In conversation with... Jean-Noël Thépaut

The Green Deal is a necessary policy response to face our climate and environmental challenges in Europe and we — ECMWF and Copernicus — are going to support its implementation, says Jean-Noël Thépaut, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change and Atmosphere Monitoring Services.
credit: ECMWF

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), both implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Commission, are supporting policymakers in their efforts to create a greener future while leading the way for businesses and organisations to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. We spoke to Jean-Noël Thépaut about how C3S and CAMS will contribute to the European Commission’s new ‘European Green Deal’, particularly regarding the energy sector.


The aim of the Green Deal is to help Europe become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and we understand that ECMWF and Copernicus will be contributing to its implementation. Can you tell us how you will be doing this?

Within both CAMS and C3S we provide policymakers and economic sectors, such as the energy industry, with reliable datasets that are useful for a variety of real-life applications. These include products that provide information on climate variability to help the renewable energy sector decide where best to deploy wind farms while others provide information on aerosols and their effect on solar energy production efficiency. We produce this information by combining satellite and locally sourced data with advanced computer modelling of the environment.

"Our role is really to monitor and inform. Our data ensures that the facts about climate change are available for everyone to see, understand and easily use"

In collaboration with many partners throughout Europe and beyond, including national meteorological services, we are bridging the gap between science and end-users by making data truly useful to European public institutions, policymakers, industry and researchers. In the case of the energy sector, this is important for further decarbonisation by increasing sources of renewable energy. As the production and use of energy across economic sectors accounts for more than 75 percent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonisation is critical to reaching future climate targets and achieving the Green Deal’s objectives.

From what you have told us so far, aiming to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent in three decades presents great challenges and opportunities for the energy market. How do you see CAMS and C3S supporting this?

Achieving a climate neutral economy requires the full mobilisation of industry and a large uptake in renewable energy. This is now well embedded in government policies, and we support policymakers and industry through our operational services and products that enable them to reach evidence-based decisions. As stated earlier, our datasets and indicators document the climate, its past and future evolution, providing the longer-term context needed to assess how, where and when adaption is needed depending on different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

So, as well as providing tools to analyse this data, our C3S Operational Service for the Energy Sector also converts them into actionable information. This includes key information on energy supply (from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro) versus demand. The service is based on our proof-of-concept project called ‘European Climate Energy Mixes’, which helps both policymakers and industry to monitor current energy initiatives or even plan future projects. Both C3S and CAMS provide inputs that help the energy industry move to a cleaner future.

For example, the selection of the most appropriate sites for renewable energy needs a variety of information from both C3S and CAMS, from climate through to soil conditions. Data on the deposition of desert dust and other aerosols provide essential information on power efficiency losses at solar power plants. While the planning of hydropower relies on information related to current and future climatic conditions such as river flows to design and plan reservoirs.

Do you have any other examples of how your data has helped the energy sector create a carbon-neutral future?

In terms of wind energy, the Dutch research institute Deltares has already used our data to estimate how the expected energy generation from offshore wind farms will be affected by climate change, as well as how environmental changes will impact the ability to access and operate wind turbines. Additionally, Vortex, the global modelling service from Spain, uses C3S data to provide information on climate variability at specific sites to help customers plan and operate wind energy projects.

Solar energy is another important renewable source and CAMS data is particularly useful here because the service combines satellite data with state-of-the-art computer models of the atmosphere to provide accurate information on solar radiation. Several companies are already using this data to build new solar energy facilities or manage existing ones. One example is NOVELTIS, who have developed a free app for the French city of Toulouse that allows you to evaluate the power generation potential of solar panel roof equipment, while taking into account the 3D geometry of buildings.

What role will the monitoring of effective greenhouse gas emission reductions play in reaching the green deal’s objectives?

It will play a key role because quantification is essential to meeting these objectives. To help with this, CAMS provides a range of policy tools and assessment reports to support policymakers and other organisations evaluate emissions. We work with a large international team, led by Laboratoire d’Aerologie in France, to create global and European-scale emissions inventories that collect information from many different sources. These inventories support modelling efforts to evaluate the impact of human activities on climate.

"We are bridging the gap between science and end-users by making data truly useful to European public institutions, policymakers, industry and researchers"

CAMS also contributes information on climate forcing – how changes in the atmospheric concentrations of gases and aerosols between present and the pre-industrial era contribute to the heating or cooling of our planet –, which supports the work of UN’s International Panel on Climate Change. CAMS will go one step further in the next few years with a future service element, which will provide a Monitoring Verification Support Capacity to estimate anthropogenic emissions of CO2.

It’s clear that making informed choices can help secure the planet’s future. So how do you help raise awareness of climate change issues so that we can all take action?

Our role is really to monitor and inform. Our data ensures that the facts about climate change are available for everyone to see, understand and easily use. Beyond publishing monthly climate bulletins for a number of key climate variables such as temperature, sea-ice or soil moisture, one important aspect of our C3S service is to produce a detailed annual report called the European State of the Climate.

It gives you an essential overview of the past year’s climate and puts it in a longer-term perspective. The report is also a useful benchmark for future assessments of the environment and a powerful education tool. Incidentally, the 2019 report will be released right here in Brussels this coming April.

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