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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Explained: What is the ‘Matosinhos Manifesto’, meant to accelerate the use of space in Europe?

The European Space Agency (ESA) council has approved a manifesto to accelerate the use of space in Europe. It lays down a vision for the continent in terms of maintaining and expanding its activities in space.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 24, 2021 12:21:12 pm
The European Space Agency has adopted a landmark resolution for Europe's future space policy. (Source: ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA) council on Friday approved a manifesto to accelerate the use of space in Europe “to tackle the urgent and unprecedented societal, economic and security challenges faced by Europe and its citizens.”

At the Intermediate Ministerial Meeting that was held in Matosinhos, Portugal, the Council of Ministers unanimously adopted this resolution that lays down a vision for the continent in terms of maintaining and expanding its activities in space.

Manuel Heitor, Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education in the Portuguese government, said, “The large-scale nature and fast pace of the climate crisis and other challenges means that no European nation will be able to effectively address them alone. Space has enormous untapped potential to help tackle these challenges, and an acceleration in developing European space capability is now urgently needed.”

A brief history of the ESA

The ESA is an intergovernmental organisation that was formed in 1975 with the aim of developing Europe’s space capabilities. The organisation has 22 member states — Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovenia, Latvia and Lithuania are Associate Members.

ESA notes that between 1945-1950, after the end of the Second World War, when many European scientists left western Europe to work in the US and the Soviet Union, European scientists realised they would be unable to complete solely national projects, and would be unable to compete with major superpowers.

And so, a need for organising scientific effort was felt. In 1958, two prominent members of the European scientific community recommended that European governments set up a joint organisation for space research.

What resolution has now been passed?

The resolution defines three “accelerators” to further advance Europe’s space ambitions. The first of these accelerators is for the ESA to start working towards the “Space for a Green Future”, so that people are better able to understand the current state of the planet and to develop scenarios and solutions for sustainable life on Earth. This is in line with achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emission targets by the year 2050.

The second accelerator is called “Rapid and Resilient Crisis Response”, and it aims to support governments to act decisively on crises facing Europe, from flooding and storms to wildfires.

In July, west Germany experienced catastrophic flooding, which was caused by a severe storm and continuous rains that caused rivers and streams to swell up and flood the towns and cities located alongside the banks of the river Ahr in Germany. The floods wreaked havoc in nearby areas and caused damage to buildings, infrastructure, the environment and people’s belongings.

Before this, Germany was witness to extreme flooding in June 2013, which was one of the most severe large-scale flooding seen in the country in nearly six decades. Some other countries were also affected during this time, including Austria, Switzerland, Poland and Hungary, among others. Severe flooding was seen in Germany in August 2002 as well.

In Greece, in August, thousands of people fled parts of the country due to raging uncontrolled wildfires.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has flagged frequent weather events, such as heatwaves, extreme rainfalls and rising sea levels. Some of these factors may influence the way wildfires play out.

The third accelerator mentioned in the resolution is “Protection of Space Assets”, whose objective is to safeguard ESA astronauts and assets from interference by space debris and space weather.

Other than this, the council recognised two “inspirators” to reinforce European leadership in science, technology development and inspiration: an icy moon sample return mission and human space exploration.

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