Climate change from above – podcast

7 September 2023

“One of my personal passions in life is mountains,” says Ion Sola Torralba. When his thesis advisor proposed that he study mountains – specifically how to compensate for the shadows they cast across satellite data, he was quick to assent: “I said, ‘Okay, mountains, it sounds good.” Torralba, an environmental engineer specialised in Geographic Information Systems joined the Covenant of Mayors Podcast to shed some light on how technology can facilitate localised climate adaptation.

You can listen to the episode here:

Understanding the tools

Geographic Information Systems, according to Torralba, “mean all data which can be put on a map, be it economic, social, or environmental.” The capabilities of these technologies go beyond merely creating maps; they extend into web applications, dashboards, graphs, and vital statistics.

Remote Sensing, a sub-discipline of these systems, uses satellite imagery to measure land characteristics. “The spatial resolution is increasing, meaning the pixels are smaller, so you have more accurate information,” Torralba explains. This improved resolution aids in monitoring changes in land use, estimating soil moisture, and detecting areas vulnerable to floods or forest fires.

Torralba’s team uses monitoring to provide insights into areas like deforestation, water, agriculture and livestock, health, and territorial planning. The evidence gathered in this way can be used to show that “early and well-planned adaptation measures will ensure a better future and economic saving,” expresses Torralba.

An eye from above

Monitoring is a pivotal aspect of any city’s adaptation strategy. “By utilising sophisticated tools, we can analyse a variety of climate effects across different biogeographical regions,” discusses Torralba. Such nuanced analysis is invaluable for infrastructure planning, preventive action against natural hazards, and resource allocation.

Early and well-planned adaptation measures will ensure a better future and economic saving
— Ion Sola Torralba

The data can be generated by cities themselves, but it can also come from above. Data from European Union’s Copernicus programme is invaluable, though it’s not without limitations—including cloud cover and shadows from those pesky mountains, which can sometimes obstruct data collection.

Preliminary findings

Across the world, many cities are struggling with a rapid increase in temperatures, which programmes like Torralba’s carefully record, providing evidence for action. “I think we are not doing enough. Not in Navarra, not in Spain, anywhere,” he warns. His recommendation for cities looking to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change is to prioritise vulnerabilities, allocate resources efficiently, employ rigorous monitoring, and adapt strategies based on real-world outcomes.

This last point is especially important as, Torralba acknowledges, there are intrinsic challenges in assessing the efficacy of adaptation measures: “In adaptation, it’s ambiguous. How well are we doing? Sometimes it’s very difficult.” Thus, ongoing monitoring and recalibration are vital for accountability and effectiveness.

Torralba shared his insights through the Covenant of Mayors Policy Support Facility, an EU programme supported by Eurocities that boosts the technical knowledge of municipal employees dealing with climate and sustainability issues.

As we face the escalating impacts of climate change, it becomes increasingly clear that both mitigation and adaptation must go hand in hand. With focused, data-driven strategies, regions can build resilience while contributing to a more sustainable global community.


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer