Satellite Applications as a Contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals
UN Sustainable Development Goals
In 2015, all member states of the United Nations decided upon a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals which make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals were created to improve the quality of life on our planet and ensure we live in a world that is prospering.
With the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations call for reduced effects, and eventually elimination, of any social, economic, and environmental downfall. Multiple sub-targets and actions have been drawn up within each of the 17 goals to provide stepping-stones on the way to achieving a successful end result.
The Satellite Industry
The satellite industry may once have been considered a luxury but is now an integral part of modern society. The application of satellites first made a breakthrough with Earth observation, navigation, and communication, but the technology of today means the industry is capable of far more.
Satellites capture images of the Earth in various ways: using visible light to create realistic pictures as we would expect to see through our eyes; infrared to capture wavelengths, based on the temperature of an object that we would otherwise be unable to identify; and radar signals to penetrate clouds and produce images regardless of weather conditions.
How Can We Use Satellites for Sustainability?
Today thousands of satellites can be found orbiting Earth, and the job carried out by each one varies. Whilst some are engineered to monitor the weather on our planet, others are responsible for sending TV and phone signals around the world. We also rely on several satellites to notice irregularities such as natural disasters and changes to our climate.
Monitoring our Climate
By the end of the century the temperature of our planet is on track to rise by 3.2°C and industries know that unless action is taken, we will not see a change happen. The Paris Agreement requires climate action to lower this temperature increase to 1.5°C, but we are far from achieving this.
Space Technology for sustainable development such as NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement satellite and NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder satellite ensure that Climate Action, Goal 13 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is being pursued. By using satellites to measure Earth’s temperature and other major factors such as pollution and rising sea levels, we can monitor the changes in our climate more accurately than is possible by environmentalists and scientists. It allows us to identify what is contributing to climate change, and how we can eliminate these negative factors. Read more on this here.
Life Above and Below Water
Goals of Sustainable Development 14 and 15 are set out to promote the conservation and ecological use of oceans, seas, and marine resources, and to protect and promote our ecosystems and landforms.
On land we still see cases of illegal mining, poaching, increasing deforestation levels and shifts in our landscapes due to global warming. With the expansion of urban areas, land used for agriculture is being substituted – land which, before food production took over, provided natural habitats to support our ecosystems.
Around the world biodiversity is declining as more species become extinct, and the perception that this is inevitable is in fact inaccurate. In five island developing states, conservation action has altered the path to extinction, so this is no longer the fate of many at-risk species. There are similar concerns for deforestation and desertification, but this too can be prevented by taking advantage of the satellite technology on offer to us.
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs published a study for the role of ‘European Global Navigation Satellite System and Copernicus: Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals’. This study discusses Copernicus’ Land Monitoring programme, implemented by the European Environment Agency and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), which uses satellites to obtain invaluable environmental data. Data modelling for factors such as land cover characteristics and land use changes are designed to provide the European Union with the necessary information for better decision making. Data is also used by scientists to carry out further research, and by companies and citizens to enforce a sustainable outlook.
The Copernicus Marine and Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) focuses its observations on marine applications including marine safety, marine resources, coastal and marine environment and weather, seasonal forecasting, and climate. The service provides updated, quality 4D information about the ocean which is accessible to anyone for free. The data distributed from satellites is offered with the incentive of empowering the public and private sectors and citizens in general to make the environmental changes that need to be made.
Paying Attention to Natural Disasters
Natural disasters are frequent, and their knock-on effects long lasting. The unexpected acts of nature destroy families, infrastructure, and resources. As a result, this leads to poverty, hunger, has an extremely negative effect on health and wellbeing, and deprives children of access to schools for education, all of which are represented by several points on the UN Sustainable Development Goals list. Satellite remote sensing is a tool we can use to monitor environmental indicators which may let us know of extreme incoming weather changes and promote better disaster management to prevent these outcomes from happening.
Satellite remote sensing is the measurement of a far-away object. The most common passive remote sensing involves energy from the sun incident on a surface (Earth). The energy can be absorbed, transmitted, or reflected. Satellites sense the reflected radiation, along with some of the previously absorbed energy, which is re-emitted from Earth’s surface and used to acquire the necessary data.
A study carried out by Dr. C. Van Westen on ‘Remote Sensing for Natural Disaster Management’ describes the disaster management cycle which consists of two phases before the disaster happens; disaster prevention and disaster preparedness, and a following three phases after the event; disaster relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. The outcome of this each time will determine how we choose to tackle such situations the next time they occur.
