Blog

Remote [Common] Sensing for climate resilience



A dictionary definition of common sense says it is “The basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way”. And that is at the heart of what one project in the IPP portfolio – ‘CommonSensing’ – is doing in partnership with the Pacific island nations of Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Among many others, these Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are at the frontline of the devastating effects of climate change; indeed, as I write this, Pacific SIDS are being savaged by Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold. Therefore, the immediate threat posed by climate change requires a global effort to not only help them recover from such devastating weather events in the short term, but also to become more resilient in future.

‘CommonSensing’ is using satellite remote sensing technology to help Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu with improved food security, disaster risk reduction and better access to international climate finance. Led by the United Nations’ Institute of Training and Research’s (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), and with a consortium of partners including the Satellite Applications Catapult, Commonwealth Secretariat and University of Portsmouth, the project is in its third year, has provided technical training to a large variety of government representatives (policymakers), and is on track to deliver the agreed satellite and geospatial solutions.

In November, a small project team, accompanied by UKSA representatives, capitalised on being in-region for the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Ministerial in Canberra by adding on a visit to meet with ‘CommonSensing’ stakeholders in Fiji. The weather was typical for that time of year – warm but rained heavily most days – so the delegation had a taste of how severe weather events suffered by so many SIDS (Small Island Developing States) around the world, exacerbated by climate change, can devastate infrastructure, crops and livelihoods.

UKSA and CommonSensing Team Visit to Fiji

The team met with a variety of stakeholders, including the British High Commissioner and a press conference hosted by the Permanent Secretary for Economy, to discuss climatic issues faced by Fiji (and other SIDS) and how ‘CommonSensing’ data will provide their government with more reliable information for better decision making, ultimately enhancing their probability of securing international climate finance. But what really struck us was how every person we met – from taxi drivers and hotel staff to senior government officials – was gravely concerned about rising sea levels and hugely valued the support being provided through programmes such as IPP.

We also visited two coastal villages and were invited to join traditional ‘kava’ ceremonies at each, during which the elders informed us of the issues faced on a daily basis due to rising sea and rainwater levels, and the defensive work being done to avoid these longstanding communities having to leave their homes permanently and move inland. We saw two different types of flood gates in place which seem to be highly effective in holding back seawater. However, such installations require significant national/international investment and are not always as extensive as they need to be; in one of the villages visited the local school was just metres from the beach and totally open to the elements. It was clear that further funding and better data to inform government planning are in urgent need.

Coastal Defences in Fiji

The visit was also an opportunity to meet with the Fijian in-country representative (‘CommonSensing’ has recruited one for each of the targeted SIDS in addition to Climate Finance Advisors). Having such resource in place is a major advantage for IPP projects as they provide local knowledge and expertise, ensure ongoing engagement with key stakeholders and, through this, can often open doors which would not be accessible by the external project team.

Pacific SIDS are involved in another IPP project – ‘RE-SAT’ – which is delivering a Renewable Space Analytics Tool. IPP’s third competition also included a strategic call targeting Pacific SIDS in partnership with Australia and news on that will be released soon.

UK Space Agency – Covid-19 Sector Awareness Survey & Fortnightly Webinar



UK Space Agency – Covid-19 Sector Awareness Survey & Fortnightly Webinar

This an update on the UK Space Agency’s plans to support the space sector to mitigate and recover from the impact of COVID-19. This is our highest priority, and several dedicated teams are now working across the Agency to provide immediate business support and develop a longer-term recovery plan.

Weekly Sector Awareness Survey

We have partnered with UKspace to understand how space companies are being impacted by COVID-19 through a regular weekly survey, open to all UK-based space organisations. It is vital we capture the full breadth of the sector through this process, so we can understand how severe the impact is, specific issues that you are encountering, and what additional support we can provide.

As the government moves its thinking from crisis response to long-term recovery, it will allocate support to those sectors that can clearly articulate what they require.  This weekly survey will be the route through which the UK Space Agency can advocate on behalf of the space sector, and inform what targeted support and funding we can directly offer to industry.

This survey is open to all UK-based space organisations and takes ten minutes to complete, once a week. Please register for access through UKspace’s COVID-19 Portal.

COVID-19 Fortnightly Webinar

A series of COVID-19 Webinars will provide an update on how UK space companies and academia are being impacted by the pandemic, as well as the latest advice, information, and resources available. You will also have the opportunity to engage directly with senior leadership from government and industry and share how COVID-19 is impacting your organisation.

They are open to anyone working in a UK-based space sector organisation. The next webinar takes place on Thursday 14 May from 2.00pm. Please click here to register.

These webinars are hosted in partnership between the UK Space Agency, the Department for International Trade, UKspace, the Satellite Applications Catapult, ESA, ADS and the Satellite Finance Network.

Additional Queries

If you have any additional queries, please use one of the channels below:

In addition to the channels above, you can always the IPP inbox (ipp@ukspaceagency.gov.uk) with any programme/project enquiries.

Covid-19 and the International Partnership Programme



As a funding agency, it is necessary for the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to assess the impact of COVID-19 on all our programmes.

