Will Marshall (right), co-founder and CEO of Planet, announces the Satellites for Climate Action partnership on CNN. Photo by: Will Marshall via Twitter

SAN FRANCISCO — Planet, a San Francisco-based company that offers daily imagery and insights from a network of miniature satellites, is partnering with the state of California and Bloomberg Philanthropies to track greenhouse gas emissions.

Satellites for Climate Action will bring together partners across sectors — including government, philanthropy, technology, and environment — to use planet monitoring technology to guide climate protection efforts.

Gavin Newsom, governor of California, provided new details on the partnership — announced at Climate Week in New York City last month — at Planet’s first user conference in San Francisco this week.

A lack of data often stands in the way of the climate actions needed to slash global greenhouse gas emissions. Satellites for Climate Action will map problem areas — such as unintentional methane leaks from the oil and gas industry — that were previously unknown or incorrectly measured. The goal, moving forward, is for more governments and organizations to draw on satellite data from Planet to inform their climate mitigation strategies.

While the partnership is new, and it is difficult to anticipate what its impact will be beyond the state of California, it demonstrates the power of technology and subnational action on climate change.

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Will Marshall, co-founder and CEO of Planet, kicked off the user conference Tuesday by reminding the audience of the company’s mission: “To image the whole world every day, making change visible, accessible, and actionable.”

For the first few years, the company focused more on the first half of that mission: taking images of the planet that are updated on a daily basis. Planet continues to improve its technology — in fact, Marshall brought the vice president of spacecraft development and manufacturing to the stage on Tuesday to demo a new satellite. But moving forward, the company is focusing on making the information it gathers actionable in areas including climate.

“Our goal is to provide geospatial insights at the speed of change, equipping users with the data necessary to make informed, timely decisions,” Marshall said.

Increasingly, leaders at the local level need that data, particularly in countries where federal action on climate change is lacking.

When U.S. President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, former California Governor Jerry Brown and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg launched America’s Pledge, an initiative to track efforts by U.S. cities, states, and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York last month, Governor Newsom talked about the headwinds that continue to come from the White House in Washington, D.C.: “Those headwinds aren’t just coming West, they’re global,” he said.

He emphasized the need for more subnational leaders to make the shift that California has made from thinking short term to investing in the future. Speaking at the Planet user conference on Tuesday, Newsom explained that California will launch satellites to collect real-time data on fires, carbon concentrations, land use, and more.

Former California Governor Jerry Brown announced the initial partnership between Planet and the state of California at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit hosted in San Francisco. Satellites for Climate Action builds on that partnership, with financial support from Bloomberg Philanthropies scaling its ambition and impact in three key areas, according to the initial press release.

The first is to use Planet’s existing Earth observation data to analyze coal-fired plant operations; the second is to explore new satellite technologies that can better detect greenhouse gas emissions; and the third is to develop new geospatial analytics to support conservation efforts.

“We really saw in this partnership incredible potential to bring that willingness to act so boldly on climate change from California to a much broader audience,” said Antha Williams, who leads the environment program at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

She said bringing government action together with data, new technology, and philanthropy is “an unstoppable combination.”

“We can work through this partnership to both help accelerate the work in California but also to work more broadly both across the United States [and] around the globe,” Williams added.

California will act on this data to inform its own efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

But what remains to be seen is how other partners — particularly leaders in developing countries — will leverage satellite imagery to fill climate data gaps.

Heads of state from across Latin America have expressed a desire for more data on deforestation, while mayors in cities across Africa have asked for support on data that highlights climate problems and potential solutions, according to Williams.

“Our interest[s] at Bloomberg Philanthropies are of course around the things where we are most heavily invested and have the most expertise — and that includes our work on sustainable cities, and closing down coal-fired power plants and transitioning to renewable energy — but as we look even more broadly, I think we see huge potential for this beyond our interest for the broader world,” she said.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.