Space helps to protect the climate

 Space helps to protect the climate

Space technologies can make a decisive contribution to fulfilling the EU Green Deal, with the full support of the German space sector.

On December 11, 2019, the European Commission presented the European Green Deal to the citizens of the European Union with the aim of addressing the challenges of climate change and making Europe the first climate-neutral continent. By 2050, all net greenhouse gas emissions in the EU are to be fully offset through reduction measures and natural reductions. By the year 2030 they should be reduced by at least 50% compared to 1990.

With the Green Deal, the Commission is drafting a strategy for a sustainable transformation of the EU economy. In order to achieve the ambitious climate protection goals, the Green Deal relies on a number of measures in addition to significant investments. Among other things, these aim at a clean and secure energy supply, the development of a fair and environmentally friendly food system and the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. The Green Deal is intended to contribute to the implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Space is already important in climate research

Space-based technologies already play an important role in climate research, especially for observation and early warning. The information obtained through space travel can help to assess the extent of climate change, support the development of suitable adaptation strategies and contribute to the evaluation of their effectiveness. For example, as part of the global network of measurement systems, satellites enable comprehensive global observations of the climate system – this concerns the effects of deforestation processes and other changes in land use, industrial emissions, changes in the ice on the polar caps and in glaciers, sea level rises, temperature changes and other climate variables. The space data,Services and applications are also of vital importance for the continuous and long-term observation of the effects of the sun on the earth’s climate and its effects on humans and nature.

National programs in Germany

Dealing with the consequences of climate change and preserving our natural foundations of life are urgent tasks for all of humanity. In accordance with the German space strategy, the Federal Government is therefore committed to strengthening the contribution of space travel in these fields. This can increase the effectiveness of climate policy measures through innovative technologies, especially for earth observation and communication.

In the development of tailor-made space applications, the economy plays an important role as a driver for innovative solutions. With the national program for space travel and innovation of the BMWi (Bundesministerium fur Wirtschaft und Energie), which was carried out by the space management of German Aerospace Centre DLR, the federal government supports technology and application development. For example, Germany is now one of the world leaders in the field of satellite construction and provides outstanding findings in data analysis. The following examples illustrate this.

  • The German EnMAP mission will deliver high-resolution images of the earth’s surface in over 200 color channels from 2021. This enables quantitative statements to be made about the quality of the plant condition, for example in agriculture (and thus the need for additional fertilization or irrigation measures) as well as the quality of inland and coastal waters or the nature of the soil.
  • The German radar missions TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X enable rapid data acquisition in the event of a disaster as well as more precise observation of glaciers and ice caps. The effective use of TerraSAR-X for maritime surveillance actively supports efficient and safe shipping. The detailed and highly accurate global elevation model of the TanDEM-X mission is an indispensable basis for numerous scientific studies on the effects of climate change worldwide. Both missions also provide important data on the state of the forest ecosystem.
  • The earth observation instrument METimage is currently being developed on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. This should provide important data for meteorology, oceanography and climate monitoring, for example on the condition of clouds, snow and ice distribution on land and seas, fire detection and the temperature of the sea surfaces.
  • At the bilateral level, Germany is working with France to strengthen the operational capacities for climate monitoring. The Franco-German climate mission MERLIN (Methane Remote Sensing Lidar Mission) aims to monitor the formation and spread of the greenhouse gas methane worldwide using satellites and thus to support international climate protection.

The transfer of developments and data from space travel to other industries is promoted in the INNOspace® initiative. In the networks Space2Motion and Space2Agriculture, actors from space travel are brought together with those from the automotive industry or agriculture in order to enable technology and knowledge transfer. The ideas competition INNOspace Masters 2020/21 is a new building block in the German space landscape in five challenges looking for cross-sector innovation projects to make space travel itself more sustainable. Ideas for this include climate-friendly fuels and technologies that enable sustainable concepts on earth using space travel.

Vatnajökull Glacier on Iceland seen by Sentinel satellite in 2019

European programs

In addition, Germany participates in the financing of many programs in the European Space Agency (ESA). These contribute, among other things, to the development of instruments, data collection and monitoring of climate variables and the use of this information (also in commercial applications). Germany accompanies the ESA programs as a program guide or participant:

  • The EU Copernicus programme collects information on ocean pollution, as well as knowledge on deforestation and afforestation. This makes it possible to check compliance with international treaties and to record the contributions of individual EU member states . Additional Copernicus missions are being developed specifically for monitoring the obligations arising from the Paris Climate Agreement: These involve recording greenhouse gas emissions, measuring changes in the polar regions and supporting agricultural applications.
  • In addition, Germany is participating in a weather satellite to improve short- and medium-term weather forecast, especially in the polar regions affected by climate change.
  • The European satellite navigation system Galileo has the potential to make an important contribution to the Green Deal: Modern satellite-based logistics can in principle help to better control traffic flows and logistics chains on land, water and in the air. This saves unnecessary transport kilometres, avoids traffic jams and optimizes the use of vehicles of all kinds. Capacity utilization is increased and CO2 emissions in the transport sector are reduced.

Anchored in international processes

In addition, Germany is involved in various other formats at the international level. Within the framework of the United Nations, the UNISPACE+50 process and the currently negotiated Space 2030 agenda aim to strengthen space travel in order to solve global challenges. The focus is on three major agendas of the United Nations ( UN ): The Paris Climate Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Management and the UN- Sustainable Development Goals. In this context, the High-Level Forum, which Germany and the United Nations hosted in Bonn in 2018, deserves special mention. The forum implements the resolutions of UNISPACE + 50 and enables a constructive dialogue between users, political decision-makers and interest representatives from government, business and civil society. First recommendations for the Space 2030 Agenda have been formulated. Satellite-based applications are intended to contribute to global food security and improvements in living conditions, coping with climate change, disaster management and the sustainable management of natural resources.

At the space agency level, DLR space management contributes to effective climate monitoring in cooperation with partner agencies. DLR works with the Japanese space agency JAXA and other Japanese partner institutionsSpace management on satellite-based monitoring of greenhouse gases, also in interaction with ground-based and aircraft-borne systems. The results are to be incorporated into future reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on changes in greenhouse gas emissions. Especially in regions without direct knowledge from measuring stations (for example in developing countries) this is the method of choice to determine greenhouse gas emissions and to carry out the “global stocktake”, i.e. the joint inventory of progress in the future.

Through space applications, the content of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and its changes can be quantified, sources and subsidence can be identified and observed globally. Continuous monitoring enables a better understanding of such processes on our earth, even over longer periods of time. These findings are summarized by the IPCC “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” and made available to politicians. It is also only by observing the earth from space that it is possible to monitor whether the countries on earth are actually implementing the agreed climate measures or are falling short of the goals they have set.


The goals defined in the European Green Deal represent a major challenge for politics, industry and society, the mastering of which requires the cooperation of the most varied of areas. Based on the unique possibilities of space travel, it can be an indispensable tool for overcoming global challenges. Germany is committed to making full use of the potential of space travel at various levels. In view of the Green Deal, European politics should also make greater use of space to implement its policies. Therefore, business and society should be further sensitized to the relevance of space travel and jointly develop their potential to deal with our future questions.

This article was originally published in German by BMWi, the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, on 20 May 2020.

Contact: Max Kroymann and Dr. Peter Stubbe (

Remco Timmermans

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