Road to COP28: Key Space Sector to Mitigate Effects of Climate Change: UAE Space Chief

Space exploration can play a vital role in mitigating the devastating effects of climate change, according to the head of strategic research at the UAE Space Agency. (Stock photo)

Towards COP28


Space exploration can play a vital role in mitigating the devastating effects of climate change, according to the head of strategic research at the UAE Space Agency.

Speaking ahead of the COP28 summit, which will take place in the UAE in November, Abdulla Alshehhi told Al Arabiya English that harnessing the power of space technology – from Earth observation satellites providing crucial data on climate patterns, emissions greenhouse gases and deforestation to cutting-edge research on other celestial bodies – it can revolutionize the way humanity meets the pressing challenge.

Abdulla Alshehhi, head of strategic research at the UAE Space Agency. (Provided)

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With climate change high on the agenda of governments and global institutions, I believe the space sector can play a critical role in minimizing the impact climate change has on our planet, he said. Today, space technology not only helps us understand more about climate change, it has proven to be a catalyst for change in the way certain sectors or industries work.

For example, in agriculture, space satellites provide critical data when it comes to monitoring soil quality, drought conditions and crop development. Satellites are also instrumental in providing weather forecasts that help farmers plan harvest times and decide how much irrigation their crops will need.

With the world’s population expected to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, improved satellite data is critical to helping farmers improve agricultural yields and ensure there is enough food to meet the needs of the growing population Alshehhi said.

Satellites can enable scientists to gather valuable information about global weather patterns, sea levels and ecosystem health with unprecedented accuracy and range. The data collected helps governments and environmental agencies make informed decisions to combat climate change and establish effective policies.

Space agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency already have dedicated programs that track how the Earth is changing due to greenhouse gas emissions.

Alshehhi said the space technology will also pave the way for more widespread use of climate-friendly autonomous electric vehicles, noting that the way the global population travels will look markedly different in a few years.

Autonomous vehicles under development will rely heavily on GPS technology, which relies on space satellites and communications systems, to operate safely, while autonomous electric vehicles and shared modes of transport can help reduce carbon emissions.

He added: Overall, harnessing the latest space technologies is key as it will not only make our planet more sustainable, but will benefit a wide range of sectors such as energy, food and water, aviation and telecommunications.

UAE Ten Year Plan

In its continued efforts to boost the economy and become a global space leader, the UAE has invested around $10 billion in the space sector as part of its 10-year plan.

In addition to the 10 new spacecraft under development, the UAE possesses more than 20 orbiting satellites and is home to more than 80 international emerging space companies, institutions and facilities, as well as five research centers for space sciences.

Its initiatives include the 2030 National Space Strategy, aimed at enhancing the contribution of the space sector to the national economy, and the UAE Astronaut Programme, which is developing a national team of astronauts for manned and scientific space exploration missions.

The country also celebrated a major milestone this year when Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi took off on a historic six-month mission to the International Space Station, the longest space mission in the Arab world. He made history as the first Arab astronaut to complete a spacewalk on the International Space Station.

Astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). (AFP)

Alshehhi believes the UAE’s space sector will continue to grow rapidly and go from strength to strength, saying there is no better time than now for the younger generation and adults to pursue a career in space.

He said: Many countries, including the UAE, are now investing significantly in space as it will be crucial in shaping a better future. With a variety of programs and initiatives already underway in the UAE, the space has promising potential to drive positive change in the years to come. The time has come to put more emphasis on the importance of space and attracting talent to the industry.

Space today is not just about developing the next generation of astronauts. It’s a huge industry that requires skills from a diverse range of backgrounds, such as medicine, IT, finance and engineering, all of which are critical to the advancement of the industry. Thus, individuals interested in joining the space industry can explore a wide range of careers including as a data scientist, satellite operator or systems engineer.

Most importantly, the limitless possibilities of the space allow for creativity. With space development a key national priority for the UAE, there is a bright future ahead that can inspire young people to take an interest in space and study subjects in the STEM field.

Alshehhi represents the space sector in NEP 3.0, a program that aims to foster the development of leaders working in sectors strategically important to the future of the country. He is one of 15 UAE-based specialists taking part in the programme.

He joined the Emirates Mars Mission team in 2020 and, in his current role, focuses on promoting the space sector in the UAE and internationally, including representing his country at high-level global gatherings.

He added: The UAE has outlined ambitious plans to boost its economy and I pledge to play my part in this journey by imparting my knowledge from the NEP to all, especially the younger generation, as it will help guide our future progress. .

Young people are already making their voices heard when it comes to sustainability, and it’s vital that everyone joins the conversation at COP28 and hear what impact the space sector can have on a more sustainable future.

To know more:

UAE Sultan al-Jaber stresses the need to use technology to fight climate change

COP28: A timeline of the United Nations’ efforts to tackle climate change

UN climate chief: Phasing out all fossil fuels is key to curbing global warming

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