Open data is needed for collaborative climate action

Making climate decisions more inclusive and transparent

Open Data Charter
Dec 5, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Cassie Matias on Unsplash

by Open Data Charter and World Resources Institute

As thousands gather in Madrid for the COP25, one message is clear — there is no time to waste to increase climate ambition. The recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap report provides a stark wake-up call: global ambition to reduce emissions must increase by more than a factor of five starting in 2020 in order to meet the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. As UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen says: “failure is simply not an option.”

Once countries submit more ambitious climate plans, they will need to ensure coherent and coordinated national processes for implementing climate actions in a timely and effective manner without undermining sustainable development goals. We know that effective climate policies are driven by access to high-quality data — both for developing these measures and understanding their impact. Beyond ensuring that climate data exists, it is also important to make sure this data is accessible, relevant, and usable for decision-makers and stakeholders. This can enhance intragovernmental cooperation, support efficient reporting, and build the public’s trust and awareness of government climate action.

There are promising efforts underway in Uruguay and Chile, with commitments from both countries to test the Guide to Open Up Data for Climate Action, which is being developed by the World Resources Institute and the Open Data Charter, with support from the Inter-American Development Bank. Both countries are also members of the Open Government Partnership, where they develop biannual action plans in collaboration with civil society with commitments to govern more transparently, inclusively and accountably. In its 2018–2020 OGP action plan, Uruguay included a commitment to develop its Monitoring, Reporting and Verification system through a transparent and participatory process.

The Guide offers an overview of data types across a range of sectors — such as electricity production, land use, and transport — that can support the design and implementation of evidence-based mitigation and adaptation policies and actions. It is intended as a guide for national governments that see the benefits of creating coherent, transparent climate action policies with open data. While non-exhaustive, it provides a useful starting point to initiate dialogue on what kinds of data are relevant for national circumstances and how it could be used across government sectors, civil society, and various scales.

Vulnerable groups often face greater barriers to access and use climate information, making it hard to channel the public pressure needed to demand structural reforms.

“Instead of asking people to worry about climate change, access to territorial data can help provide links to local problems, such as poverty, air quality, or water pollution, in more effective ways,” a civil society climate activist in Chile said during an interview conducted by our partner FIMA.

In Chile and Uruguay, environmental advocates agreed that climate data and information can contribute to granting voice and agency to people at risk, as long as it is accessible, understandable, and connected to local problems that affect communities. If climate data falls within these guidelines, these groups can be involved in shaping climate demands. While working with climate actors in both countries, we identified similar challenges and highlight preliminary findings below:

  • Greenhouse Gases: Tracking greenhouse gas (GHG) data is critical to identifying opportunities to achieve GHG reductions and to assess and report progress on the country’s mitigation targets. Both Chile and Uruguay have started to publish National Greenhouse Gas inventories and improvements like providing historical datasets are underway.
  • Water Resources: Tracking water quality and access was a prominent demand in Uruguay, as well as gathering historical data of temperature and precipitation. Due to massive droughts in Chile, better access to data regarding water systems, usage rights, and water flows was identified as critical for communities facing decline and depletion of this vital resource.
  • Natural Disasters and Forest Fires: Both Chile and Uruguay are particularly sensitive to natural disasters and fires in their native forests. Mapping forest resources provides estimates of CO2 removals and identifies the geo-referenced availability of forest biomass for power generation. Mapping these resources can also have a direct impact on the public and private sector when planning infrastructure strategies and acting when natural disasters occur. Uruguay has been progressing in this area and has recently published new data on native forests, plantations, and forest use.
  • Transport: The transport sector is one of the largest sources of global CO2 emissions, yet it is also vulnerable to climate change impacts on infrastructure. Data on this sector can be used by communities, municipalities, and the private sector to plan locally-relevant resilience initiatives and invest in low-carbon transportation systems. Through active collaboration with local governments, Uruguay is working to standardize how to publish data from its automotive fleet.
  • Climate Finance: Monitoring how and where money is spent is crucial for efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change. While little climate finance data is currently available, both countries considered this important. Uruguay has recently adopted the Open Fiscal Data Package, which provides a great opportunity to include climate budget in its implementation of climate action plans.

“Having access to timely data to make forecasts and influence public policies is one of the most transformative things that the government can do to address climate change,” a civil society climate activist from Chile said during an interview conducted by FIMA.

“It has enormous potential to improve our decision-making, but it also has a huge risk to go directly against the lived experience of the most vulnerable territories”. For this reason, as governments work to improve access to climate data, countries must ensure proper data stewardship to manage data assets, provide accountable safeguards for responsible use, and keep it accessible. This data should integrate private and public data so that a country can have a systematic, standardized, and comprehensive understanding of how climate change affects a particular location or sector (see ODI’s report on data trusts for more information).

As countries enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020 and implement existing policies and actions, they will need buy-in from across government and society. Based on early feedback from this pilot in Chile and Uruguay, an open data approach — when driven by the priorities of national stakeholders — can help make climate decisions more inclusive and transparent.

This blog was written by Ania Calderon and Agustina De Luca from the Open Data Charter, and Jesse Worker and Delfina Grinspan from the World Resources Institute.

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A collaboration between governments and experts working to open up data around a shared set of principles.

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