How data can inform government decisions in tackling climate change
Why confronting the climate crisis requires true collaboration between the public and private sectors

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Good news: Stopping climate change is possible. Bad news: It will take a lot of work, and time is running out.

According to a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), countries must band together now to significantly reduce emissions over the next few years, or limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels – the aspirational and crucial temperature threshold set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement – will likely be unattainable.

The United Nations Panel reveals that for this to happen, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak no later than 2025 and be reduced by 43% by 2030. We must also achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally by the early 2050s.

It’s an overwhelming mission, no doubt. But it’s not hopeless. One important tool that can help us get there is big data.

How can government agencies utilize data to take the guesswork out of a pressing issue like climate change? What datasets are currently available and being employed by the U.S., and what can private organizations do to make sure they’re using data more efficiently to do their part?

Let’s discuss.

A breadth of data at our fingertips

The amount of climate data at our disposal is, quite frankly, overwhelming.

Modern observations mostly come from weather stations, weather balloons, radars, ships and buoys, and satellites. However, a surprisingly large number of U.S. measurements are still made by volunteer weather watchers.

There are over 8,700 citizen observers in the National Weather Service’s Cooperative Observer Program who log daily weather data. On the ocean, moored and drifting buoys have recently begun replacing boats as the primary method for measuring temperatures at sea.

NASA conducts a program of breakthrough research on climate science, which informs the international scientific community’s ability to advance global integrated Earth system science using space-based observations. NASA’s research encompasses solar activity, sea level rise, the temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans, the state of the ozone layer, air pollution, and changes in sea ice and land ice.

Ultimately, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for preserving the global climate record. Other nations also maintain archives of global weather and climate observations.

Using data to advise government on climate change measures

There are countless ways government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels can (and do) use this data to make climate change-related decisions – both in terms of providing services and offsetting the impact of actual climate change.

Take hurricanes, for example. By analyzing historical data, you can identify the areas and populations traditionally most impacted by storms and preemptively move resources to where they’ll be most effective. Data availability allows you to be agile, take preventative measures, and get in front of situations to avoid possible humanitarian catastrophes.

Climate change data can also be studied to learn more about the rate of melting glaciers, rising water levels, carbon footprints, and more. The possibilities feel almost limitless – and that is part of the problem.

Obstacles that hamper effective data use

A lot of information is open source and readily available. But making sense of the data is easier said than done.

There’s no uniform method for categorizing the data. NASA may pull and categorize its data one way, but the Department of Transportation may have its own system. And both of these may be completely different than datasets compiled by a local government.

Yet, even if all the data was tagged the same way, who’s to say it would be made accessible to everyone?

Unfortunately, public agencies are often reluctant to share their data. This hesitation reduces the scope of accessible information, hinders cooperative solutions, and thwarts progress – none of which are helpful for combating issues associated with climate change.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

How to maximize climate data

Data standardization and widespread collaboration are the key. Everyone must speak the same “language” and share information.

We’re starting to see this – albeit slowly and on a small scale.

The federal government is moving toward creating a standard taxonomy that will allow different agencies to collect and connect their data. This will amplify the power of government data, enabling it to provide further insight and predictive analytics around pressing issues like climate change.

However, this sort of collaboration can’t be limited to just the public sector agencies. Partnerships between the public and private sectors are imperative.

The federal, state, and local government entities need to share information with large companies who also collect massive amounts of data. Everyone must work together to ensure that the data is harnessed in meaningful ways.

Right now, we’re seeing governments publishing some open data online and allowing citizens to utilize it for the greater good by creating apps that make sense of large datasets and offer helpful insights (usually to local communities). If this was performed on a broader scale, however, we’d be able to harness the data in an even more meaningful way.

And SHI can help with that.

The (green) bridge between the public and private sector

When it comes to implementing green initiatives, SHI has the expertise and experience to connect public and private sector requirements.

Thanks to our span of partners, we can focus on the right green technologies to optimize business transformations for government and education agencies. Not sure if you can squeeze your dream green project(s) into the budget? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

With our Public Sector Supports Grant Program, we can help you get the funding you need to support your green initiatives. And once you’re ready, we can assess your capabilities, build a roadmap to put the right technology in place, and get you on your way to going green.

Additionally, say you’ve received a grant and been given access to considerable amounts of data – from multiple sources – to understand certain variables and dynamics around climate change, but you don’t know how to connect the dots or build a strategy around these disparate datasets. SHI can help with that as well.

With a data strategy workshop, we’ll help you build out the mechanisms to achieve your desired goal, execute the plan securely and within compliance regulations, and give you the tools and guidance to manage operations long-term.

We’re all in this together

The available climate data is expansive. It’s also often isolated and not shared among government agencies or private organizations. This needs to change. Now.

Collaboration and information sharing are the only ways we’re going to reverse the effects of climate change, harness the power of data, and build tools that will benefit the greater good.

We only have one Earth. Let’s not waste it.