Bridging Data Gaps Can Help Tackle the Climate Crisis

Article by Bo Li and Bert Kroese: “A famous physicist once said: “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it”.

Nearly 140 years later, this maxim remains true and is particularly poignant for policymakers tasked with addressing climate mitigation and adaptation.

That’s because they face major information gaps that impede their ability to understand the impact of policies—from measures to incentivize cuts in emissions, to regulations that reduce physical risks and boost resilience to climate shocks. And without comprehensive and internationally comparable data to monitor progress, it’s impossible to know what works, and where course corrections are needed.

This underscores the importance of the support of G20 leaders for a new Data Gaps Initiative to make official statistics more detailed, and timely. It calls for better data to understand climate change, together with indicators that cover income and wealth, financial innovation and inclusion, access to private and administrative data, and data sharing. In short, official statistics need to be broader, more detailed, and timely.

The sector where change is needed the most is energy, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for around three-quarters of the total.

Economies must expand their renewable energy sources and curb fossil fuel use, but while there’s been a gradual shift in that direction, the pace is still not sufficient. And not only is there a lack of policy ambition in many cases, there also is a lack of comprehensive and internationally comparable data to monitor progress.

To accelerate cuts to emissions, policymakers need detailed statistics to monitor the path of the energy transition and assist them in devising effective mitigation measures that can deliver the fastest and least disruptive pathway toward net zero emissions…(More)”.

Measuring the environmental impacts of artificial intelligence compute and applications

OECD Paper: “Artificial intelligence (AI) systems can use massive computational resources, raising sustainability concerns. This report aims to improve understanding of the environmental impacts of AI, and help measure and decrease AI’s negative effects while enabling it to accelerate action for the good of the planet. It distinguishes between the direct environmental impacts of developing, using and disposing of AI systems and related equipment, and the indirect costs and benefits of using AI applications. It recommends the establishment of measurement standards, expanding data collection, identifying AI-specific impacts, looking beyond operational energy use and emissions, and improving transparency and equity to help policy makers make AI part of the solution to sustainability challenges…(More)”.

Marine Data Sharing: Challenges, Technology Drivers and Quality Attributes

Paper by Keila Lima et al: “Many companies have been adopting data-driven applications in which products and services are centered around data analysis to approach new segments of the marketplace. Data ecosystems rise from data sharing among organizations premeditatedly. However, this migration to this new data sharing paradigm has not come that far in the marine domain. Nevertheless, better utilizing the ocean data might be crucial for humankind in the future, for food production, and minerals, to ensure the ocean’s health….We investigate the state-of-the-art regarding data sharing in the marine domain with a focus on aspects that impact the speed of establishing a data ecosystem for the ocean.We conducted an exploratory case study based on focus groups and workshops to understand the sharing of data in this context. Results: We identified main challenges of current systems that need to be addressed with respect to data sharing. Additionally, aspects related to the establishment of a data ecosystem were elicited and analyzed in terms of benefits, conflicts, and solutions…(More)”.

People’s Plan for Nature

About: “The nature crisis affects everyone, and we believe everyone should have a say in how we solve it. The People’s Plan for Nature is the UK’s biggest ever conversation about the future of nature.

The People’s Plan for Nature will include recommendations for governments (local and national), food and farming businesses, non-governmental organisations, communities, and individuals.
These recommendations will be the outcome of the People’s Assembly for Nature, a citizens’ assembly that will run as part of the project. This assembly will bring together a group of people from all walks of life to have an honest conversation, find common ground and make recommendations for the protection and restoration of nature in the UK.
This will ensure the People’s Plan for Nature is rooted in the values, ideas and experiences of people from all corners of the UK…(More)”.

Climate Action Data Trust to unify carbon credit registry data

Press Release: “The International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) today revealed information on the forthcoming launch of Climate Action Data Trust (CAD Trust), a decentralised metadata system that can link, aggregate and harmonise all major carbon market registry data.

Climate Action Data Trust (CAD Trust) is a joint initiative of the International Emissions Trading Association, The World Bank and the Singapore government, along with a variety of governments and public and private organisations. It will provide an open-source metadata system to share information about carbon credits and projects across digital platforms, easing future integration of multiple registry systems. CAD Trust uses distributed ledger technology to create a decentralised record with the aim to avoid double counting, increase trust in carbon data and enhance climate ambition.

