Over the past decades, the effect of human activities on the environment has been widely acknowledged. Anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants accelerates global warming and causes changes in the composition of the atmosphere, leading to further environmental issues such as ocean acidification, water and soil pollution, sea level rise, and loss of biodiversity.
In the current context, the European Union is aiming to become climate neutral by 2050, encouraging a low-carbon and climate resilient economy. The European Green Deal is the expression of the new EU’s climate action plan, a roadmap for making the EU's economy sustainable and developing incentives to turn climate and environmental challenges into policy and business opportunities. The EU is notably working on the European Climate Law that aims to transform EU’s member states’ political commitment into a legal obligation, and into a focus for future investments in Europe. The European Commission (EC) released the Sustainable Europe Invest Plan and the European Green Deal Investment Plan in January 2020 to support this transition toward a greener Europe.
These plans aim to mobilize at least 1 trillion euros ($1.18 trillion) over the next decade using the EU budget as a lever to stimulate additional public and private investments in climate and environment in Europe. Even if the recent coronavirus crisis has put the political focus on the environment of the current administration at risk, the EU has stated that the EU Green Deal will be at the heart of the European economic recovery. On May 27, the EC proposed to the EU Parliament a plan for an economic stimulus of 750 billion euros ($882.37 billion) over the period 2021 – 2027, with a strong focus on stimulating climate and environmentally-related investments.
To what extent is this relevant to the space industry? This new focus on the environment for a low-carbon and climate neutral Europe calls for advanced capacity, tools, and services to monitor anthropogenic carbon emissions but also to monitor, analyze, predict, and mitigate the impacts of human activities on soil, air, and water quality. The utilization of Earth Observation (EO) and meteorological data, fused with in-situ data (e.g. ground sensors, soils samples, etc.) and other non-satellite-based data (e.g. mobile data, statistics, socio-economic indicators, etc.), offers unique capability to monitor on a global scale the state and change of the environment, creating a digital library of Earth’s evolution.
To support the implementation of its Green Deal, the EU, through the Joint Research Centre (JRC), has launched the Destination Earth initiative that aims to bring together European scientific and industrial organizations to build a digital twin of planet Earth, a real-time computer simulation of interactions between Earth systems and human activities, in order to provide actionable insights for scientists, policymakers and industrial players. This initiative aims to create a converged platform accessible by all audiences, which aggregates observation data (e.g. imagery, meteorological data, in-situ data, etc.) with models from all disciplines (e.g. climate sciences, hydrology, etc.) that could describe past phenomenon, the current state of the environment, and predict the future impacts of human activities on nature, as well as the impact of natural phenomenon on society and the economy.
In order to make this ambitious project a reality, the European Space Agency (ESA) has recently launched the Digital Twin Earth (DTE) Precursors initiative through its Earth Observation Enveloppe Programme (EOEP). This initiative aims to lay foundations for the future European DTE by bringing together cutting-edge experts in:
• Advanced data and computing infrastructures, leveraging on initiatives such as Data and Information Access Services (DIAS)
• Advanced Earth system sciences and processes understanding;
• Advanced Earth Observation data, notably leveraging on the EU flagship program Copernicus and the ESA cutting-edge scientific Earth Explorer missions;
• Advanced Modelling capabilities and Artificial Intelligence;
• Interactive capabilities, data analytics, and visualisation.
Four contracts will be awarded by ESA to four different European consortiums that will work on setting up different thematic DTEs, and proposing technological and scientific roadmaps to go forward on the development of the future DTE.
As developing this capacity is critical for the achievement of the goals of the EU Green Deal, a significant part of the budget of the Green Deal investment plans is expected to support the space industry, especially related to the development of advanced satellite-based products and services (e.g. anthropogenic emissions monitoring, air quality, water management, agriculture, etc.). In that sense, the European Investment Bank (EIB) will become the EU’s climate bank and the share of EIB’s investment in climate and environmental ventures will reach 50 percent of its operation by 2025, triggering investment in satellite services in support of the environment. The years to come are expected to offer very interesting opportunities for European satellite companies, but also for foreign companies willing to invest in Europe. VS
William Ricard is a Manager in the PwC Space Practice and has worked for eight years in management consulting for public and private actors in the space industry. He works on the satellites' services market (EO, Satcom, GNSS) including business strategies development, commercial due-diligences, business-plan development & review, or socio-economic impact assessment derived from investment in Space activities.