Equilibrium & Sustainability

US touts effort to build climate ‘early warning system’ with African nations

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There are a couple of reasons why 2022’s hurricane season seems a little slower than average.

U.S. officials on Tuesday promoted their work with African governments and industry to create space-based “early warning systems” to address the impacts of climate change.

The collaboration, touted as President Biden welcomes various African heads of state to Washington, D.C., this week for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, builds on $33 million in broader funding to help forecast climate threats facing vulnerable global communities that USAID announced in November.

It also comes as Rwanda and Nigeria become the first African countries to sign a framework agreement to guide conduct in space.

U.S. officials on Tuesday emphasized the importance of U.S.-Africa space collaboration for safeguarding sustainability on earth — something the United Nations has long called for.

“Everyone must have early warning systems for their ability to deal with the climate challenge,” Monica Medina, assistant secretary of State for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, told reporters.

The U.S. uses space-based climate monitoring “to help us understand our fire-prone regions, and how to contain damage and save lives and minimize economic losses,” Medina said.

“And just last month, Uganda and Zimbabwe … launched their first Earth observation satellites, which will perform analyses of water quality, land use, land cover and soil fertility,” she added.

U.S.-developed early warning systems for flash floods now help provide early warnings to more than 3 billion people across nearly 70 countries, USAID reported in November.

Rwanda and Nigeria on Tuesday also signed the Artemis Accords, the White House said. The accords seek “to establish a common set of principles to govern the civil exploration and use of outer space,” according to NASA.

Twenty-three countries have now joined the accords, which the U.S. and representatives of seven other national space agencies first signed in 2020.

The U.S.-Africa collaboration agreement builds on a broader surge of interest in space technology as a means of protecting against the ravages of climate change.

It also reinforces the growing importance of Africa to the surging space industry, now worth nearly $470 billion. 

Several U.S. companies also announced collaborations with African space agencies on Tuesday. 

For example, San Francisco-based satellite imaging company Planet Labs is investing into remote sensing to help African governments make decisions around “drought risk protection, forest management, and renewable energy,” according to the White House.

Kenyan reinsurance company ZEP-RE will use Planet Labs maps to create models to predict the risk of drought in Sub-Saharan Africa — something they say will allow them to expand insurance coverage to 250,000 pastoral farmers in the Horn of Africa.

Medina linked the early-warning collaboration to broader international goals. 

The U.N. wants every person on earth protected by early warning systems that can foresee dangers from climate change and extreme weather, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced in March.

Guterres announced $3.1 billion to build such early warning systems at November’s U.N. climate change conference.

“Vulnerable communities in climate hotspots are being blindsided by cascading climate disasters without any means of prior alert,” Guterres said.

“People in Africa, South Asia, South and Central America, and the inhabitants of small island states are 15 times more likely to die from climate disasters. These disasters displace three times more people than war. And the situation is getting worse,” he added.  

Guterres noted that even a small amount of warning can make a huge difference — particularly to the half of the world that lacks early warning systems.

“Just 24 hour’s notice of an impending hazardous event can cut damage by 30 percent,” he said.

Medina also reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to heading off another sustainability threat: the danger to the space economy itself from militarization.

“That’s why Vice President Harris announced in April that the United States is committed not to conduct direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests,” Medina said.

“These tests jeopardize the long-term sustainability of outer space by damaging the space environment, and they endanger the use of space by all nations.”

Tags Antonio Guterres Biden Climate change early warning systems Nigeria rwanda space Space exploration Sustainability US-Africa Leaders Summit

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