The open source movement takes on climate data

Article by Heather Clancy: “…many companies are moving to disclose “climate risk,” although far fewer are moving to actually minimize it. And as those tasked with preparing those reports can attest, the process of gathering the data for them is frustrating and complex, especially as the level of detail desired and required by investors becomes deeper.

That pain point was the inspiration for a new climate data project launched this week that will be spearheaded by the Linux Foundation, the nonprofit host organization for thousands of the most influential open source software and data initiatives in the world such as GitHub. The foundation is central to the evolution of the Linux software that runs in the back offices of most major financial services firms. 

There are four powerful founding members for the new group, the LF Climate Finance Foundation (LFCF): Insurance and asset management company Allianz, cloud software giants Amazon and Microsoft, and data intelligence powerhouse S&P Global. The foundation’s “planning team” includes World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Ceres and the Sustainability Account Standards Board (SASB).

The group’s intention is to collaborate on an open source project called the OS-Climate platform, which will include economic and physical risk scenarios that investors, regulators, companies, financial analysts and others can use for their analysis. 

The idea is to create a “public service utility” where certain types of climate data can be accessed easily, then combined with other, more proprietary information that someone might be using for risk analysis, according to Truman Semans, CEO of OS-Climate, who was instrumental in getting the effort off the ground. “There are a whole lot of initiatives out there that address pieces of the puzzle, but no unified platform to allow those to interoperate,” he told me. There are a whole lot of initiatives out there that address pieces of the puzzle, but no unified platform to allow those to interoperate.

Why does this matter? It helps to understand the history of open source software, which was once a thing that many powerful software companies, notably Microsoft, abhorred because they were worried about the financial hit on their intellectual property. Flash forward to today and the open source software movement, “staffed” by literally millions of software developers, is credited with accelerating the creation of common system-level elements so that companies can focus their own resources on solving problems directly related to their business.

In short, this budding effort could make the right data available more quickly, so that businesses — particularly financial institutions — can make better informed decisions.

Or, as Microsoft’s chief intellectual property counsel, Jennifer Yokoyama, observed in the announcement press release: “Addressing climate issues in a meaningful way requires people and organizations to have access to data to better understand the impact of their actions. Opening up and sharing our contribution of significant and relevant sustainability data through the LF Climate Finance Foundation will help advance the financial modeling and understanding of climate change impact — an important step in affecting political change. We’re excited to collaborate with the other founding members and hope additional organizations will join.”…(More)”

Behavioral Contagion Could Spread the Benefits of a Carbon Tax

Robert H. Frank at the New York Times: “…Why, then, hasn’t the United States adopted a carbon tax? One hurdle is the fear that emissions would fall too slowly in response to a carbon tax, that more direct measures are needed. Another difficulty is that political leaders have reason to fear voter opposition to taxation of any kind. But there are persuasive rejoinders to both objections.

Regarding the first, critics are correct that a carbon tax alone won’t parry the climate threat. It is also true that as creatures of habit, humans tend to change their behavior only slowly, even in the face of significant financial incentives. But even small changes in behavior are greatly amplified by behavioral contagion — the social scientist’s term for how ideas and behaviors spread from person to person like infectious diseases. And if a carbon tax were to shift the behavior of some individuals now, those changes would quickly spread more widely.

Smoking rates, for example, changed little in the short run even as cigarette taxes rose sharply, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The most powerful predictor of whether someone will smoke is the percentage of her friends who smoke. Most smokers stick with their habit in the face of higher taxes, but a small minority quit, and still others refrain from starting.

Every peer group that includes those people thus contains a smaller proportion of smokers, which influences still others to quit or refrain, and so on. This contagion process explains why the percentage of American adults who smoke has fallen by two-thirds since the mid-1960s.

Behavioral contagion would similarly amplify the effects of a carbon tax. By making solar power cheaper in comparison with fossil fuels, for example, the tax would initially encourage a small number of families to install solar panels on their rooftops. But as with cigarette taxes, it’s the indirect effects that really matter….(More)”.

Sandboxing Nature: How Regulatory Sandboxes Could Help Restore Species, Enhance Water Quality and Build Better Habitats Faster

White Paper by Phoebe Higgins & Timothy Male: “Late in 2017, the United Kingdom’s energy regulator, Ofgem, gave fast approval for a new project allowing residents to buy and sell renewable energy from solar panels and batteries within their own apartment buildings. Normally, this would not be legal since UK energy rules dictate that locally generated energy can only be used by the owner or sold back to the grid at a relatively low price. However, the earlier establishment of a regulatory sandbox for such energy delivery modernizations created a path to try something new and get it approved quickly. In April 2018, only a few months after project initiation, the first peer-to-peer energy trades within apartment complexes started.

Energy policy is not the only space where rules need fast modification to make allowances for all the novelty arising in the world today. The protection and restoration of our water, healthy soil and wildlife resources are static processes, starved for creativity. A United Nations’ panel recently reported on the extinction risks that face more than one million species around the globe. In a 2009 National Rivers and Streams Assessment, the EPA reported that 46 percent of U.S. waterways were in ‘poor’ biological condition, and more than 40 percent were polluted with high levels of nitrogen or phosphorus.

