Chris Rapley addresses ministers at European Space Summit

Chris Rapley
Chris Rapley
Professor Chris Rapley (UCL Earth Sciences) called on European government ministers to use the "vantage point of space" to guide efforts to tackle climate change.

He made the remarks during a speech to the European Space Agency (ESA) Council of Ministers in his role as Chair of the European Space Sciences Committee (ESSC), Europe’s most prominent space advisory body.

The Council is ESA’s governing body and is made up of government ministers representing member states, associate states and cooperating states. During the summit, which took place in Seville, ministers endorsed ESA’s proposals to use space for a greener future, to take steps towards space exploration, and ensure autonomous access to space, while also moving towards a more competitive next generation of rocket launchers.

In his speech, Professor Rapley described how space played a pivotal role in responding to climate change. Data from satellites, he said, underpinned climate science - "without them we would be flying blind". Space exploration, meanwhile, contributed by generating "unique practical knowledge and new technologies", and "changing human perceptions of our place in the Universe".

He appealed to ministers to "ensure that the vantage point of space guides Europe and the world as we radically change course".

Professor Rapley gave a separate statement to the Council on behalf of ESSC. This focused on the need for satellites in the fight against climate change, for Europe to build its own launchers to ensure its access to space, and for the continent to be part of a "historic new era" of space exploration, with "the establishment of a permanent human presence, and potentially lucrative economy, off-planet".

Professor Rapley urged ministers to approve a "substantial uplift" in funding, adding: "Your visionary commitments can ensure that European space science and ESA flourish in their second half-century as spectacularly as they have in the first."

The summit followed a report by a high-level group of experts which recommended that ESA should embark on a revolutionary endeavour to significantly increase its autonomy in human and robotic space exploration.

The expert group included Professor Rapley and Professor Mariana Mazzucato (UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose) as well as Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO Secretary General and former Prime Minister of Denmark.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher described the report as a "wake-up call" for European leaders.

Following the summit this week, Aschbacher said: "Space today is far more than space science, robotic and human exploration. Space has become strategic for the prosperity of any nation. Space policy is climate policy, industrial policy and security policy. It is a crucial tool for addressing global challenges. Space has become a topic at the global negotiation table. Europe must actively participate in this conversation."

Professor Rapley, who is a Professor of Climate Science at UCL, was appointed Chair of the ESSC in 2020. His previous roles include the Directorships of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, British Antarctic Survey and the Science Museum. He is Chair of the UCL Climate Action Unit.

Mark Greaves

E: m.greaves [at] ucl.ac.uk
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