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Earth Observation data: the new frontier in climate resilience

Tura Gagna Diba

This article by the Acclimatise Team was originally published on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) Climate Resilience website.


Climate change is among the top societal challenges with global impact. It has wide-ranging impacts across socio-economic systems, with the most severe effects being faced by poor and vulnerable communities. Making climate-resilient decisions requires good quality data and information, often lacking in many developing regions of the world. Earth observation (EO) data has the capability to capture large-scale environmental data over a range of spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions. Some governments have started accessing EO data to incorporate adaptation options into their planning and improve the climate resilience of livelihoods and production systems. For instance, since 2005, India has launched 17 EO satellites into space to gather invaluable information on different climate variables to improve resource management and disseminate timely disaster warnings.

Building resilience in regions where data is scarce

EO is the gathering of information about the Earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems and has the capability to do so across remote and inaccessible terrain. It involves monitoring and assessing the status of and changes in the natural and man-made environment. EO data provide large quantities of timely and accurate environmental information, which, when combined with socioeconomic data can give unique insights into managing climate risks. This is especially important in regions where insufficient information is available from in-situ measurements, or where on-the-ground assessments of infrastructure are not possible due to safety concerns. EO satellites can collect real time data on a wide range of indicators such as water distribution, land use, water cycles, atmospheric profiles, heat mapping, sea surface evaluations, and global-regional energy exchanges.

EO data can help governments around the world not only prepare for climate change impacts and natural disasters, but also inform sustainable and climate resilient development planning to account for future climate risks.

The Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) Climate Resilience Cluster, an initiative by the European Space Agency (ESA), combines EO-based environmental information with socioeconomic and climate data in developing countries to help them meet long-term climate resilient development planning goals. Over the past year, the Cluster has been collaborating with international financing institutions (IFIs) and other international agencies such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), African Risk Capacity (ARC), Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to support with EO-based data their corporate climate screening tools, to assist on climate resilience investment projects, and to build capacity in IFI client states to integrate EO data in their development planning. The Cluster project is being carried out in 2 phases: Phase 1 (2018-19) has involved strategic planning and stakeholder engagement; and Phase 2 (2019-21) will involve service demonstration and preparing IFIs and their client states to use EO services independently.

Working with the World Bank in Monrovia

One example of the Cluster’s work is in Monrovia, Liberia, in collaboration with World Bank’s Greater Monrovia Urban Review project, which aims identify policies that can help Monrovia be better prepared to absorb urban growth in a context of extreme poverty/informality, fragility and increasing risks from climate change.

Monrovia is at extremely high risk of coastal and inland flooding, which has already displaced poor communities living along the coastline and will only worsen with climate change. The Cluster has developed EO product prototypes for coastal and inland risk flooding due to sea level rise and coastal erosion in Monrovia. In Phase 2, new products will be developed and the prototypes further elaborated by integrating other datasets, for example, the flood risk analysis can integrate critical infrastructure data, hydrologic information, projections for coastal erosion and land subsidence. Employing a mix of EO, climate projections and socioeconomic data will help integrate climate resilience into investments under the Greater Monrovia projects.

Apart from project-specific interventions, the Cluster is also enhancing some IFIs’ existing climate risk assessment tools. One example is the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal (CCKP), which aims to improve the integration of scientific data into decision making processes. The portal hosts historical data and climate projections and includes sectoral indicators. The EO4SD cluster is providing EO-based climate data automatically to the CCKP via an Application Programming Interface (API). Products currently provided to CCKP include 2m temperature, sea surface temperature and sea level anomaly. Data provision will continue into Phase 2 (Jun 2019 Jun 2021), expanding to more products as requested by the World Bank.

Access to the sea of data collected by EO satellites, combined with socioeconomic information, can support the implementation of climate adaptation solutions for regions affected by a variety of climate hazards. This will go a long way in helping countries improve their preparedness for natural disasters and minimise economic losses from damage to infrastructure, property and livelihoods, as well as loss of human life.