The six key messages from ICOS at COP28

29 November 2023
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With other prominent scientific voices, the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) will participate in COP28 to deliver, once again, a clear message to world leaders: a science-based approach to climate action is the only way to tackle the climate crisis. ICOS bears six key messages specifically linked to Earth Observations and the importance of ground-based networks in monitoring greenhouse gases. 




ICOS at COP28 / Key messages

1. ICOS data shows that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are still dangerously rising: there is no other way than to reduce emissions 

Fossil fuel emissions kept rising globally during 2023. Between November 2022 and November 2023, the annual growth rate of CO2 in the atmosphere was 2 ppm meaning that there is no sign yet that fossil fuel emissions have been reduced during 2023. It is another year lost in reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement. We need to reduce fossil fuel emissions drastically, with no delay. There is no alternative to that reduction.


ICOS at COP28 / Key messages

2. Ground-based observations are essential to the Earth Observations value chain

Increasing the coverage of ground-based measurement networks, such as ICOS, would have a massive, positive impact on all Earth Observations. Improving the quality of these networks means reducing uncertainties in model predictions. This is a vital requirement for a better understanding of climate change, allowing us to learn more about its drivers and to design efficient mitigation actions. In addition, ground-based observations are key for the calibration and validation of satellites. Adequate and long-term funding of ground-based observation initiatives at national, regional and global levels is crucial to ensure the stability and the quality of the Earth Observation value chain.



ICOS at COP28 / Key messages

3. We need reliable, independent, science-based Monitoring, Reporting and Verification systems for greenhouse gases to fight fraud and greenwashing claims

Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) systems for greenhouse gases are a lesser-known yet significant tool for the green transition. MRVs can track and assess mitigation policies' efficiency, evaluate emission reduction progress and prevent the pure commodification of nature-based components, such as trading carbon removal credits on markets for financial gain. But to fulfil their role, reliable MRVs must tick a few boxes:

MRVs should be science-based, relying on scientific knowledge to guarantee independence from private interests and pressures.
MRVs should be transparent to avoid fraud and manipulation.
All parts of MRVs should be financially stable to ensure longevity and capacity to operate on long-term measurement series.
MRVs should ensure the joint provision of ground-based, remote-sensing and modelling communities to deliver precise, realistic and reliable outputs.



4. The ICOS measurement-to-model strategy and its framework can be replicated beyond Europe

ICOS has developed a unique approach to deliver harmonised, FAIR, standardised, machine-readable, near-real-time, datasets and complex data products made available through the ICOS Carbon Portal. With this framework design, ICOS contributes to all Earth Observations data chain steps, from measurements to models. The efficiency of this measurement-to-model strategy allows researchers, policymakers, NGOs, and even citizen scientists to access all of the ICOS data for free via a centralised digital interface. ICOS is determined to share its framework and processes beyond Europe to improve greenhouse gas monitoring where needed. For example, ICOS leads the KADI project ( that aims to empower African climate scientists. ICOS is also an active force in the upcoming WMO-led Global Greenhouse Gas Watch, an initiative gathering prominent actors of the Earth Observations community to build a global infrastructure to monitor greenhouse gases.



5. In situ ocean observations need to be developed, and existing structures need to be preserved

The ocean is the unknown blue giant of climate science. Despite its central role in taking up 30% of all the carbon dioxide emitted by humans, there are huge uncertainties regarding the ocean and its relation to greenhouse gases. Some regions of the globe are systematically largely under-sampled, and some mechanisms, such as the carbon storage in the sediments, are barely known. In situ ocean observations need to extend beyond the current range of measurements. Scientists must monitor new parameters, such as atmospheric carbon dioxide, and focus on other greenhouse gases beyond carbon, such as methane and nitrous dioxide. Researchers must better understand the air-sea fluxes, how the surface-to-bottom circulation works and how it impacts ocean biology. Through the GEORGE project, three European research infrastructures, EMSO, Euro-Argo and ICOS, have teamed up to boost their collaboration to address ocean uncertainties more efficiently. Beyond this single project, existing infrastructures and initiatives must be preserved and improved to keep the ocean scientific community at capacity. Ocean-related infrastructures and initiatives are too often project-funded or dependent on pro-bono engagement from researchers. Ocean observations need investments, not just funding.



6. The people behind ground-based observation data are a vital part of climate science

Behind the numbers, the charts and the figures are dedicated technicians, engineers and scientists who create, build, calibrate, maintain, operate and improve measuring instruments. These unsung superheroes of climate science are enthusiastic professionals spending part of their lives in the field in adverse conditions to collect observation data and gift it to the rest of humanity. No long-term data series would exist without the will and commitment of researchers working relentlessly to make climate observation science move forward. It is not only the sensors that define the quality of a network, but also the determination of its members to improve it. The role of the people behind a ground-based observation network should be better appreciated and acknowledged.