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Social Innovation

Drones are reaching new heights in the fight against climate change

Drones are flying onto the scene to provide cheaper and more effective ways to both prevent and tackle climate change.

Global carbon emissions need to fall, and fast, but one of the best ways to fight them is hovering above us.

Drone technology, primarily associated with film making or the military, is now being used in novel ways to combat man made climate change.

Documenting with drones

As anyone who has watched drone footage will agree, they offer a breathtaking perspective of the world below. Now that same application is being used to document climate change and monitor forest degradation. Reuters journalist Jack Lucas used a drone in Greenland to track the impacts of climate change over seven days, producing a sobering series of photographs that revealed the scale of human impact upon the glaciers. Images like these help climate scientists track the progression of the issue and inform our response to the problem.

Drones and deforestation

Deforestation is responsible for more than 15% of net global carbon emissions (comparable to the world’s entire transportation sector), making the protection of forests vital in the effort to reduce emissions. Here, again, drones are helping. Costa Rica is currently trialing a project called “Deep Forest” which uses drones to monitor tree degradation and the impact of illegal logging. It is hoped that, by knowing more about the forest, conservation efforts will be more impactful. Drones are also helping plant trees - startup BioCarbon Engineering has created drones that can plant as many as 100,000 trees per day and has spent years replanting the mangroves around the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar.  

Making urban networks green

Hitachi has been conducting research into the impact of urbanisation. It is a very important topic, with more than 55% of the world’s population now residing in urban areas and a lot of them are ordering packages online to be delivered to their door. An estimated 500 million deliveries are expected to be made daily in cities by 2025, yet freight transport in London, for example, was already responsible for around 38% of nitrogen oxide emissions back in 2010. With packages set to become smaller and lighter, drones are expected to offer a solution to the environmental footprint of delivery services.

Amazon has started testing drone technology for its deliveries. In the UK, thanks to the recent overhaul of the UK’s air traffic control service, this could be rolled out as early as 2019. Promising 30-minute delivery times, the commercial giant has already named the service Prime Air, and state that, one day, “seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.” Amazon are not alone. American multinational package delivery and supply chain company, UPS, is also testing drone deliveries after estimating that cutting just one mile from the routes of each of their 66,000 delivery drivers would provide $55 million in savings. With faster, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly deliveries, it’s easy to see why drones are fast appearing on the delivery horizon.

With advances in so many different capabilities for drone technology, using drones as a tool for battling climate change could be the start of a smarter way for us to protect our planet.