’ of fuel burning on a country-by-country basis; which, while it can provide a workable estimate of global emissions figures, is affected by poor measuring and reporting protocols by a number of national governments.
Dominique Blain, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) taskforce on improving emissions reporting, said: “Globally inventories are not yet capable of providing a complete picture of greenhouse gas emissions of human origin…[satellites] could potentially be used to validate the emissions reported for a certain time period.”
The current crop of satellites monitoring CO2 emissions is similarly limited, predominantly by the scope of the satellites’ observation equipment: the widest camera lens on a satellite currently in orbit can view 15km of the Earth’s surface at a time, while the Sentinel 7 satellites which will form the observation fleet are capable of viewing up to 250km. The new satellites will orbit the planet 14 times a day, passing over each individual source of CO2 emissions approximately every two to three days.
Mark Drinkwater, head of the ESA’s earth and mission science division, said: “It’ll be a wake up call as to the magnitude of the problem. Countries are not obligated to show their emissions report until the stocktake [conducted by the UN every five years from 2023]. This would allow transparent information in the interval. The mission is not being designed to police people’s emissions… I think what countries need is a tool [to ensure] transparency in observations of emissions at city scale and even down to power plant scale. They need information to inform policy decisions.”