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Space2030 Agenda: Looking at Space as Driver of Sustainable Development

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The UN has suggested nature-based solutions to address climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, and unless the world community commits to this earnestly the negative impacts of anthropogenic activities on Earth will reflect back to space.

By Salam Rajesh

 The seventy-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly came up with a fairly interesting and intriguing resolution (Agenda Item No.30) wherein the global body adopted the resolution to look at Space as a ‘driver of sustainable development’ in keeping with its agenda on the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.

Amongst the many overarching objectives outlined in the 76th UNGA sitting, it was agreed upon to “Promote the use of space technologies and their applications to enhance scientific knowledge of the natural environment, including oceans and seas, mountainous regions, water cycles and resources, forestry, biodiversity, desertification and land degradation, as well as urbanization, with a view to contributing to the preservation of the natural environment, sustainable resource management and the protection of ecosystems” (2.2).

The resolution comes as follow-up on series of global level meetings during the past years where nations deliberated on the option to look at space as a mechanism to address the myriad issues plaguing the blue planet, with concerns on global warming and the heated debates on the steady global temperature rise hitting the headlines currently.

It is quite interesting that the resolution seeks to “Promote the use of space-based solutions in global efforts to ensure sustainable forest and ocean economies” (1.6), and to “Strengthen the contribution of space technologies and their applications to sustainable fisheries management, agriculture, food safety and security, and nutrition” (1.7.).

These concerns are issues that currently are confronting several societies across the many continents, with concerns on food and water security at the forefront of individual nations’ priorities at their national levels.

The processes of erratic rainfall patterns, and the occurrence of extreme weather and climatic conditions, are of topmost concerns for many nations wherein the failure of crops poses threat to food security for millions of marginalized societies particularly in the underdeveloped and developing countries.

Both the food and water security concerns are directly relevant to the objectives on ensuring the regeneration of planet Earth as a thriving, blue-green planet, based on the world community’s commitments to recovering and greening degraded landscapes and ecosystems by the target year 2030.

The “Space2030” Agenda and its implementation plan are being conceptualized by the United Nations as a forward-looking strategy “for reaffirming and strengthening the contribution of space activities and space tools to the achievement of global agendas”.

The UN General Assembly, in its resolution 73/6 of 26 October 2018, noted that the high-level segment of UNISPACE+50 had resulted in documents aimed at “articulating a comprehensive, inclusive and strategically oriented vision on strengthening international cooperation in the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space, in which space was seen as a major driver of and contributor to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals for the benefit of all countries”.

Quite appropriately to this approach on addressing the goals of the SDGs, the UNGA resolution also looks at space related activities with climate discussions. It calls for “Increase awareness of the risks of adverse space weather and mitigate those risks, in order to ensure increased global resilience against space weather effects, and improve the international coordination of space weather-related activities, including outreach, communication and capacity-building, as well as the establishment of an international mechanism to promote increased high-level coordination in relation to space weather and increased global resilience against space weather effects” (3.8.).

This primarily looks at the issues beyond the limits of the blue planet, such as the intricate deliberations on ozone layer depletion due to factors that are generated from Earth through intensive anthropogenic activities. The release of massive amount of aerosol by long-distance flying aircrafts and spaceships is said to have considerable impact on the atmosphere and outer space, creating havoc with the protective ozone layer.

To strengthen the global negotiations on limiting human interference in outer space, the resolution seeks to “Ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space activities and the preservation of the outer space environment for peaceful uses, including through the implementation on a voluntary basis of the adopted preamble and the guidelines for the long-term sustainability of outer space activities and the sharing of experiences in implementing the guidelines, and address new challenges, risks and threats posed to the long-term sustainability of outer space activities” (4.5.).

The presence of unaccounted number of space crafts and other objects including commercial satellites in outer space, with the threat of space debris building up by the day, the concern shown by the UNGA discussion focuses on restricting undesired activities in outer space that may have consequences for Earth as a whole in future times.

In implementing the Space2030 Agenda, the UNGA resolution suggests several tools for successful negotiations. One of the suggested tool is the strengthening of the international Space Climate Observatory whose main goal is ‘to study and monitor the impacts of climate change, especially at local scales, using satellite-based Earth-observation tools in combination with field data and models, thus providing a tool for decision-making on preparedness, adaptation and resilience to climate change and its impacts’ (24:f).

This suggested tool is crucial in understanding the processes that are occurring in space that could be largely detrimental to Earth when and if the changes occurring goes unnoticed. Global warming combined with the process of ozone layer depletion is enough to threaten life on Earth, with a possible second great extinction on a scale that erased the dinosaurs from the face of the planet.

Earth, in fact, is presently facing extreme weather and climate conditions that have played havoc with many regions across the globe. Some parts are being lashed by severe cyclonic storms and tsunamis, while other parts are reeling under extreme heat waves. Some parts are facing recurrent wildfires on a major scale while other parts are experiencing droughts on an extreme scale.

The UN has suggested nature-based solutions to address climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, and unless the world community commits to this earnestly the negative impacts of anthropogenic activities on Earth will reflect back to space. This is where the problem lies ultimately, and, therefore, the UNGA seeks cooperation of its Member States to actively participate in the Space2030 Agenda to pave a safe pathway for Earth in the long term.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected])

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