Satellites, Google and the Politics of CO2-Monitoring

As the international climate negotiations move into a more intense phase, one additional issue seems to contribute to the deadlock: CO2-monitoring. According to the New York Times (14th December 2009), China “is refusing to accept any kind of international monitoring of its emissions levels”. As a result, the United States is insisting that “without a stringent verification of China’s actions, it cannot support any deal”.

Obviously, any failure to agree on appropriate monitoring mechanisms during COP-15, is likely to have serious repercussions not only for the post-Kyoto agreement in general, but also for the effectiveness of carbon markets, and other reduction mechanisms such as REDD. Luckily, there seems to be a few reasons for optimism, at least in the longer perspective.

Tom Downing at Stockholm Environment Institute-Oxford reports via Twitter, on an initiative launched in collaboration with Internet giant Google, the Carnegie Institute for Science, and Imazon. As Google reports through its official blog, it is now possible to not only view deforestation in Google Earth, but also analyze raw satellite data and “extract extract meaningful information about the world’s forests, such as locations and measurements of deforestation or even regeneration of a forest”.

Orbiting Carbon Observatory

Orbiting Carbon Observatory

What’s more, additional improvements of satellite data seem to be in the pipeline. Despite the failed launch attempt of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) plummeting into the ocean near Antarctica in end of February 2009, there seems to be wide agreement that a new satellite could drastically change the CO2 monitoring game. Hence not only would it be possible to track and analyze deforestation, but also measure its true CO2 impacts, in addition to the emissions from “large local sources, such as cities and power plants”.

On a similar optimistic note, Wired Science reports that a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists have developed a web service that combines seismic data about an earthquake, with Tweets from the popular microblogging service’s users.


Quaketweets (from Wired Science)

This sort of collaborations between science, and the massive data and technology capacities of major ICT actors, can drastically improve the sort of monitoring systems needed to underpin international environmental agreements.

The question is of course: who will be the first to design similar systems to track surprising ecosystem change in for example marine ecosystems, agricultural landscapes, or urban ecological contexts?

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