UN Speech: Implementing the Long-Term Sustainability (LTS) guidelines

Joanne Wheeler speaks at the UN Workshop of the Working Group on the Long-term sustainability of Outer Space Activities. Image courtesy of UN.
Category: Policy Making, Industry

ESSI Director Joanne Wheeler was invited to deliver a speech to the UN's Workshop of the Working Group on the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities on 6 February 2024 about regulatory and policy aspects. This is the text of the speech. The accompanying slides can be accessed here.

Slide 1

A summary of how the UN Long-Term Sustainability Guidelines may be implemented into national law, regulation, and licensing frameworks, particularly for emerging space nations to ensure the attractiveness of such frameworks to encourage national commercial activities while meeting international responsibility, liability, safety, and sustainability requirements.

It is important that such frameworks allow for the effective implementation of the Guidelines at the level of national commercial entities; stimulating and encouraging national activities through enabling regulation attractive to finance and insurance communities.

This topic will include how to develop effective authorisation and supervision frameworks, national registration practices and insurance and indemnity models. This will include encouraging small satellite activities, accessing radio-frequency spectrum and managing the safety of space activities and space debris mitigation practices.

It will take a practical, inclusive, holistic and collaborative approach.

Slide 2

Thank you – it is an honour to be here.

We look more at our screens nowadays than the skies. We no longer look to the stars to forecast the weather, as a clock or calendar. Yet, we now rely on outer space in our day-to-day activities more than ever before. Our perspective of space is changing – and our use of space is changing us. We need to recognise our shared responsibility for this Earth and space ecosystem – our home. But arguably our territorial behaviour in space has already taken precedence over considered cooperation.


The orbital population in LEO increased by 50% from November 2018 to November 2023; driven primarily by the deployment of large commercial constellations. This sudden densification of LEO poses sustainability and safety concerns, and increased collision risk. To date, countries have registered radio-frequencies with the ITU for over 1.7 million non-geostationary satellites that may be launched into orbit by 2030.


Some believe we have already exceeded orbital carrying capacity.


We’re at a critical juncture where we must act to ensure that space is sustainable, safe and accessible for future missions across nations and generations unborn. A juncture where we must put aside competitive differences and come together to produce an international, multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder response – enabled by clear and transparent standards and incentives. We need to consider new ways of managing space sustainably – applying greater stewardship.


Slide 3


At an international level, various sets of voluntary guidelines and standards exist.


I was encouraged in 2019 when the UN’s Long-Term Sustainability Guidelines were published. While the 21 Guidelines provide a valuable internationally accepted framework – they are voluntary and non-binding. States are encouraged by COPUOS to take measures to implement the LTS Guidelines nationally – but we cannot assume that States will do this homogenously and create incentives to ensure sustainable behaviour by their commercial operators.


The difference will come when standards are implemented consistently at national level (ideally creating a level playing field) – when industry are incentivised to adopt sustainable behaviour.


Slide 4


How can we try to achieve this?


We need to create the correct incentives at national level

  • to encourage commercial activities, allowing us to expand and not hinder future uses, innovation, progress and science;
  • while meeting international responsibility, liability, safety and sustainability requirements.

How do we drive the “race to the top” in sustainable practices? Well - the recent focus on space sustainability has magnified the importance of the private sector availing itself of licences from well-respected, transparent regulatory systems that take space sustainability seriously.


  • Good regulation, leading to sustainability goals is industry and investment-enabling.
  • And good regulation needs to include Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria.


Investors are increasingly demanding a compelling ESG plan as a driver of financial value. Companies, investors, insurers need to evidence that they are conscientious players with environmental planning and sustainable behaviours at the core of their business models.


Slide 5


The UK Space Agency is currently funding work by the Earth & Space Sustainability Initiative, which is collaborating with industry, academia, the insurance and finance communities, and other governments to devise a set of global transparent space sustainability standards that are recognised by the finance and insurance communities, and other governments and regulators.


ESSI uniquely brings together a diverse range of interests to ensure inclusion, transparency and fairness.


The standards are drafted after an assessment of what already exists, analysing gaps, whether they need to be filled and applying a practical approach.  We have already identified over 1,700 existing standards and guidelines which will be published in a searchable database. The standards will be published by the British Standards Institute and will also run through the ISO Committee regime.


Slide 6


There are certain key objectives for the establishment of these Standards.


  • They seek to ensure the sustainable use of outer space covering the holistic end-to-end lifecycle of a satellite from design, manufacture, launch, in-orbit, demise and spectrum taking a practical approach.
  • They will be enforceable through licensing criteria, access to insurance, finance and market access requirements.
  • Incentives - compliance with the standards could lead to lower tiered insurance requirements and liability caps in licensing, for example, through a new variable liability approach which the UKSA has just consulted on.
  • The standards will take into account social and cultural perspectives.
  • The standards aim to attract greater and wider investment into the space industry through:
  • robust, transparent sustainability criteria which can be used in investment due diligence – unlocking ESG investment;
  • providing transparency and confidence to investors; and
  • through the certification of innovative technology not otherwise certified, allowing companies with that technology to raise investment.
  • Compliance with standards can allow market access in other states by evidencing compliance with space sustainability criteria.
  • There has been excellent support from Lloyds of London, the world's leading insurance market, welcoming the standards as a proactive move to improve space sustainability. The standards can help ensure a “better insurance risk” through objective due diligence criteria.
  • and support the ongoing availability of insurance – which is not inevitable; many underwriters have recently pulled out the space market.


Underwriting efficiently requires good data sources, but underwriting profitably and sustainably is dependent upon the reliability of the satellites insured. There needs to be a greater focus towards reliability and sustainability. Setting industry standards is a way to demonstrate quality assurance and reliability. 


In short – the aim is to encourage sustainable activities through enabling and effective authorisation and supervisory frameworks applying incentives linked to finance, insurance, market access.

Slide 7


These standards, noted here, are international in their focus, and we are engaging with regulators across the world looking to apply similar sustainability incentives. Regulators need to be aware of their liabilities and ensure necessary skills and capabilities to be able to assess licence applications. Objective criteria, through standards will be important here.


Slide 8


In closing, I find myself looking pensively to the night sky now. Outer space has been our human constant from our beginning; influencing our cultures, our life, inspiring science; engaging our creative and adventurous personalities and imagination. It is part of our ecosystem we depend on – and a domain we must protect – as we witness growing competition for it.

Without decisive, collective, international and multi-disciplinary action sustainable outcomes for the space environment may not be realised long term. Objective standards linked to access to finance, insurance, licences and market access will help ensure the integrity and useability of space for future generations and help preserve the Earth and Space ecosystem.


Lets recognise the challenges ahead but stand sure, united and committed to protect the significance, use and exploration of this precious ecosystem.


Thank you very much.

< Previous Article | Next Article >
URL copied to clipboard