A conversation with US government leaders

Planet recently participated in a virtual discussion with US government leaders focused on leveraging satellite data to improve climate resilience. Robert CardilloChief Strategist at Planet Federal and Chairman of the Board of Directors Kristen UrbanowiczSenior Geospatial Data Scientist, USAID, Kathleen WhiteDirector of the Climate Change Program, OSD ODASD (E&ER), US Department of Defense, and Chelsea Lysette Cervantes de Blois, Climate Change Specialist, US Department of State to share how their organizations are assessing climate risks and building resilience to climate change.

The essential role of satellite data and other tools in defense, development, and diplomacy

No single source of information is sufficient to identify and act on climate change, so in order to make progress in these efforts, each of the organizations represented makes use of satellite data as well as many other tools. I mentioned some examples:

  • The Department of Defense Climate Assessment Tool, maintained by White’s office, allows the team to “consider the risks of working in climate-related hazards [and] Supports our internal climate-informed decision making to help increase the resilience of our installation against climate risks,” White said.
  • Other tools cited by White include the Department of Defense’s Regional Sea-level Rise Database and the Interagency Working Group that includes the Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA, NASA, EPA, and the USGS, among others.
  • The State Department has its own Analytics Center, which Cervantes de Blois says helps achieve their goal of “using data visualizations to tell the story and convey information in a compressed format to policy makers.”

When it comes to satellite data and remotely sensed imagery, White says they “emphasize nearly everything we do, both in the operational realm and in our installation flexibility.” She continues, noting that she “monitors for changes in our operating environments, particularly due to things like extreme temperatures, extended precipitation, [and] forest fire rate.

USAID uses satellite data to complement other data analyzes and survey work. “For example,” Urbanowicz says, “in Malawi, we combine satellite data on rainfall and floods with information that comes from home surveys, to see who is most at risk. [natural hazard, health, and agricultural] shocks, why they are more vulnerable to shocks, and what that will look like in the future with climate change.”

From a diplomatic perspective, the State Department has made use of satellite data as a way to guide understanding of soil content and precipitation in Africa ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2022 (COP 27) in Egypt later this year. “In Africa specifically, we look at the Horn of Africa and the drought and rain measures,” Cervantes de Blois says. “So understanding and using satellite imagery when we don’t have access or information in the field guides us in understanding where and how we should guide climate policy plans as well as climate diplomacy when we have negotiating discussions before COP 27.”

Planet perspective

On the planet’s side, Cardillo emphasized the importance of work and the role that satellite data can play. “We are in the midst of a climate crisis. It is clearly a crisis for us, but even more so for future generations,” he says. “I am proud to be part of a team at Planet, within a broader ecosystem of many like-minded companies, nonprofits, academic institutions, and international organizations coming together – not just to learn about change, but to act.”

To learn more about how each of these organizations can leverage satellite data to make better and more informed decisions about climate change and other mission goals, watch the full video here.