Europe’s top space official has warned policymakers not to lose European leadership in addressing climate change, citing record heatwaves and forest fires as “really alarming” proof of the rate of global warming.
“It is clear that climate change is very visible and is really causing enormous changes to our planet,” said Josef Aschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency and a top specialist on environmental monitoring.
This summer, Greece, Italy, Spain, and, most recently, Portugal all faced record-breaking heat and wildfires.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, July had the highest worldwide average temperature of any month ever recorded.
“This is really alarming,” Aschbacher said. “It just confirms that climate change is the biggest threat to our planet, to humankind, and will remain so for the next decades and we do need to do everything we can to mitigate the effects.”
Aschbacher oversaw ESA’s main Earth observation satellite programs, including Copernicus, which the Paris-based organization claims is the world’s largest environmental monitoring endeavor, until 2021 when he took over the 22-nation body.
According to scientists, climate change is making heatwaves more common, severe, and likely to occur throughout the year, not only during the summer months.
Last week, the European Space Agency (ESA) released a Copernicus image of a wildfire that scorched hundreds of hectares of woodland in southern Portugal – a blaze that has now been put out.
However, the expense of net-zero emission targets is putting pressure on certain governments, and analysts warn approaching European elections might jeopardize future initiatives.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has cautioned against climate measures that “unnecessarily give people more hassle and more costs” in Britain, where general elections are due in 18 months.
Long-term costs, according to Ashbacher, are expected to be substantially greater unless governments respond to “crystal clear” evidence of the current heat emergency in southern Europe, including satellite data.
“Acting now is much cheaper than waiting for years and then patching up the damage that has been caused,” he remarked when asked if he detected any evidence of a slide in Europe’s climate strategy.
“So yes, the alarm bells should still be ringing very loud. And it is certainly concerning if the signals are not heard in politics as they should be heard, in order to really save our planet.” He did not pick out any particular politicians or states.
FUNDING GAP AND ‘GLOBAL BOILING’
Aschbacher is one of the most senior climate-monitoring authorities to express alarm about waning support for climate-change mitigation efforts, a creeping negative reaction that some climate activists have dubbed “greenlash.”
After scientists pronounced July the hottest month on record, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “the era of global boiling has arrived.”
The Copernicus program of the European Space Agency consists of six families of Sentinel spacecraft meant to read the planet’s “vital signs,” such as carbon dioxide levels, wave height, and land and ocean temperatures.
Plans for six further “Sentinel Expansion” missions beginning in 2026 are in jeopardy due to a financial deficit of 721 million euros ($787.84 million), mostly due to the partial loss of UK payments as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
For months, Britain and the European Commission have been negotiating whether and to what degree Britain should continue to contribute cash to Copernicus through the EU, which co-leads the satellite program with ESA.
Britain’s lower direct contribution to Copernicus as a core member of ESA remains unaltered.
The Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology in the United Kingdom did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Despite the fact that it is not part of the discussions, Aschbacher stated that ESA needs a financing decision by June 2024 “to continue development of the next set of Sentinel satellites in an uninterrupted way.”
Failure to reach that deadline would push the financing choice into the following planning era, beginning in 2028, according to Aschbacher. Suspension of development on the next generation of satellites would increase costs by disrupting continuity and conveying the incorrect impression about Europe’s leadership on climate challenges, he added.
“The impact would be very significant because the Sentinels are required in order to provide a number of critical climate parameters. This would significantly impact Europe’s commitment to combating climate change.”