Measurement for our planet
Measurement for our planet

Following COP26, discover how NPL plays a key role in enabling climate action through the delivery of accurate, reliable data that supports decision making and enables low carbon innovation.

NPL at COP26

Richard Barker, Head of Energy and Environment

The annual climate Conference of the Parties (COP) has now finished in Glasgow. With some Covid measures in place it was never going to be a normal COP, so it was difficult to know what to expect. 

For those that don’t know, COP is organised into two zones, the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. The Blue Zone is where the negotiations happen and all the serious meetings, events and discussions that inform the negotiations, whether directly or indirectly. The Green Zone is generally about public engagement and in Glasgow it was located just across the Clyde from the Blue Zone in the Science Centre.   

NPL had a presence throughout COP26 in the Green Zone with Space4Climate, so when I arrived in Glasgow, I headed straight there for the first of three days. Within these first three days we had two major announcements related to work we are doing in Earth Observation (EO). The first was the UK/French mission, MicroCarb, which is a joint mission between the UK Space Agency and their French counterparts CNES.  In the latest phase, an additional £3.9 million has been allocated to the mission, which is due to launch in 2023 and will be the first European satellite dedicated to measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from all around the world. This additional funding will allow us here at NPL to apply metrological principles to the measured CO2 concentrations, fluxes, sources and sinks through understanding how instrument and observation aspects contribute to the data use.  

The second announcement came the following day from the European Space Agency (ESA) in the Blue Zone, this time the focus was on the NPL-conceived TRUTHS mission. The mission is making significant progress and the announcement at COP26 provided more details about what the mission will actually look like.  

By then it was time to head to the UK Science Pavilion for the event “The power of data in decision-making and for public understanding of climate change”, during which Sir Ian Diamond, the UK National Statistician, referred to the work we are doing together on emissions measurement. Stephen Belcher, the Chief Scientist of the Met Office, also explained why we need an emissions observation system in the UK in his presentation at the “How can science help the world halt climate change” event. Understanding and having confidence in the data is key to decision making and having “real-time” observations-based estimates of emissions, which are critical to address the more demanding requirements that net zero brings, would provide UK government, industry and citizens with the near real time data that is needed to act with confidence in delivering net zero. 

An integrated bottom-up and top-down stance on measurement is more suited to a systems approach to net zero. Systems approaches recognise the inherent uncertainty in the outcomes of interwoven policies or innovations. This in turn demands a more responsive and adaptive approach to what is working or not. Robust, stable evidence mechanisms that can outlive any specific policy or innovation, ensure progress on the bigger picture can be tracked, irrespective of specific outcomes, and also ensure the mitigation of new risks. This will be key to our success.  

A common theme throughout the two weeks of COP was data. A panel discussion in the Green Zone in the second week focused on changing consumer behaviour and the positive choices we can all make focused on the massive amount of data, data science and machine learning that is applied across industry. This data is used to learn, cater and drive their businesses to improve and meet net zero targets and every representative on the panel reinforced that they use data to understand consumer behaviour, supply chains, business locations, products and manufacturing processes, which is analysed and used to enable improvements.  

We also ran our own panel sessions with NPL experts in space and climate. Engaging with the public to highlight the importance of the data we receive from EO satellites. The recently released ‘National Space Strategy’, which states the UK will not reach its goal of net zero emissions by 2050 without a clear understanding of how climate change is impacting the Earth, sets out a vision for how the UK will become one of the world’s leading space economies and aims to guide crucial decision making and investments. The UK strives to remain at the forefront of EO technology and know-how, including by participating in Copernicus, and through missions such as TRUTHS. 

In the run-up to and during COP26, we deployed a network of sensors across Glasgow, alongside partner organisations, to monitor levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including methane (CH4) and CO2 in the city’s air. A subsequent meeting was held at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow to discuss how to meet GHGs and air quality targets through real-time measurement.   

We also took part in the UK Universities Network run Innovation Showcase via our Postgraduate Institute, the opening talk was given by NPL and focused on the importance of measurement and monitoring to tackle climate change.  

It has been a fortnight of intense activity not just for us at NPL but for all involved in the negotiations and events. Now is the time for action and the role of metrology to ensure accuracy, stability and coherency of climate data that assures progress has never been so important.  

Find out more about Measurement for Our Planet

18 Nov 2021