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Climate Crisis & Nature as our Secret Weapon

Observing Carbon & COP27

To support growth that is green, resilient, and inclusive, we at Space4Good have joined the call for SDG 13 - Climate Action. Climate action is one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and one of the main agenda points in the COP27 [the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change]. The conference aims to focus on climate mitigation and adaptation strategies as well as carbon drawdown initiatives that pursue net-zero goals determined on global, national, and local levels. One of the ways Space4Good contributes is by leveraging remote sensing techniques to measure and monitor Nature-based Solution (NbS) projects and their associated ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration. For example, we can assess the current and potential sequestration of carbon for specific NbS carbon projects using earth-observation data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). Read on to learn more about the role of carbon in the Anthropocene, carbon finance, and the ways in which technology can provide quality insights for the emerging carbon economy.

A climate emergency

As climate emergencies across the globe escalate, with disastrous flooding in Pakistan, severe drought in Africa and the latest hurricanes hitting the coast of the United States, we see a growing need for a response. On July 20th, 2022 American President Joe Biden declared climate change an emergency [source]. Aside from this, more countries and leaders have started to declare, and as of May 2022, over 2,100 local governments in 39 countries have declared a climate emergency [source]. What’s more, is that even though there is global recognition, multi-level planning and numerous warnings around climate change events, the extremity of climate-related catastrophes is “happening more rapidly and with greater intensity than their [scientists] grimmest warnings” [source].

COP27 or the “2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference” is coming up on November 6th at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. At these yearly summits, thought leaders and policymakers unite to address the climate emergency as a global effort to: 1) agree on policies that limit the temperature rises below the 2°C or 1.5°C targets; 2) devise action around adaptation to climate change impacts; and 3) delivery of climate finance (source). In the face of this pressing issue, it is important to reflect on what we know of this process to act diligently. As such, we focus on the role of carbon in this blog, one of the main drivers of climate change [source].

Why carbon?

Carbon, and more precisely carbon dioxide (CO2), is a greenhouse gas (GHG) claimed to be the primary driver of climate change. CO2 is not the most polluting GHG but it is deemed one of the ‘primary drivers’ as it is the one that we emit the most of and at an increasing rate since the industrial revolution, with a 51% increase between 1990 and 2015 alone [source] and at a 1-2% annual increase despite calls for a reduction [source]. Moreover, and equally important, is the behaviour of this gas. CO2 transferred into the atmosphere is not destroyed over time and can remain there for thousands of years. CO2 and thus carbon can only move around the ocean-land-air systems and can be absorbed rapidly by certain carbon sinks. However, due to the loss of essential natural carbon sinks, it now accumulates in the atmosphere. [source].

The Carbon Cycle

Due to the earth’s marvellous natural systems, our ecosystems have the ability to balance the influx of carbon through sequestration by means of the carbon cycle. The main actors of this process are plants, soils and water bodies that sequester CO2 from the atmosphere to store it.

Image 1: Carbon cycle diagram [source]

Due to the massive destruction of these essential systems, increasing CO2 sequestration is a costly process that is hard to mobilise support and effort for. Even conservation projects for forests and coral reefs are regularly threatened by economic interests, either in financing essential conservation activities and security or by means of profitable fossil fuel extraction and even tourism. Not to mention the compounding threat climate change has on their survival.

The mere existence of the carbon cycle and how it functions by design provides essential inspiration for the range of actions humans can take to mitigate the growing carbon crisis. When humans work together with the ecosystem as agents for climate change, the carbon cycle can be jump-started and encouraged to work for us. For example, by setting up NbS projects that, “work by either increasing carbon storage, such as by planting more trees, or by avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, such as by limiting deforestation” (source) we can generate draw-down nodes or carbon sinks. In addition to this, there are numerous financial opportunities that emerge in favour of establishing these projects across the planet, which brings the topic of “Climate Finance”.

Climate Finance

Defining responsibility for climate change is one of the many challenges that has slowed down climate action. However, thanks to climate finance, we can leverage mechanisms geared toward balancing out this responsibility and generating incentives. In a broad sense, climate finance is the financial flows aimed at climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

At the brink of COP27 conversation has been revolving around the concept of “loss and damage”. This is allusive to situations where rich countries that made their success on fossil fuel exploitation and thus contributed substantially to global emissions are now being asked to “reimburse those countries that are suffering from the worst vicissitudes of climate change”(source), often with irreparable damages to natural ecosystems and livelihoods, even beyond the limits of adaptation.

A new UN Emissions gap report event states that “policies currently in place point to a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century (source). As such we need not only implement these policies and climate finance projects but also monitor them to maintain their efficacy and impact. In the past, “rich nations had promised to mobilise $100bn a year in support of poorer countries by 2020. But research shows they fell short, at $83.3bn.” (source).

Image 2: Top 10 clean energy financing institutions [source]

Beyond the loss and repair argument currently underway and which will be a key topic of focus in this year’s COP27 summit. However, some argue it is not a constructive debate and that the focus should be placed on maintaining focus and momentum with the carbon drawdown goals needed to de-escalate the 2°C temperature rise.

Monitoring Carbon sequestration

When considering the potential of NbS to mitigate climate change, we have observed many challenges to the establishment and maintenance of these projects. From deforestation to forest fires, from financing to maintenance, all of which threaten to limit the success of biodiversity conservation, restoration and carbon sequestration. One way to counter these challenges is through quality assessments measuring the carbon sequestration and the potential of a given project.

Utilizing remote sensing monitoring, reporting and verification with AI technologies, we can 1) support climate financing decision-making; and 2) contribute to carbon sequestration project requirements to meet climate investment needs to best facilitate the uptake and management of these essential systems. It relies on different methodologies for different types of projects and can be done in a variety of ways. Space4Good focuses on afforestation, forestry and agroforestry projects, in other words assessing NbS projects, offering insights into and the work that these Nature-based projects do for us. One such example is insights into a) how much carbon has been sequestered by the trees, b) how much carbon will be sequestered, and c) confirm that nothing changes over time. Management insights like land use change, climate risk, fire risk, and deforestation are also offered to help project developers protect their projects. Verifying these projects also implies additional business opportunities to enable a project, such as pre-financing via carbon credits (or ex-ante credits).

It is important to remember that Nature-based solutions are only part of the solution, and current carbon emissions must be drastically reduced by any means necessary [source]. But in our fight to collectively address our carbon challenge, quality NbS projects are essential to meet these goals, ensure global vitality and restore the immense loss in natural systems we have seen till now. Do you know of any nature-based projects you believe can contribute to carbon drawdown? Tell us in the comments below.

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