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Big Data Climate Challenge Winners show the UN how data can drive climate action

Sara Cornish
Oct 9, 2014
The Big Data Climate Challenge culminated during Climate Week in New York City, when representatives from the two winning projects attended the UN Climate Summit on 23 September, and gave several in-person presentations of their innovative projects, demonstrating firsthand how big data can mitigate climate risks and strengthen resilience.
 
Researchers from Russia and Gabon represented Global Forest Watch, a dynamic forest monitoring system, and two scientists from Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical in Colombia represented their team’s climate-smart, site-specific agriculture project—a decision-making support system for farmers. 
 
Over four exciting and busy days, the researchers attended the Climate Summit, presented their research at events hosted by Global Pulse, Thomson Reuters, UN Millennium Campaign and Microsoft, and met with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and UN Assistant Secretary-General Robert Orr.
 

“BIG DATA FOR MANAGING CLIMATE RISKS” ROUNDTABLE

 
On 22 September, Thomson Reuters hosted a roundtable event with Global Pulse on “Big Data for Managing Climate Risks.” CIAT and Global Forest Watch presented their research to a cross-section of climate experts and practitioners from foundations, private sector, UN and academia. The ensuing group discussion was moderated by Dr. Amy Luers, Director of Climate Change at Skoll Global Threats and Big Data Climate Challenge Advisory Board member. Both Challenge winners and seven “projects to watch” were displayed on posters around the room for participants to learn more about the landscape of big data for climate (for the full list, read this blog post).
 
Thomson Reuters and Global Pulse hosted a roundtable on "Big Data for Managing Climate Risks"
 

CLIMATE SUMMIT 

 
On 23 September, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened over 120 Heads of State and thousands of leaders from civil society, business and the public sector in New York for the first-ever Climate Summit. The Summit had two main objectives: driving political momentum toward a global climate agreement in 2015 and evidencing climate solutions on the ground.
 
To address this call for evidence, Global Pulse hosted the Big Data Climate Challenge to highlight data-driven climate solutions from the global scientific community. 
 
The winning research teams from CIAT and Global Forest Watch attended the Climate Summit at UN Headquarters, where they joined sessions in Agriculture and Forests during which global leaders launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture and endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests, pledging to end forest loss by 2030.
 
CIAT team with Global Pulse Director Robert Kirkpatrick and Assistant Secretary-General Robert Orr
 

PRESENTING TO TOP UN OFFICIALS IN CLIMATE POLICY & SCIENCE

 
The CIAT and Global Forest Watch researchers were given the opportunity to share their research with two of the UN’s top advisors on climate change: Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, head of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Winner; and Assistant Secretary-General of Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning Robert Orr, who advises Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on climate change.
 
Sitting around a table with Dr. Pachauri, the researchers explained their methodologies. “Big data requires big engagement,” CIAT agronomist Sylvain Delerce added, referring to his team’s user-driven approach of collaborating with Colombian farmers for testing and feedback. Dr. Pachauri agreed, “There’s no point in designing a climate-smart system if you can’t guarantee obtaining the data, or if it’s not something people want to use.”
 
As the Assistant Secretary-General learned how to use the Global Forest Watch team online forest monitor at the Global Pulse office, he commented on the tool’s utility for governments and citizens alike. “This gives decision makers the ability to see how natural resources are being depleted in real time. It could have huge implications in countries where governments are out of touch with what’s happening on the ground.”
 
Global Forest Watch team presents to Assistant Secretary-General Robert Orr (left)
 

THE CLIMATE DATA REVOLUTION

 
Climate data has been used for decades to provide weather forecasts, but combined with crop data can deliver real time advice to farmers during droughts, as the CIAT project demonstrates. Satellite imaging gives us efficient travel directions, but Global Forest Watch proves that pairing remote sensing with ground data over time can help decision makers achieve sustainable forest management and equitable land use.
 
New ways of using big data to address the impacts and risks of climate change are emerging almost daily as the data revolution is underway around the world. The Climate Summit and Big Data Climate Challenge helped unearth some of these innovations, and the community of practice is growing. To support Global Pulse in landscaping this field of “big data for climate action,” please add to the conversation by sharing examples of data-driven climate solutions in the Comments section below, or by emailing bigdataclimate@unglobalpulse.org.
 
Read more about the Big Data Climate Challenge winning projects in blog posts by World Resources Institute, CIAT [English] or CIAT [Spanish], and CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

 

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