Earth observation (EO) can be an important tool in closing the data gap for the SDGs, because earth observation data are very timely, cost efficient, can be collected remotely and cover big areas. These aspects are important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic with regard to remote data collection and limited resources following the economic recession. In Afghanistan, satellite-based earth observation assisted researchers in generating new population estimates around 38 years after the last census. A census had previously not been possible due to high costs as well as security risks. Even though these estimates cannot replace comprehensive censuses, they are essential for planning and delivering services or responding to disasters. Moreover, up to 98 SDG indicators require population data to be calculated.
Across all of the SDGs, satellite-based earth observation can support the achievement of 73 SDG targets and the measurement of 34 SDG indicators according to the European Space Agency (ESA). Data are a key element of sustainable development governance. If policy decisions in the context of crises are not based on valid data, there is a risk that political interventions will be "blind" to actual priorities and needs. EO plays a central role in the agricultural sector and provides, for example, data on cultivated areas, irrigation, and cultivated grains. It can thus support measures for food security and increase productivity in the agricultural sector. EO supports low-emission urban development, for example by providing information on flood risks, green spaces, and the urban climate. Earth-observing satellites can also be used to collect data on access to infrastructure, such as hospitals or schools. Earth observation provides data on changes in the atmosphere, land loss, land use, plant cultures, forests, and ice cover – and thus important information for adapting to climate change and protectingbiodiversity. Finally, EO provides governments and companies with the data required to manage energy resources more effectively. It can also provide valuable information for evaluating the potential of renewable energy and forecasting fluctuations in hydropower, solar, ocean and wind energy sources. In these policy areas, the use of earth observation data has become indispensable.
Using Earth Observation to Support Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Brazil
In Brazil, one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, banks are mandated by law to lend at least 35% of their deposits to the agriculture sector. Agriculture credit is the main policy instrument used by the government to influence farmers' production: in the 2019-2020 crop cycle alone, Brazilian banks provided approximately 58 billion USD in agricultural loans to farmers. However, in many cases, these agricultural credits are used to finance illegal clearing of forest land.
Thanks to a cooperation with ESA kickstarted with support from the 2030 Implementation Initiative, the Central Bank of Brazil is now using high resolution satellite imagery and automatic software analysis provided from the EO service provider GeoVille to track the use of these agricultural loans. The data collected about agricultural land, crop types, sowing and harvesting times are used to monitor compliance with climate zoning guidelines and the protection of areas under environmental embargos. The use of EO in Brazil has proven to be a cost-effective and reliable approach to support compliance with sustainable agricultural practices.