EU, PH to launch P580-M pioneering space program on disaster and climate change resiliency

The European Space Agency and the Philippine Space Agency (PSA) will soon implement the € 10 million (P580 million) National Copernicus Capacity Support Action Program for the Philippines (CopPhil) to help strengthen the country’s resilience to natural disasters and climate change.

This was announced by European Union (EU) Delegation to the Philippines Ambassador Luc Véron during the recent webinar, “Beyond the Stars, Reach out to the Skies,” held on June 25.

European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Véron (EU Delegation to the Philippines)

Jointly developed by the EU and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), CopPhil is a pioneering initiative - the first and only one in the ASEAN region – that will be deployed in the third quarter of 2021.

The CopPhil’s forthcoming deployment was highlighted during the webinar where participants from both the EU and the Philippines discussed how the European space programs Copernicus and Galileo and other space technologies may help in disaster risk prevention since the Philippines is located within the ring of fire and is thus subject to volcanic and seismic instability and even strong typhoons.

Copernicus is the EU's Earth observation program offering information services on a free-to-use basis that draw from satellite Earth Observation and non-space-based data on the ground and at sea. Galileo is the EU's Global Satellite Navigation System and is also called “European GPS” as it provides accurate positioning and timing information.

European Space Agency (ESA website)

In the past, the Philippines has already benefited from the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) specifically during the recent Taal Volcano eruption and when typhoons Koppu (Lando), Mangkhut (Ompong), and Goni (Rolly) hit the country.

At the webinar, Véron cited the importance of the Earth Observation Data as a key deliverable in the context of the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

“It will directly enhance connectivity between Europe and the ASEAN region, it will respond to the immediate needs of the Philippines, and it is also an expression of our cooperation in order to mitigate the economic and human effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery,” the EU envoy said.

Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña noted that Filipino scientists and engineers have been using data and user products from Copernicus satellites through the Sentinel Australasia Regional Access (SARA) for years now. These data are used for various applications such as coastal resources management, agriculture crop monitoring and food security which provide substantial benefits to the Filipinos.

“Calamities continue to pose threat to lives and livelihoods of many Filipinos. To address these, we pursue relevant research and development programs and continue to innovate and develop STI-based solutions in order to build disaster-resilient communities while enhancing our countless coordination and response to these challenges,” he added.

At the onset of the pandemic, the Copernicus program also provided information about the impact of COVID-19 on the environment and the links between climatic conditions and the spread of the virus. Today, the EMS continues to use satellite imagery and other geospatial data to offer free mapping services in cases of natural disasters, human-made emergency situations, and humanitarian crises throughout the world.

Miguel Exposito Verdejo, Deputy Head of Unit, Directorate-General for International Partnerships of the European Commission explained that using geopositioning data from Galileo and Earth observation data from Copernicus can altogether help in many applications such as transport that can locate a vehicle without a driver in a specific area; position farming when using fertilizer to determine which crops need more nitrogen; getting medicine to remote areas, and even in the COVID-19 pandemic response.

The European Commission’s outlook, according to Esposito, is to continue to launch five sentinels missions in the next four years, renew sentinels, and try to enhance and increase cooperation to create a more robust ecosystem that provides more reliable data.

Philippine Space Agency Director-General Joel Marciano narrated how the sentinel satellites of the Copernicus program, particularly the Sentinel-1, aided in the flood damage assessment in Cagayan after the onslaught of typhoons Rolly and Ulysses by providing data and processing satellite images to detect potentially flooded areas. The Sentinel-3 also captured images before and after the Taal Volcano eruption that were used to determine the possible extent of damage on nearby areas.

The Manila Observatory, Earth Shaker Philippines, Alliance for Safe, Sustainable and Resilient Environments, and Philippine Astronomical Society supported the webinar.