The study explains that we need data which satellites can supply about the frequency, character, and magnitude of hazardous events in an area before we are able to begin the prevention and preparedness phases. Amongst the spatial information required from our satellites is imagery of the area, GPS data and rainfall data, to name a few. Remote sensors collate knowledge from previous disasters to create hazard maps which highlight potentially dangerous areas going forward. Furthermore, most forms in which natural disasters occur such as floods, drought, and volcanic eruptions, present warning signs in advance of the disaster which our satellites also have the technology to identify.
The following four points are listed in the study to efficiently categorise the information required to progress with efficient disaster management:
- Data on the disastrous phenomena (landslides, floods etc.), their location, frequency, magnitude
- Data on the environment in which the disastrous events might take place: topography, geology, soils, land use, vegetation
- Data on the elements that might be destroyed if the event takes place: infrastructure, settlements, population, socio-economic data
- Data on the emergency relief resources: hospitals, fire brigades, police stations
Given this crucial information from our satellites we can tackle natural disasters appropriately, preventing the numerous lasting effects and creating a better, more reliable world for us to live in.
Healthcare and Education for All
In 2015, the world was unable to meet the Millennium Development Goal which would ensure primary level education globally which we still have not achieved now. There are a number of things responsible for the insufficient statistics, including a lack of safe infrastructure required to house classrooms, and children’s inability to progress due to hunger, poverty, and poor health.
UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 states that by 2030 all children should have access to primary and secondary education, and there are several ways in which the space and satellite industry can support this. The European GNSS Agency (GSA) and UNOOSA have signed an agreement to host educational events to initiate progress for education in developing countries. Furthermore, by surveying areas in countries lacking infrastructure, satellites can provide governments with confidence to build schools and expand communities where possible to provide a better quality of life and education to children.
Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development strives to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.’ With healthcare technology and our knowledge of medical conditions improving rapidly, the demand for healthcare is rising and will continue to do so.
Trials have shown that satellites can supply doctors with the tools to monitor health remotely and treat emergencies without having the patient in the room. Data acquired from the implanted sensors on Medtronic cardiovascular defibrillators can be downloaded to a patient’s computer, which is fitted with a satellited modem and small antenna to create an internet connection with a satellite. The relevant medical professionals can accept this data from the patient, carry out analysis and pass on the results. Only then if their cardiovascular device required reprogramming would the patient be required to visit their doctor.
Another good example of the benefits our satellite industry has on healthcare is the GoodSAM App. The app, which uses satellite technology, means people in cardiac arrest can notify their nearest health professionals. It tells the user the location of the nearest defibrillator, connects anyone performing CPR to professionals, and allows video calls with the ambulance attending the scene.
Find out more about satellite technology for public health in our article.
The Satellite Industry Creates Opportunities
Aside from using satellites for sustainability, the satellite industry overall greatly contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 8 for Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Goal 9 for Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure. The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work describes the following about the space sector in Scotland:
“Scotland has a versatile and adaptable space sector with close collaboration between government, industry and academia. We have an innovative and diverse engineering base with companies competing in international markets. Scotland is in a great place to consolidate these existing strengths to inspire skills development and STEM take-up. The growing space sector focuses upon high-tech, high skill and research and development intensive areas, creating a Scottish space industry turnover of £140 million.
Almost one fifth of all UK jobs in the space sector are based in Scotland. Scotland produces more small satellites than any other country in Europe. We aim to be the first country in Europe to provide a complete solution for the manufacture and launch of small satellites, supporting satellite and environmental data analysis and critical earth observation.”
The opportunities created in Scotland alone are a remarkable achievement. By promoting a positive outlook on the space sector and gaining public and government support globally, our economy, industries, and environment will prosper, so that we can better look after our planet.
- United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2015). The 17 Goals. Available: https://sdgs.un.org/goals. Last accessed 12th Jul 2021.
- United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. (2018). European Global Navigation Satellite System and Copernicus: Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals. Available: https://www.unoosa.org/res/oosadoc/data/documents/2018/.pdf. Last accessed 12th Jul 2021.
- Copernicus. (2021). Europe's eyes on Earth. Available: https://www.copernicus.eu/en. Last accessed 12th Jul 2021.
- Cees Van Westen. (2000). Remote Sensing for Natural Disaster Management. Available: https://www.isprs.org/proceedings/XXXIII/congress/part7/1609_XXXIII-part7.pdf. Last accessed 12th Jul 2021.
- Minister For Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work. (2000). Manufacturing, Space Sector. Available: https://www.gov.scot/policies/manufacturing/space-sector/.
Last accessed 12th Jul 2021.