Protect Earth’s orbit: Avoid high seas mistakes


SCIENCE MAGAZINE, Volume 379-Issue 6636-March 2023 LETTERS, pp990. excerpt only…

“The global space industry is growing rapidly—the number of satellites in orbit is expected to increase from 9000 today to over 60,000 by 2030. In addition, it is estimated that more than 100 trillion untracked pieces of old satellites are already in orbit. Although the industries and countries using Earth’s orbit are starting to consider sustainability, risks exist in responsibly managing such a vast area with no owner. Like the high seas, Earth’s orbit is seen as a global commons, where exploitation of what may appear to be a free resource is growing and the true costs of potential environmental damage are obscured. The exploitation of Earth’s orbit is in its infancy but on a fast trajectory, highlighting the need for urgency. Attempts to protect the high seas have been slow and challenging. By learning from that process, we can avoid making similar mistakes as we work to prevent a tragedy of the commons in space. Insubstantial governance in the high seas has led to overfishing, habitat destruction, deep-sea mining exploration, and plastic pollution. Real action has been limited but includes negotiations for the High Seas Treaty, implementation of the Paris Agreement, and initiation of the Global Plastics Treaty. All of these efforts require global cooperation, but are hindered by a lack of internationally agreed-upon principles to guide decisions, inadequate collective action to manage high seas marine protected areas, uncertainty around the legal status of resources, lack of accountability for harm, and substantial knowledge gaps…”

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