Skip to content

Copernicus: The EU’s global perspective on climate change

Juan Garcés de Marcilla, Director of Copernicus Services, ECMWF, explains the purpose of the EU’s earth observation programme and the economic and moral imperative to act on the insight it provides.

Climate change and severe weather events are challenging the assumptions that underpin Europe’s economic and social policies. They take no account of borders and have a global economic impact, affecting health, where we choose to live, how we work and how we spend our leisure time.

Faced with this knowledge, it is incumbent on policymakers, industry and the scientific community to mitigate damaging emissions, but also to equip society to adapt to changes that are already inevitable. This is where Copernicus comes in.

A global problem requires a global perspective

The European Union’s Copernicus earth observation programme comprises an array of satellites and thousands of sensors on land, in our oceans and in the air. Built on cooperation between agencies across the globe it provides free and open access to environmental data via six services – land, marine, emergency, security, atmosphere and climate.

One major component is the European Union’s network of Sentinel satellites. Sentinel-3A, launched in early February, was the third of six families of dedicated missions set to make up the core of this monitoring system.

And for the innovative companies looking to provide insight into our immediate priorities and climate future this new perspective is a game changing opportunity. The European Commission expects its Open Data Strategy to deliver a €40 billion annual boost to the EU’s economy, while studies suggest that, by 2020, big data analytics could boost European economic growth by 1.9%, a GDP increase of €206bn.

The companies working with the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) – which operates the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) and the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) on behalf of the European Commission – are developing products with applications across the energy, water, agriculture, financial and urban planning sectors; turning perspective into insight and data in to information.

These companies have a lot to draw upon from the ECMWF-run services alone: the monitoring data from CAMS includes daily forecasts of air quality and greenhouse gases; C3S holds information on around 20 climate variables such as surface temperatures and in the near future customisable climate projections for sectors.

An economic and moral imperative

However insight alone is meaningless without action. Better information must help to prepare for, respond and adapt to the effects of the change, to minimise further harm.

If the evidence shows that repositioning wind turbines may lead to higher yield there is a financial imperative to act. If pollution is too high and is effecting health and life expectancy the considerations are not merely financial but moral.

Where once Nicolaus Copernicus suggested humans look outwards from the Earth, the Copernicus earth observation programme now turns the human gaze back onto our own planet. The choice is between an unsustainable future and a revolution in green growth and resilience. It is incumbent on us not just to observe but to act.

For more information