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Rhian French
Contributing editor

Geospatial insights provide context and clarity for climate action

With 2020 widely recognised as a critical year for addressing climate change, understanding that everything happens somewhere has never been more important.

Writing in the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres warns that the world is currently ‘way off track’ meeting either the 1.5°C or 2°C targets set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement.

More severe and frequent floods, droughts and tropical storms, dangerous heatwaves and rising sea levels are already severely threatening lives and livelihoods across the planet. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. And for that, we need political will and urgent action to set a different path.”

Girl holding plant

In his report on the September 2019 Climate Action Summit, the UN Secretary-General identified ten priority areas which need much more action, including all countries coming forward with 2050 carbon neutrality commitments; accelerating the transition to 100% renewable energy; and implementing the United Nation’s 2019’s Climate Action Summit’s initiatives, aiming at the deep decarbonisation of key economic sectors.

"2020 must be the year we collectively show—through concrete action—that we are truly committed to build a healthier, safer, more sustainable and resilient future for all people. We need to slash emissions as soon as possible. At the very least, we must be carbon neutral by 2050.”

China has boosted UN efforts by announcing in September its commitment to be carbon neutral before 2060.

Residential area UK
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) works with Ordnance Survey (OS) to ensure the UK has secure, clean and affordable energy supplies.

Mapping out a path towards carbon neutrality

The UK is committed to hitting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, its energy system undergoing rapid transformation.

In the past two years, just over 50% of all electricity generated in the UK has come from low carbon sources. Two factors will further help to achieve net-zero carbon emissions: digitalisation and decentralisation. To reach peak efficiency, the country needs to make the most of its assets – however small or remote – for which new technologies will be vital.

Laura Sandys, Chair of the Energy Data Taskforce recognises the underpinning role geospatial information plays.

“When it comes to the future of the energy system, the key to a fully optimised network is location – so we can better identify and use our existing assets, as well as highlight opportunities for progress,” she says.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) works with Ordnance Survey (OS) to ensure the UK has secure, clean and affordable energy supplies.

Collating and analysing disparate data sets is vital to inform Government policy, such as Green Deal, Energy Companies Obligation and Fuel Poverty. DECC has combined data from a number of different sources to create the National Energy Efficiency Data-Framework (NEED). This single source of information provides insights into how energy is used, and the impact on energy efficiency measures for different types of property and households.

Using the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) from OS’s AddressBase product, DECC is able to consistently cross reference data, increasing collaboration and efficiencies. Data is address matched once, each record is assigned a UPRN and then used many times.

Plantations in desert landscape
Palm trees and mangroves have cultural and economic value in Dubai, so OS and Deimos Space UK developed a prototype palm tree and mangrove feature for EO data using state-of-the-art deep learning techniques.

Technology for sustainability, now and in the future

“For global sustainability we need comprehensive, consistent and accessible information about the environment where we live,” says David Henderson, Chief Geospatial Officer, OS.

“Automatic data capture and processing can allow governments to act efficiently and rapidly in the event of natural disasters driven by climate change.”

“In Dubai, OS and Deimos Space UK worked with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) to automate the production of geospatial information and identify climate change with Satellite Earth Observation (EO) data and artificial intelligence. This enabled automatic production of geospatial information with equivalent or greater accuracy than manual processes, as well as efficiency savings and more frequent data updates, for better measurement and monitoring.”

The rapid growth of Dubai has had a big impact on the natural environment, natural resources and native habitats. EO data has long been an important source of information for measuring and monitoring how the environment is changing. However, producing geospatial information for large areas from EO data is time consuming and costly.

As palm trees and mangroves have cultural and economic value in Dubai, OS and Deimos Space UK developed a prototype palm tree and mangrove feature for EO data using state-of-the-art deep learning techniques. This supported the development of an interoperable data model to easily share data with other government departments and help inform decisions.

A Spatial Data Infrastructure Strategy for MBRSC was also created, to ensure data aligns with the latest developments in the Dubai Spatial Data Infrastructure, and the wider Dubai geospatial sector. The project was supported by the UK Space Agency and UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), as part of the Gulf Science, Innovation and Knowledge Economy Programme.

A ground-breaking approach for a single and shared vision for change

Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) is a government agency committed to protecting and enhancing the environment, as well as maintaining and promoting the biodiversity of the desert and marine ecosystem. One of its key aims is establishing Abu Dhabi as one of the top five environmentally sustainable nations in the world, through the Abu Dhabi 2030 Environmental Vision. To do this, it needed to raise environmental awareness, facilitate sustainable development and keep environmental issues at the top of the national agenda – for the ultimate benefit of its citizens.

OS worked with EAD to develop a GIS Roadmap, containing information on all GI-related activities needed for the EAD to meet wider objectives. The Roadmap provides EAD with a detailed, structured plan to help the Agency capture, maintain and analyse environmental information to support the 2030 Vision.

A total of 52 initiatives were agreed, which when delivered, will establish EAD as a visionary and cutting edge organisation within the global environmental community.

Protecting precious moorland with a bird’s eye view

Closer to home in northern England, OS data is aiding the planning of land management and restoration of the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation, which covers around 650km². Since 2003, the Moors for the Future Partnership (MFFP) has been working to reverse more than 200 years of damage from industrial pollution and wildfires that left large areas of uplands bare of important vegetation.

The MFFP is dealing with significant long-term decline in the blanket bogs of the Peak District and South Pennines – caused by a range of natural and human factors. Before conservation work could start, by re-introducing sphagnum mosses to areas dominated by a single plant species, the team needed to know and easily visualise exactly what was growing and where.

As the area that needed to be mapped was so large, satellite and aerial imagery were combined with field survey data and analysed to produce a Land Cover Map of the area with various habitats, with the help of consultants Environment Systems Limited.

OS data was used, including OS MasterMap , which could mask out features such as water, manmade and urban, before the mapping started. This was pivotal to the project, as using satellite imagery alone would not have picked up any roads, rivers and houses obscured by trees.

OS MasterMap Topography data provided detailed views of the landscape, while surveyors and volunteers used OS 1:25 000 Scale Colour Raster maps to directly observe 233 areas for clarification, or ‘ground truthing’, before data was updated to the GIS and included on the final land classification maps. The maps provided a key visual aid to help communicate with landowners and members of the public, and helped project data sharing with others who use OS data.

OS mapping provided a baseline at the start of the project, as well as an easy way to target future restoration works. The project will help MMFP’s ultimate aim to restore a wetter, more resilient habitat, with a reduced risk of wildfire and downstream flooding, and to safeguard moorland life for the future.

Chair of the Association for Geographic Information (AGI), the UK’s largest membership organisation for the sector, Denise McKenzie, believes this is a pivotal moment that puts geospatial at the heart of a sustainable future.

 “Geographic information has always closely been aligned with understanding all aspects of our world. We are all passionate about the benefits of our location-based information. By demonstrating its practical value in tackling critical issues which affect society as a whole, we can open doors to new opportunities for its use.”

David Henderson agrees: “Official geospatial information is playing an important role in helping to address the key global, regional and local issues that affect people and the planet as a result of climate change. The UN’s 2030 Development Agenda presents an unrivalled opportunity for us to further promote the tangible benefits that we deliver to society.”

Rhian French
By Rhian French
Contributing editor

Rhian French is a journalist and PR consultant for the geospatial, leisure and travel sectors. She has a professional and personal passion for geospatial and its role in better understanding the world. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (FRGS) and a member of the Association for Geographic Information (AGI). She is also a proactive and enthusiastic supporter of the Women in Geospatial network.