REUTERS/Leah Millis

Trump administration kills off Nasa’s carbon monitoring programme

Image credit: Donald Trump in White House

The US government has taken the opportunity to surreptitiously remove all funding from Nasa’s carbon monitoring system, which is used to keep track of carbon reduction efforts.

According to Science, the project was noticeably missing from a deal recently signed by Congress, due to “budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget".

This project, which costs approximately $10m (£7.4m) per year, monitors carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere, playing an important role in verifying national emissions reductions as required by the 2015 Paris Agreement. The accord, to which almost every country is a signatory, calls for major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions in order to minimise the impact of climate change.

The carbon-tracking programme – as well as supporting research projects to understand how much carbon is contained within carbon sinks (such as forests) and released by carbon sources – helps countries and cities map out their greenhouse gas emissions and identifies means by which these emissions could be cut.

“If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhereing to the agreement,” Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of the International Environment and Resource Policy Centre at Tufts University, told Science. Killing off the project is a “grave mistake”, she commented.

Last year, US President Donald Trump – who has expressed the view that climate change is a Chinese hoax – appointed Republican congressman Jim Bridenstine as Nasa administrator. Bridenstine, who was confirmed by the Senate in April, does not have a scientific background, has expressed scepticism about the scientific consensus of climate change and has proposed eliminating Nasa’s Earth Science Program via the American Space Renaissance Act. This proposed legislation shifts Nasa’s focus more strongly towards space exploration at the expense of Earth-focused research.

However, Bridenstine has since assured lawmakers that Nasa will still “follow the guidance of the Earth Science decadal surveys” and that he would “advocate” to see these surveys recommendations seen through.

The Trump administration has previously called for Nasa’s earth science and climate budget to be curtailed and has proposed a 31 per cent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget. Instead, Trump has demonstrated interest in manned space exploration, calling for Nasa to put astronauts on Mars during the course of his presidency.

The White House’s budget for the 2019 fiscal year slashed funding for a number of Nasa projects not focused towards space exploration, including the International Space Station (ISS), the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope and several Nasa Earth science programmes (the Radiation Budget Instrument, the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem (PACE) project, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory pathfinder.

Earlier this week, European researchers announced that a “carbon satellite” which uses low-frequency microwaves could be used to monitor carbon sources and sinks across entire continents, as a more precise alternative to current carbon-monitoring satellites.

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