Harnessing the data revolution for climate action

One small step for data, one giant leap for climate resilience

Yesterday the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and World Resources Institute launched a new public-private collaboration — the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP). PREP allows communities around the world to assess climate risks, prepare for the impacts of climate change, and develop resilience plans through better access to priority data on weather, floods, droughts and more. Over the last few years we’ve seen the power of data visualisation to educate and inspire action, so we’re very proud to be a founding partner of this collaboration and a member of the PREP platform development team.

Our co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, David González, gave a demo of the PREP platform during an event in New York that discussed how the data revolution is helping to build climate resilience.

A change is gonna come.

Climate change is forecast to increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather across our planet. And with more extreme weather comes a greater risk of damage to our homes, farms and businesses that we depend on in our daily lives. For example, nearly 1.9 million American homes — a total value of nearly $882 billion — are at risk of flooding from rising sea levels.

Luckily, thanks to some incredible models (the mathematical kind), we actually have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen with the weather. But because these models aren’t very sexy, it can be hard to get people to take notice of them, let alone use them to take actions that will reduce flooding or drought. That’s where the PREP platform and partnership comes in.

PREP uses technology to address some of the age-old barriers to making informed and impactful decisions, which can lead to real action for climate resilience and preparedness. It’s a place for people to meet and find the data, insights and tools they need to prepare for and manage the impacts of climate change.

This dataset on hurricane tracks is one example of data available through the PREP platform (http://prepdata.org)

Get ready and be PREPared.

So how can we prepare ourselves to be climate resilient? We can start by talking to each other and sharing our data. World-leading scientific agencies like NASA and NOAA, as well as academic institutions from around the world have authoritative data and insights on climate change that can help us prepare for the future — and as members of the PREP partnership, these organisations have made all of this information available on the PREP platform. The challenge for the team at vizzuality was how to bring all these different sources of data together into one compelling narrative.

Enter the PREP platform. To make it really easy for people to share their climate data and find inspiration from others, we’ve built a website that mixes standard, open-source technology in innovative ways. With just one API, it’s possible to query all the data in one request. It doesn’t matter if the data is in CARTO, csv, arcgis, wvms, or json format because we’ve used single query line and feature service, both standard languages, to query the data and reveal the information that is sought. Whatever system you use, you’ll be able to use it, avoiding any lengthy and difficult discussions about standards and compatibility. We’ve done the hard work so local planners and other climate resilience managers don’t have to.

Understanding the science and data, and picking out the key information to act on, is one of the biggest problems with existing climate change tools and applications. For even the most data-savvy, turning data points into insights can be complex and time-consuming. Throughout every page, our aim was to make data:

  • understandable, so anyone can interpret the data;
  • salient, so the most pressing issues stand out straight away, and:
  • actionable, so people can do something with what they find out.

We also understand that everyone has different preferences for data visualisation, so we’ve provided a range of options to make sure every visitor can personalise their display. You can assemble chart widgets into a dashboard or throw layers at a map; visualise to your heart’s desire!

To improve the performance of the platform, react and redux are used in the front end of the application. React acts as a library, making it quicker to update information in each of your front end components as you make new queries of the data. Vega is also deployed in the front end, giving users the option to seamlessly build graphics that meet specific chart requirements. The result is a system that is flexible yet accurate and delivers the precise information needed to make long-term planning decisions.

“Business as usual is not sustainable.”

If you explore the PREP platform for yourself, you will find data-driven stories from across the world as well as tools that spotlight specific climate-related risks and solutions. My own personal favourite thing about PREP is seeing that people are already taking action to make their communities resilient to climate change. As Alicia Bárcena, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, stated yesterday, “Business as usual is not sustainable.” We must approach our decisions for climate resilience from new angles if we’re going to take action that works — and PREP represents a powerful resource and a way forward to do just that. Connect with PREP and start your own PREParations for the future.