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Why is the Copernicus CO2 project (CoCO2) important?
Blog...Why is the Copernicus CO2 project (CoCO2) important?

Why is the Copernicus CO2 project (CoCO2) important?

Green News
satellite orbiting the Earth
In this article, we’ll explore what the Copernicus CO2 project is, its objectives, and how it fits into the existing Copernicus programme.
Green News
satellite orbiting the Earth

In its commitment to fostering a more sustainable future and upholding its obligations under the Paris Agreement and the European Green Initiative, the EU has outlined ambitious emission reduction targets. Integral to realising these targets is the European Commission's launch of the CO2 Monitoring and Verification Support capacity (CO2MVS) under its Copernicus programme. 

This initiative provides an objective mechanism to monitor human-made CO2 emissions. By offering consistent and reliable data, the CO2MVS serves as a foundational tool for shaping informed policy decisions, ensuring that the EU's sustainability vision translates into tangible action at both national and European levels.

👉 In this article we’ll explore what the Copernicus CO2 project is, its objectives, and how it fits into the existing Copernicus programme.

What is the Copernicus CO2 project?

According to the Copernicus website “The CoCO2 project will build the prototype systems for a European Monitoring and Verification Support capacity for anthropogenic CO2  emissions (CO2MVS)”.

Put simply, the Copernicus CO2 project is a specialised component of the broader Copernicus programme. Its primary purpose is to equip the European Union with a system to autonomously evaluate how its member states are progressing in meeting their carbon emissions targets by monitoring the CO2 they emit.

It’s hoped that by accurately measuring the emissions released, the EU and member states will be able to make more informed decisions regarding policy. It will also help to facilitate the move towards a low-carbon economy and the fulfilment of commitments under the Paris Agreement. 

👉 To learn more about the Paris Agreement and its targets, why not check out our article.

What is Copernicus?

The Copernicus CO2 project (otherwise known as CoCO2) forms part of the overarching Copernicus programme. Copernicus is an EU programme that is managed by the European Commission, and implemented in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), and other EU Agencies. 

Copernicus is the Earth observation component of the European Union’s Space programme. The overall objective of Copernicus is to “monitor and forecast the state of the environment on land, sea and in the atmosphere, in order to support climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, the efficient management of emergency situations and the improvement of the security of every citizen”. 

The information gathered from both satellite data and non-space data provides information to service providers, public authorities, and international organisations. The information services provided are free and openly accessible.

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Copernicus satellites

In addition to non-space data provided by ground-based, airborne, and seaborne measurement systems, the Copernicus project is also served by a fleet of satellites known as the Sentinel satellites. This is supplemented by additional satellites run by a variety of different commercial and national agencies. 

The first satellite to be launched as part of the Copernicus programme was Sentinel-1A, which was launched back in 2014. The EU has an aim to launch a fleet of nearly 20 by 2030.

The existing fleet has the current capabilities: 

  • Sentinel-1 (twin satellites) - Captures all-weather imagery of the Earth’s surfaces, both day and night. It monitors sea ice and icebergs, glaciers, ice sheets and ice caps, oil spills, marine winds and waves, land-use changes, deforestation etc. The application of this data is far-reaching and includes uses such as: monitoring sea ice decline, mapping forests, and understanding natural events (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc.). 
  • Sentinel-2 (twin satellites) - Captures high-res images of land and coastal areas. Examples of images captured include soil and water cover, waterways, and vegetation. This data is used for forest management, water quality monitoring, disaster mapping, and ecosystem monitoring. 
  • Sentinel-3 (twin satellites) - Using optical, radar, and altimetry (the measurement of altitude) instruments, this satellite measures the Earth’s oceans, land, rivers and lakes, land ice, sea ice, and atmosphere, to measure and understand long term global dynamics. Data captured includes sea-surface topography, sea and land surface temperature, and ocean and land colour. 
  • Sentinel-4 - This satellite is due for launch in 2024 and will monitor air quality, trace gases, and aerosols over Europe. 
  • Sentinel-5 - Much like Sentinel-4, this satellite will also be focused on atmospheric composition monitoring. It will be able to provide accurate measurements of gases in the atmosphere, including ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, formaldehyde, and aerosol properties. This satellite is also due for launch in 2024. 
  • Sentinel-5P - This satellite was launched in 2017 and is intended as a stopgap until Sentinel-5 is launched. 
  • Sentinel-6 - Captures altimetry data (i.e. measures altitude) to provide highly accurate measurements of global sea levels. Additionally, the satellite is able to capture data on temperature and moisture in the troposphere and stratosphere. 

👉 To read more about the various ways in which space science is helping to expand our understanding of climate change, take a look at our article.