Many countries and companies intend to use carbon markets to deliver their contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement. IETA’s review of the latest updates to Nationally Determined Contributions shows that about 80% are interested in using Article 6 trading provisions to meet their goals. To use Article 6, countries must track and report on use of international credits through a registry system. The CAD Trust system will assist in promoting high-integrity systems and digital linkages. 

The CAD Trust platform will go live in early December, when the public metadata layer will be widely available through CAD Trust evolved out of the Climate Warehouse, an initiative launched by the World Bank. For the past three years, the initiative has prototyped a series of simulations of the data system with partner governments, carbon crediting programmes and other organisations. The final prototype ended in August and work is now underway to prepare the data layer to go live…(More)”.

Citizen science tackles plastics in Ghana

Interview with Dilek Fraisl and Omar Seidu by Stephanie Olen: “An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste leaks into the ocean every year, and Ghana generates approximately 1.1 million tonnes of plastics per year. This is due to the substantial economic growth that Ghana has experienced in recent years, as well as the 2.2% population growth annually, which has urged the Ghanaian authorities to act. Ghana was the first African country to join the Global Plastic Action Partnership in 2019. Ghana also has a growing and active citizen science beach clean-up community including one of our project partners, the Smart Nature Freak Youth Volunteers Foundation (SNFYVF).

Before our work, Ghana had no official data available related to marine plastic litter. Based on the data collected through citizen science initiatives in the country and our project ‘Citizen Science for the SDGs in Ghana’ (CS4SDGs), we now know that in 2020 alone more than 152 million plastic items were found along the beaches in the country…

One of the key factors for the success of our project was due to Ghana’s progressive approach to the use of new sources of data for official statistics. For example, the Ghanaian Government passed the new Statistical Service Act in 2019, which mandates the GSS to coordinate statistical information across the whole government system, develop and raise awareness of codes of ethics and practices to produce data, and include new sources of data as a valid input for production of official statistics. This shows that the effective legal arrangements can prepare the groundwork for citizen science data to be used as official statistics and for SDG monitoring and reporting. Political commitment from the partners in Ghana also helped to achieve success. Ultimately, without the support of citizen science and action groups in the country that actually collected the litter and the data on the ground, this project would have never been successful. Since the start, citizen scientists have been willing to work with the government agencies and international partners, as well as other key stakeholders to support our project, which played a significant role in achieving our result…(More)”.

Avert Bangladesh’s looming water crisis through open science and better data

Article by Augusto Getirana et al: “Access to data is a huge problem. Bangladesh collects a large amount of hydrological data, such as for stream flow, surface and groundwater levels, precipitation, water quality and water consumption. But these data are not readily available: researchers must seek out officials individually to gain access. India’s hydrological data can be similarly hard to obtain, preventing downstream Bangladesh from accurately predicting flows into its rivers.

Bilateral scientific collaboration between Bangladesh and water-sharing nations, including India, Nepal, Bhutan and China, would be mutually beneficial. The decades-long Mekong River Commission between Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam is one successful transboundary agreement that could serve as a model.

Publishing hydrological data in an open-access database would be an exciting step. For now, however, the logistics, funding and politics to make on-the-ground data publicly available are likely to remain out of reach.

Fortunately, satellite data can help to fill the gaps. Current Earth-observing satellite missions, such as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) Follow-On, the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) network, multiple radar altimeters and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors make data freely available and can provide an overall picture of water availability across the country (this is what we used in many of our analyses). The picture is soon to improve. In December, NASA and CNES, France’s space agency, plan to launch the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite mission. SWOT will provide unprecedented information on global ocean and inland surface waters at fine spatial resolution, allowing for much more detailed monitoring of water levels than is possible today. The international scientific community has been working hard over the past 15 years to get ready to store, process and use SWOT data.

New open-science initiatives, particularly NASA’s Earth Information System, launched in 2021, can help by supporting the development of customized data-analysis and modelling tools (see The data we present here were acquired in this framework. We are currently working on an advanced hydrological model that will be capable of representing climate-change effects and human impacts on Bangladesh’s water availability. We expect that the co-development of such a modelling system with local partners will support decision-making.

SERVIR, a joint programme of NASA and the US Agency for International Development that focuses on capacity-building, could also help improve forecasting of severe weather for Bangladesh, for example. This could improve the flood monitoring and forecast system operated by the Bangladesh Water Development Board, which is limited in geographical scope — flooding is monitored only at specific locations, not across the country. Such efforts will help with short-term adaptation and emergency responses to flood conditions, and with long-term planning for infrastructure…(More)”.

