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Data for Climate Action Campaign Gains Momentum With Data Philanthropy Commitments at COP21

Global Pulse
Dec 8, 2015

Global Pulse, with the support of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support team and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, is hosting “Data for Climate Action,” a campaign that brings together private-sector data and policymakers’ initiatives into collective action to tackle climate change. The campaign hit a new milestone at COP21 in Paris as global businesses and vowed to share data, technology and big data expertise to accelerate public action on climate change.

On Monday December 7th, at the "How Can the Data Revolution Accelerate Climate Action?" session at the Caring for Climate Business Forum at COP21, a number of companies announced their involvement in the campaign by making available privacy-protecting data from their daily operations, and calling peers to join the initiative.

Participating companies include French telecom operator Orange, San Francisco based satellite imaging company, Planet Labs, and Schneider Electric, a multinational corporation that specializes in electricity distribution, automation management and components for energy management.

These companies plan to contribute data that include mobile phones usage patterns, satellite imagery and energy consumption, which will bring valuable insights on human behavior in the context of climate change. In addition, technology companies SAP and Microsoft have pledged to support the Data for Climate Action campaign by providing technical expertise and computing power. SAP also acted as a sponsor of the session at the Business forum.

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In his opening remarks, Robert Orr, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change, highlighted the potential of the data revolution in understanding the choices we are making toward climate change and the need to bring together the private sector and governments to create a new ecosystem for taking concrete action to address climate change.

Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy followed with remarks on the importance of accelerating climate action through cooperation involving academia, businesses and the public sector.

A clip from the film ‘The Human Face of Big Data,” was shown, helping to illuminate the new opportunities arising from the data revolution which would help us re-imagine our world, track new signals that were once impossible and change the way we experience our communities.

In his presentation, Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of UN Global Pulse, said big data can be considered as a new natural resource, an abundant renewable resource for the information age and critical fuel for faster decision-making needed to achieve sustainable development.  But concerns about privacy and the potential for data mis-use must be addressed. “For us to harness big data for private good we need frameworks to ensure its appropriate use," he said. Calling others to join the Data for Climate Action campaign as a means to accelerate learning an innovation in this regard, he said, "We invite companies who share our vision to leverage their data to drive innovation in climate action.”

Anna Pavlova, Vice President, Government Relations at Schneider Electric, showcased her company’s activities as a business-to-business weather service provider, helping customers like utilities, airlines and farmers with very precise weather forecasting tools.  Schneider Electric has committed to provide access to some of their data to global researchers interested in understanding the impact of weather. The company also hopes this move will help attract more partners, she added.

Pavlova’s remarks were followed by a “Dialogue on Data Philanthropy” facilitated by Robert Orr, with Will Marshall, CEO of Planet Labs, and Nicolas de Cordes, Vice President of Marketing Anticipation at Orange Group, who talked about their companies’ past data philanthropy initiatives, pledged their support to Data for Climate Action campaign, and called on other companies to follow their example to share anonymized data.

“This is a call for other companies to join this effort because there are safe ways to share data as well as preserve privacy and proprietary information. There are methods we can harness to make that happen,” said Nicolas de Cordes.

Finally, at the session, a senior government representative from Mexico explained how data plays an integral role in decision-making in the public sector.

Speaking on behalf of the Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change and the National Digital Strategy, Directora General Ms. Amparo Martinez Arroyo explained how her government has already put in place a structure to channel data to spur action on climate change and other environmental issues in cooperation with other governments.

She unveiled an open source exploration platform set up by the Mexican government which uses open data to visualize climate change, why it occurs and how it might affect different regions; as well as to increase transparency and accountability in government actions, and track spending on adaptation and mitigation measures. This tool is now available to everyone around the world at datos.gob.mx/cambioclimatico.

Robert Orr provided closing remarks for the event, in which he outlined the Data for Climate Action Campaign as a platform for collaboration between governments and private sectors to apply big data to accelerate innovations to drive climate action. 

The second phase of the campaign in 2016 will challenge vetted teams of researchers to analyze the data provided by the private sector in order to unearth insights on climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. Results are expected by the end of 2016.

Mr. Orr announced that more companies are expected to join to Data for Climate Action in the next steps of the campaign next year, and closed the session by thanking everyone for joining today’s session on big data and the data revolution, noting that “it is a priority for the Secretary-General, for the UN and it’s great to see that its a priority for all of you."

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