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Copernicus Missions and Expansion Missions

The Sentinel fleet of satellites helps to inform the 6 Copernicus Services, which are: 

  • The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service
  • The Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service
  • The Copernicus Land Monitoring Service 
  • The Copernicus Climate Change Service
  • The Copernicus Emergency Management Service 
  • The Copernicus Security Service 

In addition to these services, six new high-priority missions (known as Copernicus Expansion Missions) are also being developed to expand the capabilities of the Copernicus project. These include: 

  • Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission (CHIME) - This mission aims to complement Sentinel-2 by providing additional data to support new and enhanced services for sustainable agriculture and biodiversity management. 
  • Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer (CIMR) - This mission will provide observations of sea surface temperature, sea-ice concentration, and sea-surface salinity, alongside other sea-ice data. 
  • Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter (CRISTAL) - This mission will help us to better understand climate processes by monitoring sea-ice thickness and snow depth. It will be able to measure changes in ice and glaciers. 
  • Copernicus Land Surface Temperature Monitoring (LSTM) - This mission will provide measurements of land-surface temperature to help understand climate variability, manage water resources, predict droughts, and address land degradation.
  • L-band Synthetic Aperture RAda (ROSE) - This mission will complement the data captured by Sentinel-1. It will aid with forest management by monitoring subsidence and soil moisture. 
  • Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring (CO2M) - This mission will capture carbon dioxide produced by human activity, providing the EU with an independent and accurate source of information, which will help to decarbonise Europe.
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The Copernicus CO2 Service

Two satellites are being developed as part of the Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring mission. The two satellites will feature a near-infrared and shortwave-infrared spectrometer that measures atmospheric carbon dioxide at high spatial resolution - i.e. equipment that delivers highly detailed and accurate measurements of carbon dioxide. 

This independent source of data on carbon dioxide levels across Europe will enable the European Union to better track efforts to decarbonise across Europe and to make more informed policy decisions to facilitate this transition. 

The data provided by these two satellites will be used by the new CO2M Monitoring and Verification Support Capacity, which is currently under development by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. This will help to improve the accuracy of carbon dioxide emissions estimates resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels at local, national, and regional levels.

When will the CO2M satellites be launched? 

The two satellites are set to be launched in 2026 and will orbit for a duration of 7.5 years (with the possibility of this being extended to 12 years).

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How will the data be used?

The CO2MVS method uses a mix of real-world data (like satellite observations) and pre-existing knowledge (like estimated CO2 emissions) to understand how CO2 behaves in our atmosphere. This is done by combining this data with detailed computer models. These models look at where CO2 comes from, where it goes, and how it moves around in the air. 

To ensure accuracy, the CO2MVS uses a specific mathematical approach (called Bayesian estimation) that helps account for any uncertainties in the data and models. This approach tries to minimise any errors by balancing observations, prior knowledge, and computer models. This mathematical method is similar to what's been used successfully in other fields, like predicting the weather or forecasting air quality. The main goal of all this is to precisely estimate human-made CO2 emissions at different levels.

However, the CO2MVS has two main challenges to tackle. First, the observations don't directly show human-made CO2 emissions. Second, the signs of these emissions are very faint compared to natural CO2 movements between the land, ocean, and atmosphere. To handle these issues, the CO2MVS uses advanced computer models that mimic what we can observe based on given or predicted emissions. These computer models then adjust these emissions based on real observations while staying true to the known science. It's essential for these models to be thorough and detailed so they can correctly represent everything affecting the observed data.


Why is it important to measure CO2 emissions?

Accurately measuring CO2 emissions, at global, regional, and national levels, is imperative for understanding and combating climate change. CO2 is a major greenhouse gas, contributing significantly to the Earth's rising temperatures and resultant adverse environmental effects. 

Without precise measurements, it becomes challenging to ascertain the magnitude of human impact, develop effective mitigation strategies, or monitor the progress of interventions aimed at emission reductions. At a global and regional scale, such accurate data helps in creating models that forecast future climate scenarios and in developing coordinated international strategies to address those challenges. 

Nationally, precise measurements guide policy formulation, enabling governments to set realistic targets, implement appropriate regulations, and allocate resources efficiently. In essence, without a clear understanding of our emissions, we are navigating the vast and complex climate challenge blindly.

👉 To learn more about carbon emissions and their impact, head over to our article on the topic.

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Looking forward

The Copernicus CO2 project underscores the EU's commitment to combating climate change by providing detailed and accurate measurements of human-made CO2 emissions. Accurate tracking of these emissions is imperative for a multitude of reasons.

Perhaps most importantly is that it empowers the EU and its member states to make data-driven policy decisions, ensuring that efforts to transition to a low-carbon economy are effectively implemented. As the challenges of climate change become increasingly pressing, having reliable data on CO2 emissions becomes crucial. The CO2MVS, with its blend of real-world observations and sophisticated computer models, offers an invaluable tool in this endeavour. This precision in measuring emissions not only aids in verifying the EU's progress towards its ambitious sustainability goals but also ensures that policies and strategies implemented are genuinely effective in reducing emissions and combating climate change.

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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