Climate data plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change and experts need to turn it into actionable information that responds to the needs of today’s society, writes Nadège Lespagnol, head of EcoAct’s climate data analytics unit.
- The consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly alarming, but our economy is based on assumptions about climate stability.
- Climate data is becoming increasingly accessible, but transforming it into action remains a challenge for many organisations and territories worldwide.
- Science and technology can be a force for social good with immense power to unlock our society and industries’ net zero transformation, with collaboration driving future progress.
Climate change is one of the major challenges of our time. Rising temperatures are fuelling extreme weather events, natural disasters, food and water insecurity; all of which could lead to more than 200 million people migrating within their own countries by 2050. Climate data plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change, but our mission as climate experts is to turn it into actionable information that responds to the needs of today’s society.
The time that the world has to address the climate crisis is shrinking, while the costs of future-proofing our economy are mounting. Add in the uncertainty of the social and economic consequences of the risks posed by climate change and the outlook is grim.
Given that our economy is based on assumptions about climate stability, no industry is exempt from current and future climate risks. Surely anyone in a corporate board position understands that extreme weather events, such as heatwaves or coastal flooding, can severely affect their business, but do they understand in detail how this impact will be reflected in each of their operations? Are they fully aware that they could be facing a complete transformation of their business and, moreover, that they could be missing out on new opportunities that are opening up?
Climate data matters
In an ever-changing world, decision-makers in both the public and private sectors need accessible, relevant and comprehensive climate data to inform their decisions. We are not only referring to better forecasting and management of supply chains – which are facing major climate-related threats everywhere – but also better planning of key elements such as insurance needs or employee health. The locations, working hours and safety practices of many workers have already changed in key economy sectors as they adapt to rising sea levels or high temperatures.
Climate data is becoming increasingly accessible, and we can now find many freely available sources, such as GHG emissions data, satellite data and climate models – computer simulations of the Earth’s climate system that can be used to recreate the past climate or predict the future climate. Transforming all of this into action remains a challenge for many organisations and territories worldwide. Exploiting the potential of data and processing it so that stakeholders can understand it, own it, and use it effectively is what makes the difference in accelerating climate action.
Turning climate data into actionable insights
Climate change data and tools, such as scenario planning and climate modelling, are key to exploring the future in different ways and in turn support policy-makers and business leaders in making faster and better decisions. When operational staff have access to intuitive climate analysis tools with relevant data visualisation capabilities, they can observe what is affecting the environment around them, how the different variables interact, and so draw their own conclusions on how to address the climate crisis within their company, territory or organisation.
Coastal and vulnerable cities such as New Orleans, in the US, prone to hurricanes and storm surges, are an example of how climate modelling can turn data into actionable information and inform city-wide climate strategies. Using climate models, the city developed the world’s first comprehensive city resilience strategy, focusing on priority key actions to confront its most urgent threats, adapt the city to its changing natural environment, invest in equity, create flexible and reliable systems and prepare for future shocks.
2022 saw the launch of ECLR, a climate risk assessment and visualisation tool developed by climate consultancy and project developer EcoAct, an Atos company. It allows users to analyse the vulnerability of organisations’ physical sites to climate change hazards such as floods or ocean acidification in different scenarios and time horizons and thereby understand which measures need to be prioritised when reducing emissions or adapting to climate change.
Climate data analytics – driver of innovation and solutions to climate change
Data science and its associated tools offer tremendous opportunities to harness climate data. Scientific, political and communication practices around data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence have important implications for the climate crisis and our potential climate mitigation and adaptation solutions. These tools can aid in studying the effects of climate change on economic and financial systems, mobility patterns, marine biology, land use and restoration, food systems, disease patterns, and many other impacted areas.
Most importantly, data science is a powerful tool to help understand the uncertainties and ambiguities inherent in data. Data literacy is essential for identifying interventions, strategies and solutions that achieve benefits not only for a company, but also for humanity and the environment, and for assessing the multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives of corporate climate action.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is now seen as a solution for better measurement and ultimately for reducing CO2 emissions – a company can reduce its CO2 emissions by 5 to 10% by using AI. It can be also used to improve supply chain sustainability and help companies understand how their suppliers and partners operate. The German automotive manufacturer Audi piloted an AI-powered application to assess its supply chain through a set of environmental and social factors, including water pollution and waste problems. In cases of non-compliance, the carmaker will request supply partners to adjust, or else contractual relations would be terminated.
While decisions on climate change will always be complex, I remain optimistic. Data science is advancing at a staggering speed, offering us a unique opportunity to continue to leverage the power of both climate data and impact analysis. Building a collaborative culture that understands and acts on climate data has been a major driver in my professional career.
I believe science and technology can be a force for social good with immense power to unlock our society and industries’ net zero transformation. However, we must also ensure that we have the knowledge and understanding to take on the challenge.
The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.