Written Evidence Submitted by Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data
About the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and reason for submission
- The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (Global Partnership) network is made up of hundreds of members across a range of sectors, data communities, issues, and regions. Our network is a community of organizations interested and/or working in the data for development space. We come together to break down barriers and silos, meet collaborators, share learnings, and advocate for data-driven policymaking. The UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office is one of our major donors.
- We’re submitting evidence as part of this inquiry because we work closely with UK-based organisations and stakeholders to meet the data needs of governments around the world. We deploy earth observations technology to fight critical global issues like climate change, in partnership with organisations like the UK Space Agency, Space4Climate, Office of National Statistics, Royal Meteorological Society, and more. With deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges for the UK space sector internationally, we wanted to share our insights and highlight the role of international cooperation in achieving Britain’s objectives.
- The UK Space program is a fantastic global asset, with deep expertise in how space technology can help achieve global shared prosperity and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From quality jobs in Scotland, to climate mitigation and adaptation in all corners of the world, there’s a real opportunity to invest in the future. National programs should be complemented by a strong international engagement approach. For the development agenda, international partnerships play a critical role in ensuring that programs are financially sustainable, well-governed and ethical, and achieve critical development issues like the SDGs.
What are the prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation, individually and through international partnerships?
- The UK space industry has great potential to help achieve global shared ambitions, like the greening of the financial services sector and the Sustainable Development Goals. With this potential comes increased complexity in understanding how space technology can be deployed, what the user needs are around the world, and how the satellite/space market is evolving. There are technical, language and cultural barriers in navigating this complexity that can lead to technology solutions not being very useful, overly expensive, or rooted in unsustainable business models.
- International partnerships can help overcome these barriers. For one, the UK Space Agency’s International Partnerships Program has historically funded such partnerships and should continue doing so on a greater scale. The role of specialist partnership organisations like the Global Partnership and the London Climate Change Partnership should not be understated, for tapping into existing cooperation mechanisms, understanding the market, and adopting best practices for deep-seated uptake of space-based technology and expertise.
- The UK is in a good position to deploy its space industry to tackle pressing global issues and unlock economic opportunities for domestic businesses. Scotland is the top producer of satellites in Europe and the industry is already worth £14 billion annually. This market is set to grow rapidly. Globally, there are 446 earth observing satellites currently in orbit, while in total, an additional 8,500 are forecast to launch 2019-2028. This growth is largely driven by the ability of small satellites to ride-share on launching rockets.
- As such, it will be important for the UK space industry to develop, or have good access to, full technological infrastructure. For instance, US-based company SpaceX is dominating the global market for ride-sharing rocket launches – its Falcon-9 mission in early 2021 launched a record-breaking 143 small satellites. International cooperation agreements should facilitate space sector partnerships and reduced costs for launching British/British-made satellites.
- The UK is also negotiating access to the EU Space Programme, which includes the European Space Agency’s Sentinel missions. These missions feed data into programs like the Copernicus Climate Change Initiative, which provides publicly available, analysis-ready data at high resolutions. The Copernicus program is a world-leading initiative and has already seen 8.2 billion EUR invested. UK-based organisations strongly benefit from this program, particularly from developing value-added services (eg, developing tools and solutions for decision-making using free data). With limited access to the EU Space Programme, UK-based organisations would have more limited opportunities to access data, shape the trajectory of the Programme and play a convening role in defining a set of standards for international and outer-space governance.
- There’s strong leadership from the UK on the climate finance agenda, including better disclosure and management of climate risk. The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures is a world-leading framework; the June 2021 G7 meeting saw calls from finance ministers to make the framework compulsory. The space sector has a key role to play here – financial institutions need space-based information to assess the sustainability credentials of their portfolio, like emissions monitoring and impact investing potential.
- The UK Centre for Greening Finance & Investment is a leader in making space-based data usable by the financial services sector. They do so by building the capacity of financial services companies and developing specialised datasets like asset-level data (eg, mines, oil stockpiles) – so far these datasets have been based on data from the EU Space Programme. Advances in this sector will need higher-resolution data with more sensors (eg, for monitoring smaller assets like factories for a wider range of risks). Scotland’s leadership on small satellite development can lead to such advances.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current UK space sector and research and innovation base?
Some of the UK space sector’s strengths include:
- Based on discussions with representatives of the UK space industry through organisations like Space4Climate, the sector has a unique value proposition internationally regarding the quality of data, services and expertise. This is important for developing compelling and competitive value-added services, especially when based on public data like the European Copernicus Climate Change Initiative.
- This is an emerging theme internationally. Many British organisations are involved in creating better standards for climate data and services. For example, the Royal Meteorological Society is leading efforts to develop professional accreditation schemes for climate services. Organisations like Ordnance Survey and Space4Climate are leading efforts to develop an ethics framework for climate data. These efforts are important for creating a race to the top in the space industry and playing a convening role internationally, so that ethical risks and privacy are fully considered in any data-driven decision-making.
