Looking at the sky

gale37885Current news about climate change reveals that outer space offers key tools for addressing global warming. Through the lens of satellites, scientists collect essential data to monitor the Earth’s temperature. In particular, the U.S. National Air and Space Agency (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) use satellite data to fill in the gaps of climate change science.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has recognized the contribution of space science and space applications in the fight against climate change since 1999. Through this technology, scientist are able to analyze sea level, ocean color, land ice and greenhouse gases. The data provided is helping policy-makers, at both the local and state levels, to become better equipped to understand carbon dioxide’s role in climate change. Now that scientists know the importance of space and climate change, we can focus our attention on achieving more mitigation and adaptation measures.

Recently, research presented at the Fifth Annual Colloquium on Environmental Scholarship at Vermont Law School about the development of international space pollution law opened my eyes to the sky. Irene Ekweozoh, from the University of Ottawa, spoke of international environmental space law, specifically the lack of clarity about the precise form and nature of the duties imposed on states for environmentally responsible use of outer space. At the same time that states use satellites as essential tools for climate change analysis, they also produce outer space pollution when these satellites remain in space after serving their mission. Following this logic, when states try to address climate change mitigation and adaptation by using the information captured by satellites, they are also polluting the atmosphere free of responsibility.

At  COP20, we will see the role of international space law as a protagonist in the discussion of climate change’s physical effects, providing a framework for international cooperation in targeting environmental monitoring and disaster management. We may have to wait until long after COP20 to know if states are concerned that while they are looking for solutions to global warming, they may be polluting outer space.