How can data sharing help combat climate change?

Ashwinram Meenakshisundaram

Climate change and sustainability have become a household topic in recent years and many countries are discussing solutions to combat climate change. Ice caps on both the poles are melting at an alarming rate and children have been going on strike for climate marches. July 2019 has been recorded as the warmest month ever and satellite images show parts of regions that are typically cold, such as the Arctic region, Siberia, Greenland, and Alaska are now prone to wildfires. In September 2020, many northern California residents woke up to an eerie, dark orange apocalyptic sky caused by 500,000 acres of wildfires across the state. To prevent these – and worse – crises, experts urge to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yet this requires rapid change on multiple levels.

One of the solutions proposed by countries around the world is to cut carbon emissions by at least 70% and reach net zero by 2050. Net-zero means not adding any more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. How can countries achieve this? There is a two-word answer to this question: “data sharing.”

Data sharing to tackle climate change

By having access to information and data on carbon emissions and energy consumption, citizens and businesses can make well-informed decisions to cut their emissions and develop fact-based products and services to tackle climate change. Across the globe, governments too are using all forms of data to track environmental issues and develop policies to support them.

One such example of how data can lead to positive environmental change is waste data from GPS sensors. Cities across the world make use of waste sensors 1 , which are tucked in the trash and can help city planners monitor how much trash moves through the city. This in turn allows them to optimise collection sites and routes. The trackers and phone location data also allow for better planning of public transportation and gauging just how polluted the city is.

Data sharing also plays an interesting part in mobility. Getting a handle on the carbon footprint of scooters and electric bicycles can be challenging. One such environmentally friendly project “The Copenhagen Wheel” has received widespread attention for its ability to transform a bicycle into a hybrid bike and acts as a sensor by collecting data on air pollution, traffic congestion, and road conditions. This helps the local government to create solutions for traffic congestion, suggesting alternate traffic routes and addressing air pollution.

Requiring that companies share their carbon emissions data publicly can also help to hold them accountable for their sustainability pledges. Quite recently, news broke that several large banks have invested billions of dollars in the expansion of oil and gas, despite pledging to move to net-zero as part of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance. Greenpeace also accused Amazon of not adhering to its net-zero pledge to gain business from the oil and gas industry. These incidents demonstrate a long-running “greenwashing problem with the net-zero pledges in the private sector, i.e., businesses making misleading or unsubstantiated claims about their environmental performance.

If public companies started sharing data publicly about their carbon emissions and environmental impacts of their projects, this would help track the sustainable changes made by them and in turn, will help keep them accountable in their progress towards their stated climate goals.

  • 1Vishnu S., Ramson S.R.J., Rukmini M.S.S., and Abu-Mahfouz A.M. Sensor-Based Solid Waste Handling Systems: A Survey. Sensors 2022, 22, 2340.

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