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How public data can drive insight and solutions to climate change and sustainability

October 17, 2019

Valtech recently hosted the first in a series of events focused on how public data can be better used to find insights and solutions to climate change. Over 300 people gathered at The Royal Geographic Society in London to hear from a line-up of industry experts and discuss the topic.

Data brings us closer to the truth

First up was Paul Rose, one of the world’s most experienced divers, field science and polar experts. He shared some stories from a life spent exploring and gathering science data in some of the most beautiful and often challenging environments. For Paul, science data is something that can clearly tell a story about climate change and sustainability, whether it’s about biodiversity, carbon emissions or over-fishing.

“Data brings us closer to the truth,” he explained as he discussed a range of personal experiences about climate change. “If we can make data more available, then more people will ‘see’ this for themselves.”

Leveraging data to answer crucial questions

Sophie Adams from Ofgem explained the energy regulator’s mission to leverage its extensive data sets across the utility sector but also industry more generally. The first step is to make their data machine-readable, migrating it from a myriad of formats and platforms.

Ofgem's objective is to find insights that will help to create solutions. That might mean we can “decarbonise the UK economy in five – rather than twenty – years”. Ofgem is partnering with Valtech to develop a data exchange to enable this insight, helping data analysts and data scientists to investigate what factors are driving behaviour changes.

Structuring contributed data to make it fully usable

The National Biodiversity Network oversees the exchange of biodiversity information. Jo Judge, their CEO, outlined how a staggering 18,700 volunteers contributed its data. The only downside of this is that data is in multiple formats – often individual spreadsheets. Their challenge is to invest in the collection and structuring of their data so it can be leveraged for greater insight.

Data is crucial to campaigning

Phil Taylor from the Open Seas Project illustrated the power of publicly-available data to help enforce policy. His experiences include the use of data to support understanding and investigation of a range of climate change and sustainability scenarios. The organisation is focused on the health of our seas and data is crucial to their campaigning, persuading politicians and policymakers to support change.

“Open Seas takes data and converts it into public awareness and understanding,” Phil explained. He shared some case examples when this involved satellite data, mapping data and public information about illegal fishing and dredging.

data is crucial

Making legacy data consistent

The Environment Agency has been on a journey with respect to its extensive collection of data sets. It no longer commercialises its data. It’s now freely available. The challenge, however, is in making it consistent and understandable. A problem that was recently addressed, for example, was that the organisation has more than 50 years of data from over 2,000 monitoring stations. However, the same station was called something different in the company’s own data archives. Not an uncommon challenge with historical data sets.

Insights that will drive change

The panel then discussed what they want from public data when it comes to increasing understanding and finding solutions to climate change and sustainability. In order to empower people to challenge the status quo, there is a real need for more data sources. For example, they wanted to have access to data sets such as temperature, hours of sunlight, use of electric vehicles, purchase of electric vehicles, switching to renewable energy tariffs, and so forth. Doing this would enable more investigation of what is changing behaviour and, of course, how we can encourage more change.

Another area of focus was on making sure all publicly-funded data is open and available. The panel felt that this would be key in empowering more people to do the analysis. Improving and supporting the processes of collecting and cleaning data will make it more discoverable and accessible. Ultimately, this will allow people to bring more climate change and sustainability data to life and take action.

Using tech to gather and share data

Ben Rewis from Save The Waves explained how they leverage the passion of surfing to engage people in protecting and preserving the coastal environment. Their Endangered Waves app empowers surfers and beach lovers to become real-time coastal stewards. Not only does it capture data that tracks and analyses the threats, but it also turns users into citizen scientists and is used to pressure coastal agencies and governments to take action. 

You can download the Endangered Waves app here:

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