- The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures is a world-leading framework to quantify climate risk and unlock sustainable development in the financial services sector. It’s supported by initiatives like the UK Centre for Greening Finance & Investment, which makes it easier for the financial services industry to use space-based data for the greening of the global financial system.
Some of the UK space sector’s weaknesses include:
Targeting of aid and interventions
- The FCDO’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy highlighted the need to use insight and analysis from around the world to target diplomatic interventions overseas more effectively and to inform the full breadth of domestic policy. There is some way to go in making that a reality – British expertise is not maximised for evidence-based targeting of interventions, government institutions are struggling to coordinate given mergers and organisational changes, and international partnerships remain underutilized for understanding needs on the ground.
Development program sustainability and funding
- Programs for using space technology to achieve the SDGs (eg, for climate mitigation and adaptation) are underfunded, particularly with cuts to international aid budgets. There is greater focus on commercial solutions and cost-recovery, but the costs associated with accessing British technology and expertise remain too high for many international partners. Many governments around the world struggle to use British data, services and expertise, and are unable to create sound business cases for their own funding, particularly with the economic impact of Covid-19.
Unclear involvement in EU Space Programme
- The UK is still negotiating its involvement in the EU Space Programme, the potential agreement to be in place until 2027. Beyond that, it’s unclear what the scope of the program will be from the EU perspective, and it’s unclear whether the UK will continue participation. This creates uncertainty for British organisations wishing to capitalise on this data (eg, through pro bono and commercial products and services) or integrate the data in operations (eg, within the FCDO for targeting interventions). There is also misalignment with the 2030 SDGs agenda meaning development programs will end before the agenda can be realised.
What should be the aims and focus of a new UK Space Strategy?
- The UK Space Agency should secure participation in the EU Space Programme beyond 2027, so that British organisations can focus on creating value added solutions and services for international assistance and business opportunities. This would align with the 2030 SDGs agenda so programs can provide full support to achieving the global goals, evaluate successes, and shape the next development agenda. It would also give the UK influence in the future development of the EU Space Programme. For sustainable development programmes like the UK Space Agency’s International Partnerships Program, funding cycles should align with EU funding for the Space Programme and the SDGs. This would allow international partners and organisations to deeply embed space-enabled technology solutions to achieve the SDGs, while having greater clarity on program sustainability.
- More international cooperation would also better enable the UK to play a convening role internationally around data and space governance by developing strong relationships with key players. As the data and technology sectors grow at an exceptional pace, there is increasing need for better regulation, privacy, and citizen protection. This extends to outer space too. While there’s unprecedented growth in satellites launched, it’s unclear which satellites are launched, by whom and for what purposes – potentially a major security threat.
- The UK government should foster the development of the small satellites sector in the North of the country, and particularly in Scotland. There is great potential to align with British leadership on climate finance, so that the space sector supports financial services companies to fight climate risk in their portfolios and invest in sustainable development. Advances in the small satellite sector would spur advances in climate finance, with better data for evaluating more sectors for a wider set of sustainability considerations. The small satellites sector would need strong access to rocket launching infrastructure – SpaceX’s current market domination creates both competition and opportunities for space partnerships with the US.
Skills and diversity
- The UK government should encourage participation from under-represented communities in the space sector, including women, ethnic minorities, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, persons with disabilities, and re-skilled professionals (eg, those made redundant).
- Any data and technology solutions designed by British organisations should be designed in an inclusive and responsible way, which ultimately leads to better uptake of solutions. This is especially true in international development, where a lack of stakeholder inclusion and systems thinking can lead to unsustainable programs. For example, many data for development programs end after the initial funding period because the political and community engagement foundations weren’t established – governments are unwilling to maintain programs for evidence-based decisions, and citizen trust hasn’t been established for effective policy change. While it’s not possible for British organisations to deeply engage in all corners of the world, partnership organisations like the Global Partnership play a critical supporting role.
- For instance, from the Global Partnership’s experience, political engagement is critical for the success of any technology for development program – this takes time, commitment, and funding. We developed the Africa Regional Data Cube with NASA, which is essentially an earth observations solution for environmental management. The foundations we laid means that the tool continues to be useful, for example to save endangered rhinos in Kenya. The UK Space Agency’s strategy should focus on deep international engagement and make the most of partnerships to achieve that.
Research funding, investment and economic growth
- The UK government, in establishing the British space sector as a global leader, should focus more on deep stakeholder engagement, whether for commercial or international assistance purposes. For international development, the users of data and technology solutions need to be meaningfully engaged, so that solutions are ultimately more likely to be useful and financially sustainable beyond initial funding. The role of partnership organisations in international stakeholder engagement cannot be understated, by helping to aggregate needs, establish long-term governance frameworks and scale best practices from other countries and organisations.
- Professionals in the sector should be given the opportunity to understand the international space market from first-hand experience. This could include international work placement programs in strategic countries, as well as funding as part of academic programs to engage local communities in any internationally focused research projects (eg, Arctic research and engagement with Indigenous communities). This should particularly cater to under-represented professionals in the UK space sector, who may face greater barriers in accessing these types of international opportunities (eg, women, ethnic minorities, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, persons with disabilities, and re-skilled professional).