New platform aims to bridge gap between climate data and climate action

By Catherine Cheney 23 September 2016

The event, "Harnessing the Data Revolution for Climate Resilience" highlighted how the data revolution and public-private collaborations for building climate resilience are creating more timely, accessible, user-friendly, and user-customizable data to support decision-making. Photo by: World Resources Institute / CC BY-NC-SA

Wine growers in Sonoma, California, and coffee farmers in Caldas, Colombia, speak different languages, grow different crops, and lead different lives, but they face similar challenges when it comes to the risks posed by the effects of climate change.

The launch of the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness, or PREP, represents one way United States government agencies are bringing in partners to harness the data revolution for climate resilience. Through a U.S. Agency for International Development program, Sonoma and Caldas already shared best practices in watershed management with one another. Now, with the new platform and partnership, more communities can join in on this effort to make better decisions based on data then share those ideas across borders.

“Communities like ours, through tools like PREP, have a virtual path to collaboration for a more sustainable future,” said Ann DuBay, community and government affairs manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, at an event Thursday in New York City hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the U.S. Department of State and the World Resources Institute.

Groups such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have massive amounts of data, but often it is too technical to use, or potential users lack analysis and visualization capabilities. The beta platform of PREP makes available climate data more accessible and actionable to decision makers at the local level. It is launching in a few communities and expanding the user base and functionality of the platform over the next year.

“The PREP platform combines open-source technology and intuitive design to create a place that inspires people to take action and share their stories of how they did it,” said David Gonzalez, founder and chief technology officer of Vizzuality, who presented on the way the platform works. The idea is that users will have access to climate change data tailored to their unique needs while also contributing to the data set to provide insights on their local contexts, he said. As the PREP community grows, the group of partners behind it will gather more data, which will lead them to make better climate related decisions as well.

The event yesterday demonstrated the diversity of partners supporting PREP, with panelists representing Google Cloud Platform, government ministers from Kenya, Mexico, and Bangladesh, and Descartes Labs, among others. The U.S. Department of State also issued a joint statement Thursday along with 13 other governments and nine separate organizations resolving to take actions to improve data for climate. They include accelerating efforts to support the open sharing of data, embracing data interoperability, and supporting coordination among complementary efforts.

"PREP is about reaching not just across the federal government, but across the public and private sectors, seeking out the best talent, the best capabilities to turn Earth science data into accessible information,” said Ellen Stofan, the chief scientist of NASA, who spoke at the event. “And nothing could be more critical than making this country, and countries around the world, more resilient to the effects of climate change."

PREP builds on the work the White House has done to pioneer new partnerships in order to provide actionable data for climate change, said John Holdren, the senior adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama on science and technology issues. He mentioned the 2014 Climate Data Initiative, a call to action to private sector innovators to build tools from open data resources, and the 2015 Climate Services for Resilient Development, a public-private partnership to provide actionable information to decision makers dealing with the effects of climate change in developing countries.

PREP was not the only partnership bringing the public sector and private sector together to bridge the divide between information and action. At the same event, James Close, director of climate change at the World Bank Group, announced the Big Data Innovation Challenge. But while a growing number of actors are recognizing the need to make available climate data more accessible and actionable, these platforms will not work without coordination and collaboration.

The Paris agreement provided an environmental pull. Now is the time for an environmental push, which requires both platforms and partnerships, said Alicia Bárcena, executive director of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

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About the author

Catherine cheney devex
Catherine Cheneycatherinecheney

Catherine Cheney covers the West Coast global development community for Devex. Since graduating from Yale University, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in political science, Catherine has worked as a reporter and editor for a range of publications including World Politics Review, POLITICO, and NationSwell, a media company and membership network she helped to build. She is also an ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute.


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