Date archives "October 2019"

IPP Presence in UK Space Conference

The International Partnership Programme was well represented at the 2019 UK Space Conference which this year welcomed its highest number of delegates so far (>2,100).   

Session hosted by David Taverner (Caribou Space) on the use of space for international development

A 30-minute ‘101’ on IPP was held on the first day of the Conference, by IPP’s Head of International Relations, Liz Cox, who chaired the session and was joined by two representatives of the Forests 2020 project: Sarah Middlemiss of Ecometrica and Yakubu Mohammed of the Forestry Commission of Ghana. This combination of speakers facilitated synopses from a programme/project level and prime/end user perspective, providing valuable insights into the opportunities and challenges of delivering satellite solutions for sustainable development. 

An IPP panel discussion was also held on ‘How space is enabling international development – from climate resilience to disaster response’. David Taverner, from Caribou Space, chaired the session and was joined by Alison Hall (Alcis), Yakuba Mohammed (Forestry Commission Ghana), Liliana Castillo Villamor (University of Aberystwyth), Prof Heiko Baltzer (University of Leicester) and Dr Gina Tsarouchi (HR Wallingford). The panel focused on the advances in satellite and machine learning technology that are enabling their application in a wide range of developing world contexts – including monitoring of refugee camps in Afghanistan and increasing yields of crops in Colombia and Peru.  

The conference coincided with the launch of a series of reports which highlighted the impact and the value for money which the IPP programme delivers. 

UK Space Skills Support Sustainable Development

UK satellite-enabled data technology, delivered through UK Aid, is improving the life chances of people around the world by providing better ways to tackle global issues such as deforestation, sustainable food production and disaster response, new analysis shows. At the same time this is boosting the UK economy. 

The three reports are:

A Three-Year Progress Report authored by Caribou Space for the UK Space Agency

Economic evaluation of the IPP: Economic return to the UK by London Economics

Economic evaluation of IPP: Cost-Effectiveness Analysis by London Economics

Three new reports show that space-based solutions are:

  • 12 times more cost effective at delivering sustainable forestry
  • 7 times more cost effective in supporting agriculture
  • Twice as cost effective for ensuring disaster resilience

As well as bringing down the cost of tackling these issues and underpinning better responses for the benefit of developing countries, the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP) has generated £279 million in GVA for the UK economy and supports 3,300 jobs. In total the UK gets more than £2 of benefit back for every £1 invested in these projects.

Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “The aim of IPP is to make a positive, practical impact on the lives of those living in developing countries.

“While the UK space sector is a success story at home, generating billions of pounds for our economy and providing 42,000 jobs, these reports show it is also tackling challenges and having a positive impact on the lives of people all over the world.”

IPP, a £30 million a year programme, has now funded 33 projects in 37 countries and built partnerships between 122 space-enabled data organisations and 132 international partners in developing countries. These projects tackle UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) such as support for precision agriculture, early warning systems for disasters prediction and disease detection.

Over 2,000 people in 186 organisations have been trained to use IPP-funded solutions. Based on current trends, over 4,000 individuals in developing countries are expected to receive training via IPP by 2021.

IPP focuses on using UK space data service strengths in research and innovation to underpin a sustainable economic or societal benefit to developing economies around the world. It is part of and is funded from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF): a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government, which supports cutting-edge research and innovation on global issues affecting developing countries.

Monitoring the UN SDGs

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals set by the UN General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030. They cover a broad base of social, economic and environmental dimensions to improve peoples’ lives and protect the planet for future generations. Around the world, governments, the private sector, non-government organisations and individuals are working towards achieving the goals, as well as monitoring national progress against them.

Traditionally, monitoring of global goals such as the SDGs is a complex process, requiring intensive ground level data collection, computation and many levels of aggregations. However, in recent years, many development projects have begun to explore the use of satellites to monitor progress against the in UN SDGs. Projects have been developed using satellites to monitor air and water pollution levels, to monitor the growth of refugee camps, population trends, urban development and more. In this way, satellite information can help us to easily, remotely and often cost-efficiently report on changes to UN SDG indicators over time.

However, new programmes, including the UKSA International Partnership Programme (IPP), are going beyond using space technology to monitor the status of UN SDG indicators, and use space technology as a core delivery instrument in sustainable development projects. For an overview of the early results and impacts of IPP see the UK Space Agency’s IPP 3 Year Review.

For example:

  • Monitoring tree-cover to predict likely areas of future illegal deforestation to enable authorities to halt deforestation before it happens.
  • Monitoring weather, pests and diseases to provide targeted agricultural advice to reduce agro-chemical inputs and improve crop yields.
  • Providing small fishers with satellite enabled vessel tracking to improve search and rescue efforts in emergency situations.
  • Monitoring and predicting the impacts of natural disasters to allow first responders to better prepare for and respond to emergencies.
  • Providing more accurate renewable energy scenario planning tools to enable governments to make the transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Monitoring ‘tailings dams’, dams that contain by-products of mining operations to detect abnormal movement and mitigate risk of dam failure.
  • Monitoring marine pollution and predicting the dispersal paths of oil spills to allow for more timely, efficient and accurate clean-up efforts.

These initiatives are less focused on passively monitoring the UN SDGs and more focused on proactively contributing towards achieving them. They provide actionable intelligence for stakeholders that enables them to make proactive decisions about resource management in real time.

IPP uses Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) to answer the question of to what extent a satellite-enabled project is contributing to the SDGs. Projects have an M&E framework that is guided by UN SDG indicators which allows them to report on their contribution to relevant sustainable development targets. Reporting is done through project specific logical frameworks (logframes) which combines information from multiple sources – including satellite enabled data, ground truthing, community surveys, and government statistics – to clearly and effectively communicate project impacts. In these projects, satellite has a mixed role in SDG monitoring.

For example, in agricultural projects, the process of reporting on the productivity of food producers (UN SDG Indicator 2.3.1) is relatively straight forward but doesn’t rely on satellite data to answer the question of how crop yields have changed over time. This indicator has an internationally agreed on computation methodology for data collection and can be collected directly from the farmers and food producers that projects work with.

On the other end of the spectrum, in forestry projects, there is also an agreed methodology for calculating forest area as a proportion of total land area (SDG Indicator 15.1.1), however in this case satellites images are crucial data sources for these calculations (although the challenge of attributing forest change to a particular project is more complicated).

Typically, the reporting of data on these indicators is led by nation states, but increasingly non-state actors such as companies are playing a role and becoming an important actor in SDG monitoring. However, while companies gathering data and reporting on progress of their own contribution is a useful piece of the puzzle, it alone is not enough. Companies still lack effective mechanisms to be able to feed into national and global reporting structures for the UN SDGs. There are initiatives trying to set standards and clear processes for companies to disclose on their sustainability progress like the Global Reporting Initiative and the UN Global Compact, but none include detailed guidance on disclosure for the SDGs. At present, the best practice is for companies to set quantitative targets related to specific SDGs and disclose their activities and results publically.