A litany of weather extremes is burning and drowning cities across the world. Visuals of these events paint a frightening picture, almost making it seem like we are in the midst of a climate apocalypse movie. At present:
- Intense heat is gripping large parts of the world, setting record temperatures. Scientists have officially confirmed July 2023 to be the hottest month ever recorded! In a chilling statement, António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, stated that the era of global warming has ended and “the era of global boiling has arrived.”
- Climate- induced warming has intensified rainfall, making it violent and erratic, leading to floods. Torrential rainfall is killing people and sweeping away large swathes of land and infrastructure in India, South Korea, Japan and China among other countries. The capital region of China is grappling with the heaviest rainfall since records began 140 years ago.
- Wildfires are wreaking havoc across multiple countries, including Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland, Algeria, and Canada, as much of the world grapples with severe heatwaves. The devastating fires have resulted in numerous casualties, forced the evacuation of thousands of people, and caused significant destruction in the past weeks. The escalating frequency and intensity of these wildfires worldwide suggest a potential shift from regular wildfire seasons to a prolonged wildfire year, impacting ecosystems on a global scale.
Related: Read our blog “Decoding Wildfires: Understanding The New Normal” to learn more.
- Communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are grappling with unprecedented levels of hunger and food insecurity as a result of the ongoing drought. With five consecutive failed rainy seasons, the recent drought, intensified by climate change, is the most devastating the region has faced since 1981. Beyond agricultural and livestock losses, the impact has been far-reaching, leading to increased incidents of gender-based violence and communicable diseases.
As cataclysmic events grip the entire planet, it is evident that no region is safe from the devastating impacts of climate change.
El Niño, which often brings warmer-than-average temperatures and reduced rainfall to some regions while causing increased precipitation and storms in others could be one of the factors that can be attributed to these extreme weather conditions. However, there is a growing consensus that global warming is making extreme weather events worse. Recent research even indicates that climate change has the potential to trigger more frequent and intensified El Niño and La Niña events.
According to David Armstrong McKay, a research impact fellow at the University of Exeter, other natural variabilities has perhaps influenced the extreme summer events “But it’s all happening on this baseline of human-driven warming,” he said. “What used to be a rare event is becoming more common, and what used to be impossible in an unchanged climate is now becoming a real possibility.”
The Call to Arms: Imperative for Urgent Climate Action
These events provide a preview of a more tumultuous future as these climate-induced disasters serve as mere harbingers of the impending climate catastrophe that threatens our existence. The climate crisis is worsening at faster rates than previously expected. For instance, Louise Farquharson, a geologist and researcher at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, in her study on the effect of climate change on permafrost, found rapid permafrost thawing in the remote Canadian Arctic. By 2016, the permafrost had thawed to depths that were projected to occur only by 2090 in a scenario of "moderate" global warming!
Even the slightest rise in temperature is projected to exacerbate the severity of global challenges, including life-threatening heat waves, water scarcity, malnutrition, wildfires, and coastal flooding, painting an alarming image in climate projections.
For example, a UN Convention to Combat Desertification report warns that by 2050, more than 75% of the world could confront drought conditions. Similarly, the impact of climate change and land-use alterations is anticipated to heighten the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Projections suggest a potential global surge in extreme fires of up to 14% by 2030, 30% by 2050, and 50% by the end of the century.
The rate at which temperatures will rise and the gravity of its potential outcomes, however, largely depend on the extent to which GHG emissions are curtailed. The role of urgent climate action thus cannot be overstated.
From Crisis to Solution: The Role of Climate Intelligence
Climate Intelligence (CI), in this regard, is the key element in strengthening the defences against climate change in an effective manner. Referred to as the gathering, analysis, and interpretation of data and information related to climate change and its impacts, it plays a critical role in informing policy decisions, guiding resource allocation, and developing strategies to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
A report from IDC referred to Climate Intelligence as a "strategic priority" and one of the key solutions for countering potential global economic losses totalling £17 trillion projected to arise from climate change by 2050.