The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants

Book by Karen Bakker: “The natural world teems with remarkable conversations, many beyond human hearing range. Scientists are using groundbreaking digital technologies to uncover these astonishing sounds, revealing vibrant communication among our fellow creatures across the Tree of Life.

At once meditative and scientific, The Sounds of Life shares fascinating and surprising stories of nonhuman sound, interweaving insights from technological innovation and traditional knowledge. We meet scientists using sound to protect and regenerate endangered species from the Great Barrier Reef to the Arctic and the Amazon. We discover the shocking impacts of noise pollution on both animals and plants. We learn how artificial intelligence can decode nonhuman sounds, and meet the researchers building dictionaries in East African Elephant and Sperm Whalish. At the frontiers of innovation, we explore digitally mediated dialogues with bats and honeybees. Technology often distracts us from nature, but what if it could reconnect us instead?

The Sounds of Life offers hope for environmental conservation and affirms humanity’s relationship with nature in the digital age. After learning about the unsuspected wonders of nature’s sounds, we will never see walks outdoors in the same way again…(More)”.

‘Dark data’ is killing the planet – we need digital decarbonisation

Article by Tom Jackson and Ian R. Hodgkinson: “More than half of the digital data firms generate is collected, processed and stored for single-use purposes. Often, it is never re-used. This could be your multiple near-identical images held on Google Photos or iCloud, a business’s outdated spreadsheets that will never be used again, or data from internet of things sensors that have no purpose.

This “dark data” is anchored to the real world by the energy it requires. Even data that is stored and never used again takes up space on servers – typically huge banks of computers in warehouses. Those computers and those warehouses all use lots of electricity.

This is a significant energy cost that is hidden in most organisations. Maintaining an effective organisational memory is a challenge, but at what cost to the environment?

In the drive towards net zero many organisations are trying to reduce their carbon footprints. Guidance has generally centred on reducing traditional sources of carbon production, through mechanisms such as carbon offsetting via third parties (planting trees to make up for emissions from using petrol, for instance).

While most climate change activists are focused on limiting emissions from the automotive, aviation and energy industries, the processing of digital data is already comparable to these sectors and is still growing. In 2020, digitisation was purported to generate 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Production of digital data is increasing fast – this year the world is expected to generate 97 zettabytes (that is: 97 trillion gigabytes) of data. By 2025, it could almost double to 181 zettabytes. It is therefore surprising that little policy attention has been placed on reducing the digital carbon footprint of organisations…(More)”.

Governing the Environment-Related Data Space

Stefaan G. Verhulst, Anthony Zacharzewski and Christian Hudson at Data & Policy: “Today, The GovLab and The Democratic Society published their report, “Governing the Environment-Related Data Space”, written by Jörn Fritzenkötter, Laura Hohoff, Paola Pierri, Stefaan G. Verhulst, Andrew Young, and Anthony Zacharzewski . The report captures the findings of their joint research centered on the responsible and effective reuse of environment-related data to achieve greater social and environmental impact.

Environment-related data (ERD) encompasses numerous kinds of data across a wide range of sectors. It can best be defined as data related to any element of the Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) Framework. If leveraged effectively, this wealth of data could help society establish a sustainable economy, take action against climate change, and support environmental justice — as recognized recently by French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions Michael R. Bloomberg when establishing the Climate Data Steering Committee.

While several actors are working to improve access to, as well as promote the (re)use of, ERD data, two key challenges that hamper progress on this front are data asymmetries and data enclosures. Data asymmetries occur due to the ever-increasing amounts of ERD scattered across diverse actors, with larger and more powerful stakeholders often maintaining unequal access. Asymmetries lead to problems with accessibility and findability (data enclosures), leading to limited sharing and collaboration, and stunting the ability to use data and maximize its potential to address public ills.

The risks and costs of data enclosure and data asymmetries are high. Information bottlenecks cause resources to be misallocated, slow scientific progress, and limit our understanding of the environment.

A fit-for-purpose governance framework could offer a solution to these barriers by creating space for more systematic, sustainable, and responsible data sharing and collaboration. Better data sharing can in turn ease information flows, mitigate asymmetries, and minimize data enclosures.

And there are some clear criteria for an effective governance framework…(More)”