Innovators have big ideas that could help with these problems, but ponderous regulatory systems and older generations of bureaucrats aren’t used to the fast pace of new technologies, tools and products. Often, it is a simple thing—one word or phrase in a policy or regulation—that is a barrier to a new technology or technique being widely used. However, one sentence can be just as hard and slow to change as a whole law. Rather than simply accept this regulatory status quo, we believe in the need to find, nurture and learn from new concepts even when it means deliberately
breaking old rules.

Regulatory sandboxes like the one in the United Kingdom open the door to testing new approaches within a controlled environment. While they don’t ensure success, they make it possible for new technologies and tools to be explored in real-world settings. Not just so that innovators can learn, but also to allow government bureaucracies to catch up to the present and adapt to the future. Our planet and country need more opportunities to do this….(More)

Data-Driven Unsustainability? An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Governing the Environmental Impacts of a Data-Driven Society

Paper by Federica Lucivero et al : “Data-driven digital technologies are often presented in policy agendas as contributing to the goal of sustainable development by providing information to reduce energy consumption and offering a green alternative to industries and behaviour with a higher environmental footprint. However, it is widely acknowledged in the context of environmental research that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in general, and data centres and cloud computing in particular, have a heavy footprint featuring a high consumption of non-renewable energy, waste production and carbon dioxide emissions. In spite of this, environmental issues have so far figured only sparsely in both policy initiatives supporting data-driven digital initiatives, as well as in recent ethics and governance scholarly literature discussing the data-driven revolution. We convened an interdisciplinary workshop to map out the current conceptual landscape on the environmental impacts of data-driven technologies, and to explore how ethical thinking can contribute to it. In this commentary, we discuss the main themes that emerged and our call for action….(More)”.

Harnessing the collective intelligence of stakeholders for conservation

Paper by Steven Gray et al: ” Incorporating relevant stakeholder input into conservation decision making is fundamentally challenging yet critical for understanding both the status of, and human pressures on, natural resources. Collective intelligence (CI ), defined as the ability of a group to accomplish difficult tasks more effectively than individuals, is a growing area of investigation, with implications for improving ecological decision making. However, many questions remain about the ways in which emerging internet technologies can be used to apply CI to natural resource management. We examined how synchronous social‐swarming technologies and asynchronous “wisdom of crowds” techniques can be used as potential conservation tools for estimating the status of natural resources exploited by humans.

Using an example from a recreational fishery, we show that the CI of a group of anglers can be harnessed through cyber‐enabled technologies. We demonstrate how such approaches – as compared against empirical data – could provide surprisingly accurate estimates that align with formal scientific estimates. Finally, we offer a practical approach for using resource stakeholders to assist in managing ecosystems, especially in data‐poor situations….(More)”.

Are Citizens’ Assemblies the Answer to the Climate Crisis?

Judy Dempsey’s Strategic Europe: “Mathilde Bouyé associate at the Climate Program Of The World Resources Institute: “…the impact of citizens’ deliberation depends on the link to decisionmaking, which varies with each country’s democratic culture. The UK climate assembly informed powerful parliamentary committees, while the French government created a precedent by committing to send the Citizens’ Convention on Climate’s proposals for adoption “without any filter….”

Jan Eichhorn,  Research Director Of D|Part and Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at The University Of Edinburgh: “The climate crisis is so complex that no single action can be the answer to it. However, because of the complexity, formats that can connect otherwise distant actors meaningfully can play a very helpful role. Citizens’ assemblies fit that bill.

If well designed, such assemblies connect expertise with life realities, broaden the horizon of policymakers on what publics may be willing or even excited to consider, and enable publics to learn about options they did not know about. Rather than stoking divisions between people and businesses or between activists and state officials, they can foster common ground and create shared purpose, which is needed to combat comprehensive challenges like the climate crisis….”

Tim Hughes, Director of Involve: “…they are only one way in which people can be—and need to be—involved in decisionmaking. Underpinning citizens’ assemblies are the principles of participation—people being involved in the decisions that affect their lives—and deliberation—people sharing and testing ideas through inclusive and respectful conversations.

It is these principles that we need to build into decisionmaking at all levels of society in order to develop the ideas, energy, and ownership to answer the crisis.”

Mariann Őry,  Head Of The Foreign Desk And Senior Editor At Magyar Hírlap: “Citizens’ initiatives have proven to be effective in reaching a number of goals, but the pressure they can put on stakeholders is not always enough.

It’s not even the most reliable political force: remember that the enthusiasm and momentum of the climate protests has basically vanished since the start of the coronavirus crisis, as if people simply lost interest—though this is surely not the case. A difference can be made on the level of political leaders and, very importantly, on the level of the biggest actors of industry….(More)”.