Reliable climate data is a crucial component of climate intelligence, historically obtaining which has been a challenge due to various factors, including limited monitoring infrastructure, data gaps, measurement uncertainties, and changes in measurement methods over time. However, advancements in technology have helped address some of these challenges and have led to more reliable environmental monitoring infrastructures.
Related: Learn more about the role of comprehensive climate data here.
Satellite data in this regard has emerged at the forefront of the climate data landscape because of its ability to capture a complete view of climate risks across the planet, at various resolutions at high frequency and at an economical cost.
Since Vanguard 2- the first weather satellite, was launched in 1959, earth observation (EO) satellites have played a crucial role in climate research. Within a decade, satellites provided insights into the consequences of human activities on the environment and helped reveal the ozone layer's widening hole. Since then, satellites have played an important role in monitoring climate change. Currently, over 50% of Essential Climate Variables, key indicators of the earth's changing climate, can only be tracked through satellites. Satellites help monitor these indicators and track extreme climatic events, such as floods, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves and melting of glaciers. In conjunction with Artificial Intelligence, satellite technology is revolutionising climate intelligence.
Related: Learn more about Climate Intelligence and how Satellite Data can help here.
How does Satellite-driven Climate Intelligence help?
Climate Intelligence helps us in a variety of ways by providing valuable insights, information, and strategies to address the challenges and impacts of climate change. One of its key benefits is enabling the monitoring of climate risks. EO satellites plays a crucial role in monitoring and understanding climate-related risks by providing insights, analysis, and information that allow us to assess, anticipate, and respond to various challenges posed by climate change. This helps in Risk Assessment and Mapping, which is essential for developing risk management strategies, disaster preparedness plans, and land use policies.
Satellite-driven climate data also plays a crucial role in making climate models more reliable. It does so by providing real-world measurements, improving model physics, initializing simulations, capturing feedback mechanisms, and assisting with model calibration and validation. The integration of satellite data into climate modeling helps increase our understanding of the Earth's climate system and enhances the accuracy of climate predictions and projections.
It also enables the development of early warning systems and climate disaster predictions and forecasting by generating forecasts of extreme events such as wildfires, hurricanes, floods and droughts. These predictions help authorities prepare for and respond to potential disasters. For example, At Blue Sky Analytics, we developed a Fire Predictions dataset that can forecast biomass fire events seven days into the future on a weekly rolling basis by combining large-scale earth observation datasets with machine learning proprietary algorithms. Learn more about how we predict wildfires at Blue Sky Analytics here.
Satellite data empowers corporate entities, banks, and other institutions to comprehend and navigate climate risks. As the effectiveness of risk assessment tools hinges on the quality of their inputs, the integration of high-resolution and high-frequency data is pivotal for the effectiveness of climate risk tools like stress testing and climate value at risk. These approaches help entities in risk identification and management, strategic planning, investment decisions, meeting regulatory compliances and building supply chain resilience. Learn more about these approaches here.
As companies and governments conceptualise their net-zero roadmaps, climate data helps them by providing insights, benchmarks, and information that inform sustainable practices, emission reduction strategies, and resource-efficient decisions. Read our blog "Leveraging Satellite-Based MRV for Carbon Projects” to learn more about how satellite data helps in carbon offsetting projects.
Reshaping a Climate-Resilient World with Climate Intelligence
Though satellite data plays a crucial role in climate action, the terabytes of such data are of low value unless appropriate intelligent modeling is used to carve out actionable climate data sets from the mountains of raw data. Only climate intelligence firms with strong analytical skills and computational capacity can derive and consolidate actionable data sets from various satellites and disseminate them through APIs.
Thus, organisations possessing expertise in satellite data, AI, advanced computational capabilities, as well as knowledge in machine learning and data analytics, along with a profound understanding of the intricate challenges presented by climate change, play a crucial role in promoting climate solutions. This can help us pursue a more informed and data-driven course to create meaningful change in this critical moment.