COP20 Day Four – getting the UN’s climate data on the same page

Data, knowledge management and innovation for climate action was the topic of a panel discussion today at COP20 in Lima. With a broad panel of speakers (see full list below), this dialogue represented an opportunity to demonstrate unity across the veritable pantheon of United Nations organizations, which are all involved in collecting data to achieve the key tenets of the sustainable development and climate change agendas. 

The audience heard experiences from a diverse set of initiatives, from research on ocean acidification (UNESCO), to conserving environmentally sensitive peat forests (UNORCID), to qualitative surveys using a multidimensional poverty tool (IFAD). Researchers and development practitioners alike recognized the role of not only environmental, but also social and demographic data in structuring effective climate action.

Panellists also accepted the enormous potential of “big data” to paint a more accurate picture of conditions on the ground. For example, since there are multiple factors that affect household vulnerability to climate change, it is greatly beneficial to have access to a variety of data sources that reveal local climate risk, and predict how households are likely to react to those risks. Geospatial and remote sensing data, census data, mobile phone data, data on human migration flows and even crowd sourced data are conducive to understanding vulnerability. 

Of course, it is not only about data collection, but how it is interpreted and applied, which lead to more informed decision making. There are no perfect models, but by choosing the appropriate parameters in the right settings, we are better able than ever before to refine raw information into practicable knowledge. 

Several members of the audience rightly questioned whether so many centres of data collection have led to fragmentation of efforts with no real added value. Indeed, panellists considered this a legitimate concern, but advocated in favour of standing partnerships between UN agencies, and more open source data on global public goods such as oceans, forests and river deltas. Lastly, it was generally agreed that international forums such as the UN’s COP20 are instrumental to ensuring that knowledge (which is gleaned from data) influences policy. 

List of Participants:

Pradeep Monga - UNIDO
Daniel Schensul - UNFPA
Satya S. Tripathi - UNORCID
Jukka Uosukainen - CTCN
Koko Warner - UNU
Ilaria Firmian - IFAD
Phillip Williamson - UNESCO