We have initially focused on ensuring that UKSA has the necessary staff, capacity and processes in place to continue to offer a service in terms of monitoring projects and funding our programmes; in parallel the International Partnership Programme (IPP) team has engaged with project leads (primes) to fully understand the challenges they are likely to face over coming months (3, 6, >6-month period) and impacts on respective project progress.

Based on these early discussions, UKSA remains committed to the continuation of IPP and collaboration with partner countries during this unprecedented period. As a result, the IPP team is adopting a ‘business as usual’ approach for the next 3 months.

The IPP team is working flexibly with respective project Primes and partners (who have diverted efforts to home-based tasks and virtual meetings) to address any COVID-related issues/delays.  All projects are being asked to inform the IPP team as soon as any issues arise to discuss options.  This applies to Call 3 projects too, where the IPP team is working closely with Primes to understand any issues with a view to placing grants as soon as possible but accepting there will be delays due to COVID.  Due to these delays it is unlikely we will be releasing a public statement in May confirming which Call 3 projects have been placed on grant; however all Call 3 projects who have been selected are already working with IPP, and all unsuccessful Call 3 applicants have been made aware and have received feedback on their proposals. 

Additionally, please note that the UK Space Agency is working in partnership with the space sector’s trade body, UKspace, to collect information on how the sector is being affected. If you are encountering any difficulties or require more information, please click here: https://www.ukspace.org/space-sector-covid19-surveys/.

With thanks for your cooperation, and best wishes to you all,

IPP team

METEOR: Modelling Exposure Through Earth Observation Routines



METEOR is a UK Space Agency International Partnership (IPP) project addressing the poor understanding, in some ODA countries, of population exposure to multiple natural hazards. With that in mind, METEOR is co-developing satellite-based Earth Observation (EO) routines to deliver robust information on population exposure and its vulnerability to multi-hazards including earthquakes, flooding, landslides and volcanoes. 

This project is led by the British Geological Survey (BGS) in partnership with the National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal (NSET), the Disaster Management Department of the Prime Minister’s Office of Tanzania (DMD), the Global Earthquake Model Foundation (GEM), ImageCat, FATHOM, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) and Oxford Policy Management (OPM). 

To date the project has delivered: classification schemes for building exposure and population, loss data fragility models, national hazard footprints for Nepal (seismic, flood, landslide) and Tanzania (seismic, flood, volcanic) and a methodology for integrating multi-hazards with exposure data.

Frequent meetings of the consortium have improved the outputs of the project, and encourage knowledge exchange and co-development. A recent meeting of project partners in Nepal also included two stakeholder events – one aimed at policymakers and another for technical users. In these sessions, we discussed the methods employed to collect the exposure data from EO techniques and to aggregate these with ground-based surveys (led by Ramani Huria for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team in Tanzania and Kathmandu Living Labs in Nepal). We also discussed the national hazard footprints and received valuable feedback on their usability. 

In the coming months, METEOR will deliver national exposure data for both Nepal and Tanzania, as well as exposure data for all of the remaining LDC ODA countries (at a lower resolution). We will also provide multi-hazard assessments for both Tanzania and Nepal using the framework developed in this project, as well as developing training materials for the various METEOR outputs. The METEOR data and methods are being made openly available through online portals. More information about METEOR can be found at https://meteor-project.org.

Policy stakeholder workshop in Kathmandu, November 2019

Meet satellite technology’s latest sector: How space tech can be used in financial services



While satellites capable of imaging the Earth have been in orbit for decades, the space sector is now undergoing a revolution. Due to advances in manufacturing techniques and innovation in space technology, there is an abundance of satellites imaging the Earth’s surface, providing an increase in Earth Observation [EO] data. Crucially, some of this new data is being provided to users free of charge. The parallel revolution in computer processing power and data science has allowed software to handle and automatically process EO data to extract insights. As costs fall and analytical products and platforms mature, space solutions will increasingly provide the opportunity to tackle numerous global development challenges. 

Satellite technology is now frequently used in disaster preparedness and response and in monitoring various environmental conditions such as in forestry and agriculture. While these sectors are more mature in their use of space technology, other sectors are taking note of the potential of the low-cost, high-coverage, repeatable and global nature of EO data in particular and of the capabilities of SatComms. Finance is one of those sectors. 

Caribou Space, in partnership with the UKSA International Partnership Programme [IPP] conducted research that explored the current applications of space technology to increase access to affordable financial products to customers in developing countries. Through interviewing organisations at the forefront of developing and providing financial services using space technology the report explores a number of use cases for insurance, credit and payments, including: 

  • Risk modelling to inform insurance policies 
  • Insurance and loan portfolio monitoring and risk mitigation 
  • Design of efficient index-based insurance products
  • Remote decision making on verification of insurance claims
  • Remote decision-making on credit risk profile
  • Satellite communication enabling payments and transactions in remote areas 

Through an analysis of these use cases – a number of themes around the use of space technology for financial services are discussed i.e. which sectors, types financial services and business models are dominant. 

Lastly the report reflects on what is the impact on both business and financial service users, when space technology is used. 

While using Space technology for financial services is comparatively new, it is clear that space technology offers advantages in areas where other sources of information are limited. The analysis presented in this report provide a perspective and a path forward to leveraging space technology in financial services. The future is bright for space technology in the finance sector, and now is the time to seize this opportunity. Access the report here. 

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.