Cities of the world and the lack of climate data collection

Satellite data shows the past eight years have been the eight warmest and the past decade has been the warmest since record keeping began in 1880, in a graph released on January 13. (Photo: Reuters)

With cities facing disastrous climate stresses and shocks in the coming years, one would think they would be rushing to implement mitigation and adaptation strategies. Yet most city dwellers are only dimly aware of the risks, because their towns’ mayors, managers and councils don’t collect and analyze the right kinds of information.

As more governments adopt strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, cities around the world need to improve their collection and interpretation of climate data. More than 11,000 cities have already signed a global pact to fight climate change and manage the clean energy transition, and many are aiming to reach net zero emissions before their national counterparts. Yet almost all of them still lack the basic tools to measure progress.

Closing this gap has become urgent, as climate change is already disrupting cities around the world. Cities on almost every continent are being ravaged by heat waves, fires, typhoons and hurricanes. Coastal cities are being hit by severe flooding linked to rising sea levels. And some megacities and their sprawling outskirts are being completely reconsidered, as in the case of Indonesia’s $34 billion plan to move its capital from Jakarta to Borneo by 2024.

Worse still, while many sub-national governments are setting ambitious new green targets, more than 40% of cities (home to some 400 million people) still lack a meaningful climate change preparedness strategy. And this share is even lower in Africa and Asia, where it is estimated that 90% of all future urbanization over the next three decades is expected to occur.

We know that climate preparedness plans are closely linked to investments in climate action, including nature-based solutions and systematic resilience. But strategies alone are not enough. We also need to develop data-driven surveillance platforms. Powered by satellites and sensors, these systems can track temperatures inside and outside buildings, alert city dwellers to air quality issues, and provide high-resolution information on specific GHG concentrations. (carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide) and particles.

Technology companies are the first to enter this market. For example, Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer aggregates data on building and transportation emissions, air quality, and solar potential for municipal authorities. And projects like Climate Watch, Project AirView, Project Sunroof, and the Surface Particulate Matter Network provide city analysts with historical data, track automobile pollution and methane leaks, and even help individual users determine the potential for pollution. solar energy from their homes.

But it’s worth remembering that many private sector climate data initiatives have been built on the back of large-scale, publicly supported programs. The best-known source of climate data is NASA, which uses satellite data and chemical and weather dispersion models to track emissions and predict the movement of pollutants. Similarly, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association tracks wildfires and smog (among others) and publishes data-driven forecasts through its National Center for Environmental Prediction. And in Europe, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service generates five-day forecasts based on its tracking of aerosols, air pollutants, GHGs and UV Index readings.

Google Earth has become a staple resource by organizing and making good use of over four decades of historical images and data drawn primarily from public sources. Since the private sector has been capitalizing on this data for years, cities no longer have any excuse not to do the same. An easily accessible source of city-level data is the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Air Quality Information and Prediction System, which tracks everything from dust storms to fires and air pollution. smoke. Another is the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environment Platform, which provides high-resolution forecasts.

Some pioneer cities have already started working with smaller data providers such as PlumeLabs, which collects air quality data through locally distributed sensors. But just as access to data is essential, so are the methods of making it useful. As things stand, datasets tend to be fragmented across platforms, and even when city leaders agree the climate emergency deserves their attention, extracting insights from the details remains a challenge. cut. Cities generate a chorus of climate data, but have yet to teach it to sing in tune.

Building a harmonious ecosystem of climate data will require an accessible platform to consolidate disparate measurements. Data also needs to be streamlined and standardized to improve monitoring of inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact. Better data management will improve decision-making and empower ordinary citizens, potentially fostering collaboration and even positive-sum competition between cities. Public, private and philanthropic partnerships can have a catalytic effect, as was the case when cities like Amsterdam, Bristol, Chicago and Los Angeles partnered with SecDev Group to create an interactive city vulnerability monitoring dashboard .

However, consolidating and standardizing climate data for cities carries certain risks. When global technology providers flood the market, they can stifle local innovation in data collection and analysis. Also, by focusing too much on a small set of metrics for each city, we run the risk of applying Goodhart’s law: once a metric becomes a target, people start playing it. Consider targets designed to reduce vehicle emissions that result in the production of cars designed to pass emissions testing, rather than low-emission cars.

Likewise, when climate data is more centralized, political and commercial interests might have more incentive to bias it in their favor through lobbying and other means. And policymakers will need to ensure that all potentially sensitive or individualized data remains private and protected, and that the datasets and algorithms they power avoid reproducing structural biases and discrimination.

Most of these dangers can be identified early and avoided through experimentation, with cities pursuing unique strategies and promising new measures. But unless cities step up their monitoring and data collection systems, they will be unlikely to meet their climate goals. Better analysis can help raise awareness of climate risks, optimize responses and ensure that mitigation and adaptation strategies are more equitable. We can’t manage the climate crisis until we measure it, and we can’t measure it until we can collect and analyze the right information.

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