Saving Our Oceans: Scaling the Impact of Robust Action Through Crowdsourcing

Paper by Amanda J. Porter, Philipp Tuertscher, and Marleen Huysman: “One approach for tackling grand challenges that is gaining traction in recent management literature is robust action: by allowing diverse stakeholders to engage with novel ideas, initiatives can cultivate successful ideas that yield greater impact. However, a potential pitfall of robust action is the length of time it takes to generate momentum. Crowdsourcing, we argue, is a valuable tool that can scale the generation of impact from robust action.

We studied an award‐winning environmental sustainability crowdsourcing initiative and found that robust action principles were indeed successful in attracting a diverse stakeholder network to generate novel ideas and develop these into sustainable solutions. Yet we also observed that the momentum and novelty generated was at risk of getting lost as the actors and their roles changed frequently throughout the process. We show the vital importance of robust action principles for connecting ideas and actors across crowdsourcing phases. These observations allow us to make a contribution to extant theory by explaining the micro‐dynamics of scaling robust action’s impact over time…(More)”.

Social tipping dynamics for stabilizing Earth’s climate by 2050

Paper by Ilona M. Otto et al: “…In this paper, we examine a number of potential “social tipping elements” (STEs) for decarbonization that represent specific subdomains of the planetary social-economic system. Tipping of these subsystems could be triggered by “social tipping interventions” (STIs) that could contribute to rapid transition of the world system into a state of net zero anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The results reported in this study are based on an online expert survey, an expert workshop, and an extensive literature review (SI Appendix).

Our results complement the existing shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) that are used alongside the representative concentration pathways (RCPs) to analyze the feedbacks between climate change and socioeconomic factors, such as world population growth, economic development, and technological progress. Our results could be useful for exploring possible transformative pathways leading to scenarios that reach net zero emissions by 2050.

…Various types of tipping processes can be differentiated in the literature. Many authors refer to critical thresholds , a notion closely related to the metaphor of a “butterfly effect”. Other processes related to tipping dynamics include metamorphosis, where a rapid loss of structures of one sort occurs simultaneously with the development of new structures, as well as cascades driven by positive feedbacks in processes occurring simultaneously at smaller scales.

The social tipping dynamics of interest for this study are typically manifested as spreading processes in complex social networks of behaviors, opinions, knowledge, technologies, and social norms, including spreading processes of structural change and reorganization. These spreading processes resemble contagious dynamics observed in epidemiology that spread through social networks. Once triggered, such processes can be irreversible and difficult to stop. Similar contagious dynamics have been observed in human behavior, for example in assaultive violence, participation in social movements, or health-related behaviors and traits, such as smoking or obesity..(More)”.

France asks its citizens how to meet its climate-change targets

The Economist on “An experiment in consultative democracy”: “A nurse, a roofer, an electrician, a former fireman, a lycée pupil, a photographer, a teacher, a marketing manager, an entrepreneur and a civil servant. Sitting on red velvet benches in a domed art-deco amphitheatre in Paris, they and 140 colleagues are part of an unusual democratic experiment in a famously centralised country. Their mission: to draw up measures to reduce French greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, in line with an eu target that is otherwise in danger of being missed (and which the European Commission now wants to tighten). Six months ago, none of them had met. Now, they have just one month left to show that they can reinvent the French democratic process—and help save the planet. “It’s our moment,” Sylvain, one of the delegates, tells his colleagues from the podium. “We have the chance to propose something historic.”

On March 6th the “citizens’ climate convention” was due to begin its penultimate three-day sitting, the sixth since it began work last October. The convention is made up of a representative sample of the French population, selected by randomly generated telephone numbers. President Emmanuel Macron devised it in an attempt to calm the country after the gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) crisis of 2018. In response to the demand for less top-down decision-making, he first launched what he grandly called a “great national debate”, which took place a year ago. He also pledged the creation of a citizens’ assembly. It is designed to focus on precisely the conundrum that provoked the original protests against a rise in the carbon tax on motor fuel: how to make green policy palatable, efficient and fair.Already signed up?…(More)”.

Wisdom of stakeholder crowds in complex social–ecological systems

Paper by Payam Aminpour et al: “Sustainable management of natural resources requires adequate scientific knowledge about complex relationships between human and natural systems. Such understanding is difficult to achieve in many contexts due to data scarcity and knowledge limitations.

We explore the potential of harnessing the collective intelligence of resource stakeholders to overcome this challenge. Using a fisheries example, we show that by aggregating the system knowledge held by stakeholders through graphical mental models, a crowd of diverse resource users produces a system model of social–ecological relationships that is comparable to the best scientific understanding.

We show that the averaged model from a crowd of diverse resource users outperforms those of more homogeneous groups. Importantly, however, we find that the averaged model from a larger sample of individuals can perform worse than one constructed from a smaller sample. However, when averaging mental models within stakeholder-specific subgroups and subsequently aggregating across subgroup models, the effect is reversed. Our work identifies an inexpensive, yet robust way to develop scientific understanding of complex social–ecological systems by leveraging the collective wisdom of non-scientist stakeholders…(More)”.