What GEOINT Can Tell Us About Climate and Food Security

The overlapping threats presented by climate change, including instability both internationally and domestically, are a new focal point for federal, nonprofit, and private entities. While technology rapidly advances, bringing about innovative possibilities, the reality remains that these issues require thoughtful, collective action, considering both short-term solutions and long-term sustainability.

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USGIF’s first GEOConnect Main Stage event of 2022 kicked off on Wednesday, January 19, with a discussion about climate and food security, inspired by the October 2021 release of the National Security Council’s National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change.

The 2021 report identifies eight separate climate change effects and how they are intertwined with food security. Underlying the most obvious impacts, such as food shortages and further supply chain disruptions, are the social implications when populations experience stressors over the production and consumption of food and the potential for mass human displacement or catastrophe along with increases in cross-border tensions.

Recently, the reality that climate change is neither reversible nor stoppable has become more widely accepted. However, we can manage climate impacts, minimize further damage, and develop mitigations, specifically related to food security. This GEOConnect event offered an opportunity for experts in various fields to unite in agreement that GEOINT plays a major role in addressing these numerous climate impacts.

Watch the recorded session for free at the USGIF GoToStage Channel.

The diversity of the organizations represented by the panelists, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Civil Applications Committee, the Center for Climate and Security, and Esri, underscores the clear message from the session – the solutions to managing and mitigating the impacts of climate change require an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach.

Both the impacts of the climate crisis and the methods of tracking them are rapidly changing. When asked about the ways GEOINT can be used to soften the effects on human health and food security, Dan Opstal, Executive Secretary for the Civil Applications Committee, said, “It’s a complex, multidisciplinary problem, and GEOINT plays a huge role. But one thing is for certain, if we don’t all work together on this problem in an interdisciplinary, international, and inter-agency manner, we’re not going to be able to solve it.”

USGIF’s Vice President of Programming and event moderator, Christy Monaco, followed Opstal’s insights with questions about the application of GEOINT. “We know that climate disasters tend to highlight systemic disparities and problems in terms of food security, how can GEOINT be applied to foresee or preempt climate disasters and ensure that people have access to basic necessities?”

Natasha Krell, Ph.D., imagery scientist with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, answered by reminding us that “climate and food security are inextricably linked… our strength lies in partnerships and intergovernmental coordination for these efforts.” Krell cited FEWS Net, a program developed by the United States Agency for International Development, as a prime example.

Patricia Cummens, Director of Government Strategy and Policy Solutions at Esri, agreed with Krell and said, “There’s so much information that geospatial technologies are advancing, providing that underpinning to allow us to bring the data together from satellites, or from drones, and feeds from all kinds of sensors and more traditional, GIS or map data… We can better understand what’s happening in place, what the relationships are, and how all of that comes together so we have a data-driven foundation to plan our interventions.” Cummens spoke to the technical end of GEOINT predictability using layered imagery and mapping to create a “holistic picture and make better informed decisions.”

To better leverage the tools, knowledge, and passion behind climate science, Erin Sikorsky, Director of the Center for Climate and Security, said, “It’s not just about reading newspapers and academic research and articles but understanding how to absorb and leverage this data.”

The overlapping threats presented by climate change, including instability both internationally and domestically, are a new focal point for federal, nonprofit, and private entities. While technology rapidly advances, bringing about innovative possibilities, the reality remains that these issues require thoughtful, collective action, considering both short-term solutions and long-term sustainability.

“In this long game, and it’s mentioned in the climate adaptation report put out by the Department of Defense, climate change is an existential threat,” said Krell. “We have to remember humans have only been on the planet for so long, and nature has outlived us. We need long-term thinking in our approach for sustainability and to ensure that we continue having natural resources and food to survive on.”

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