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All Truths & No Lies: On Data for Sustainability

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Lack of data transparency and data gaps are hindering climate action.

The Data Puzzle by Tanishk Katalkar

Data is the weapon of choice of most of today’s geniuses because data is power. It can solve the biggest problems of the world when used correctly. Climate change is one such issue. Better data can help interventions and investments while boosting results and impact measurement of the ongoing movements. Big data and technologies like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things can speed up the progress of environmental goals. In other words, data along with statistics can be life-changing.

The steps taken by the city of Boulder, Colorado, USA are an example of data-driven climate action. Boulder uses data to design and form locally based climate actions, data-driven policies and programs. The city tracks carbon intensity to understand how it affects climate change.


Boulder’s Climate Mobilisation Action Plan (CMAP), The City of Boulder©

Another example is the City of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. To identify and evaluate climate change risks and hazards, Belo Horizonte uses meteorological data, such as rain and stream levels, numerical weather forecast models, synoptic charts, atmospheric surveys, and weather satellites. The weather data generates parameters for interventions related to urban rainwater drainage, macro and micro drainage, as well as emergency actions due to heavy rain that has been known to cause floods. Continuous monitoring of rainfall data allows the city to manage platforms for flood warnings.



Flooding Vulnerability Profile in the Municipality of Belo Horizonte in 2030©

The question that arises then is if data is so helpful then what is stopping us from using it to our advantage? The answer lies in data gaps. The existence of data gaps is a hindrance to climate action. It is a problem in not just data availability but also in data uniformity and quality. These gaps are a function of bad politics and monopoly in data ownership. Political organizations morph data to hide their shortcomings while corporates revel in the power they hold in the market due to the data in their possession. This hoarding can not just feed data gaps but also make cyber risks more serious.



All this talk about data begs one question: does data transparency equal accountability? Simply put, yes. The more transparent businesses and governments are about the data they collect not just from the environment but also from us, the more we can hold them accountable for tangible change. This will even the playing field, where every movement is fed the data it needs and every cause has statistics to back it up. The easy access to data will open newer debates and create clearer visions of climate action.


References


How Big Tech can help usher in an era of climate transparency and accountability. Grist, 114 January 2022,


Climate transparency is about to get real with this independent database. Freethink, 6 November 2021,




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