How Citizens and Communities can take Climate Action

photo by Jodie Lehigh

What role does GROW Observatory play in addressing that most urgent of global challenges— addressing climate change and its impacts? Deborah Long with more.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. With such a huge target and the urgent need to take action, its easy to feel powerless to act and overwhelmed by the urgency of action needed. However, there are valuable actions that citizens can take individually and as part of their local community.

Climate Change is Already Impacting

Sustainable Development Goal 13 underlines the need for concerted action to stem climate change and to strengthen our resilience to pervasive and ever-increasing climate-related hazards. Between 1990 and 2015, more than 1.6 million people died in internationally reported natural hazards, and the trend is moving upward.

In 2018, news reports of droughts and fires across Europe, from Greece to Sweden reflect unpredictable and variable swings in climate conditions within short 12 month time frames and pushed climate change much higher on citizen and government agendas:

In 2018, the Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa, addressing the dangers associated with extreme weather conditions, said: “We must keep an eye on the future. As the superstorms and monsoon flooding of last year and the extreme heat and extreme cold of this year show — we still have a long way to go to deliver on the promise of the Paris Climate Change Agreement”.

Her comments reflect the new paradigm that comes out of Paris. There is a clear need to move from policy driving science to science driving policy. Observations, research and iterative assessment leads to better policy.

Citizens and data

However, this approach requires data collection at very wide spatial and temporal scales, which cannot be met by traditional science alone. This scale can be met through citizen science, given new opportunities for data gathering at scales unheard of using new technologies including hand held devices and portable sensors.

There are additional benefits to including citizen generated data in climate models. Citizens buy into data they in part generated. This in turn can lead to improved relationships between governments and citizens because of increased levels of understanding on both sides.

A further potential for the increased use of citizen generated data is that such data can also provide new potential proxy indicators particularly for difficult to measure indicators (Tier 3), which do not yet have standardised international methodologies.

One example of this is 13.2.1: Number of countries with integrated policy/strategy/plan to increase ability to adapt to climate change, foster climate resilience …… a manner that does not threaten food production.

Where climate models have been informed by locally derived high quality, citizen generated data, policy plans and strategies built from those models are locally relevant and therefore more sensitive to local geographic and cultural approaches to food production.

What happens when citizens generate and share data on land and soil parameters to help ground truth climate models? Moreover, when those citizens use the same data to understand and improve local food growing practice, the result is effective integration of policy, science and citizen engagement. This makes it much more likely that there can be an increased ability and willingness to adapt land management practices for climate change, specifically related to food production.

What’s happening across the world?

There are some powerful stories coming out of local initiatives that demonstrate positive progress and reflect an increasing momentum for change at local levels:

In Europe, the GROW Observatory shows how communities in 9 GROW Places across Europe are taking action to combat climate change and its impacts.

A key aim for GROW has always been to enable and empower land managers, citizens and policy makers to contribute to better climate change models plus use locally appropriate and sustainable practices for soil and land management. Actions designed to achieve this aim all have all come from Target: 13.3 — Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.

Communities in GROW Places are using hand held sensors, linked via mobile devices, to monitor soil moisture in real time and at geographic scales to inform local soil management (when to water for example) as well as contribute to validation of satellite derived climate change models, which depend on valid soil moisture measurements.

Having these data measured though these devices every 15 minutes and over months and years, enables European growers & farmers to understand their soil conditions better and take action to maintain soil condition and manage water use effectively.

Not only does this information enable them to grow crops suitable for their local area, but it also helps manage water input and adopt practices that help retain and regulate soils moisture, mulching for example. These data form the basis of growing practices that are better able to adapt to changing climate in specific areas.

This is a direct contribution to SDG 13: it directly improves the ability of EU society to manage climate variability & improve resilience to climate change. The data collected both contributes to applications and models on land cover and land use impacts, as well as enabling growers and farmers to understand local conditions and have knowledge to adapt growing and soil management practices.

You can get involved in making localised planting information more accurate in our growing facebook group:

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