Copernicus, a European legacy for a better world

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

The Earth’s natural resources, upon which we rely for survival, are limited. Nonetheless, the world population continues to rise, and utilization of natural resources continues to exceed their regenerative capacity. This results in an ever-increasing demand for food, safe living space, fresh water, fertile land and clean air. Our planet is under unsustainable levels of environmental stress.

Space data have become essential tools for addressing these pressing societal and environmental challenges. The first time I heard about the European Union Earth observation program “Copernicus” and how it so effectively helps address global challenges like natural disasters, public health, food security and climate change, I felt a sense of amazement for the science and ingenuity behind the program and the technology that drives it. I also sensed the privilege to be able to support the use of this unique technology in the Philippines.

By choosing the name Copernicus for its flagship Earth Observation program, the EU pays homage to the great 15th century Polish scientist and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, known by many as the father of modern science. With his revolutionary theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not vice versa as commonly believed at that time, he set in motion the spirit of scientific research, which allows a better understanding of the world we live in.

With a fleet of seven satellites in orbit combined with data collection systems on the ground and at sea, the EU Copernicus program is the largest provider of Earth observation data in the world. It is a unique, free and open system that captures vast amount of data about our planet 24 hours daily. The data collected support better planning, more effective decision-making and the formulation of evidence-based policies.

The European Union space program, with Copernicus as one of its core elements, generates significant benefits for the EU’s economy and society, estimated to range between 120 and 195 billion euros over the next 20 years. These benefits represent a return on investment 10 to 20 times the program’s costs. Given the widespread use of satellite data, more than 85 percent of those benefits are reaped outside the space industry in key economic sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, water resources, forestry, urban and regional planning, transport, insurance and many others. The EU has invested approximately 9.6-billion euros in the Copernicus program, with an additional 5.8-billion-euro allocation proposed for 2021-2027.

Mindful of the developmental paybacks of space technology and the vulnerability of the Philippines to natural disasters, the European Union and the Philippines have agreed on a 10-million-euro cooperation program on Copernicus. This cooperation seeks a common understanding of the interplay between complex Earth systems and human dynamics and supporting technology-based policies and strategies for sustainable development and economic growth.

I was pleased to hear Secretary Dominguez at his recent opening address of World Space Week 2021 highlighting our cooperation on Copernicus. “With information shared through this (Copernicus) program we can better secure our ecosystem, our livelihoods and our communities against natural hazards and threats posed by climate change,” the secretary of finance said.

Both the Philippines and the EU have much to gain from Copernicus. The Earth’s climate is an interconnected system. Temperature changes in the tropical Pacific Ocean can affect the climate of Europe. This is the well-known “El Niño” effect. Higher resolution sea-surface temperature collected in the Philippine region via Copernicus can help improve the accuracy of climate change impact models for Europe. Meanwhile, enhanced use of Copernicus by the Philippines will complement its capabilities in the area of Earth observation for better climate forecasting, food security and disaster management.

The Philippines is blessed with natural resources and unique biodiversity, which are assets it must protect for its people, its businesses and the future generations. However, the country is also highly vulnerable to natural disasters and to the effects of climate change. Copernicus offers its platform of information to address such challenges and increase the country’s resilience.

The EU will continue investing in space technology and Earth observation. I am proud to note that our cooperation with the Philippines on Copernicus is the first of its kind in the region. Together with the Philippines, the EU will explore further the many possibilities offered by the Copernicus system aiming to secure mutually-sustained developmental benefits for the years to come.

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Luc Véron is the Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.


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