Four-nation space project involving UAE could aid climate change fight

US official speaks to The National about plans for new project focused on combating problems back on Earth

The Orion spacecraft prepares for launch at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Nasa / EPA
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The future of the fight against climate change and food security could be out of this world: the UAE, the US, India and Israel are teaming up on a new space-based project that will shape the way the world responds to these and other pressing issues.

Jose Fernandez, US Undersecretary of State for economic growth, energy and the environment, spoke to The National about plans for the project, which he said will provide vast amounts of data that will help countries tackle the effects of global warming.

“This project will be grounded in the principle of open access to scientific data for the benefit of all humanity,” he explained, adding that the I2U2 partners have established a working-level group on the project that is set to meet soon to discuss priorities.

“This group will advance multi-regional co-operation and investment opportunities, forging partnerships to tackle some of the region's most pressing issues, including managing the energy crisis and addressing food insecurity.”

In July of last year, the UAE, the US, India and Israel established an international partnership – I2U2 – focused on economic co-operation across seven sectors: food security, water, energy, transport, health, technology and space.

All members are also signatories of the Artemis Accords, an arrangement between world governments participating in the American-led effort to return humans to the Moon by 2025, with the ultimate goal of expanding space exploration.

On the sidelines of this year's UN General Assembly in New York, the group launched a special projects initiative, as the four nations work to encourage international partnership in mobilising private sector capital, modernising infrastructure and promoting green technology.

“Primarily using the space-based observation data and capabilities of the four I2U2 partner countries, this project aims to create a unique space-based tool for policymakers, institutions and entrepreneurs, enabling their work on environmental and climate change challenges and furthering our co-operation in the applications of space data for the greater good of humanity,” the US State Department said.

Mr Fernandez was light on the characteristics of the new programme, but was optimistic about its projected results.

“Details of the co-operation are still being developed. We are planning a joint declaration that will outline how, what and where data will be shared and analysed,” he said.

“We view this as a significant opportunity to combine our efforts in tackling the climate crisis.”

The UAE has been making great strides in space exploration over the past few years. The country's first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, travelled to the International Space Station in 2019, the Hope probe to Mars was launched in 2020 and the probe went into orbit around the Red Planet in 2021.

Most recently, Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi returned from a six-month mission to the ISS where he carried out a number of scientific experiments and became the first person from the Arab world to perform a spacewalk.

The Emirates plans to invest more than Dh3 billion ($816 million) in the private space sector to increase the country’s capabilities in space over the next decade, UAE ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba said at the end of last year.

Mr Fernandez said that meetings of the I2U2 group in Abu Dhabi last February laid the foundation for agreements that included space co-operation.

The agreements have “led to the discovery of new avenues for entrepreneurship and innovation”, he added.

“We continue to support deeper trade and commercial relations between the partner countries.”

As to Earth-bound efforts to ensure food security, Mr Fernandez highlighted the Agriculture Innovation Mission, a joint initiative between the US and the UAE.

“Aim for Climate is a joint initiative launched by the UAE and the United States, aimed at addressing climate change and global hunger by rallying participants to significantly increase investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation over five years,” he said.

Mr Fernandez officially represented Washington in Abu Dhabi at the signing of the agreement, which outlined the US the UAE's dedication to safeguarding food production against the impacts of climate change.

He also pointed to the recent launch of the I2U2 Private Enterprise Partnership with the US-UAE Business Council, the UAE-India Business Council and the UAE-Israel Business Council.

“This new public-private partnership will work to raise awareness of the I2U2 group within business communities and support projects and other initiatives that further the goals of the I2U2 group,” he explained.

“This marks the first of hopefully many such partnerships between the I2U2 partners and the private sector.”

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Updated: October 27, 2023, 5:22 AM