EARSC showcasing Copernicus uses for Environmental Compliance Assurance

EARSC showcasing Copernicus uses for Environmental Compliance Assurance [Apr/2022]

The European Association of Remote Sensing Companies (EARSC) published its findings about the possible contribution of Copernicus Sentinels data to environmental compliance assurance. This contribution is analysed based on Sentinel data used across multiple case studies, evaluating Copernicus’ (potential) impact on implementation and enforcement of various environmental policies. This report is part of a set of cross-cutting analysis performed as part of the overarching project.

Since its creation, the environmental mission has been at the core of the Copernicus programme. By collecting vast amounts of freely and openly available data, the programme offers services to support environmental monitoring for both, the downstream industry and public actors. Through the regular provision of data, enforcement entities are enabled to properly execute European law by detecting violations fast and reliably. This is especially crucial within Europe, given the high environmental standards applied by policies within its member states. However, often Copernicus data does not need to be applied by authorities to have a positive environmental impact. Instead, the pure presence of its monitoring capabilities is found to deter potential offenders in the first place.

In detail, the use-case studies determined that Copernicus can play an environmental protection role among the entire policy cycle: Firstly, during the preparation and design of new policies Sentinel data can be used to identify the as-is situation and technical parameters applicable. Secondly, in the implementation phase, Sentinel data can assist with monitoring and compliance checks. Lastly, in the evaluation phase, Earth Observation data allows for before-and-after comparisons of areas to identify and document fundamental changes. At all stages, the Copernicus programme raises the transparency and liability of environmental impacts across and beyond Europe. An example of this can be observed in Finland, where Sentinel 2A and 2B based satellite images have been used to monitor the amount of turbidity caused by dredging of local companies. The accurate and frequent observations allowed to enforce the set maximum thresholds (except for very small dredging sites) so efficiently that the Finnish Environmental Institute now aims to increase their usage of EO services for further use cases.

With the clear up-site of Copernicus Environmental Compliance Assurance in mind, one must consider the obstacles still hindering the programme from its full potential. Besides an identified lack of awareness among interviewed stakeholders in the case studies, the EARSC highlights the legal roadblocks for utilizing satellite imagery in court. Furthermore, few EU policies actively encourage the use of Earth Observation data, which leads to untapped potential in the field. If unlocked properly, Copernicus holds the potential to even further environmental compliance assistance. A positive display of how the program can assist when enabled by EU policy is the Common Agricultural Policy offering 22 million farmers fast and widespread information on their agricultural land. Sentinel data are offered to monitor and track crop development on the fields, even displaying granular information on crop diversification, without having the need for physical visits.

For more information and access to the full EARSC study, please click here.

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