Data charged: empowering cities with smart climate data ⚡

Climate Action 8 min read , October 26, 2020
  • Credible city climate data is critical for city teams to plan effectively, but getting reliable and actionable data (& having that data centralized within one resource) is difficult.
  • Not all data sources are equal. We dive deeper into what quality data to source and where to find it.
  • Data-driven tools are playing an essential role in helping cities drive climate action.
Belgium city climate action
Data-driven tools are playing an essential role in helping cities drive climate action.

Our cities are responsible for more than 70% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Reducing those emissions will be a huge task, but with it comes a great opportunity to transform our cities. If investments in carbon reduction measures are made intelligently, cities can profit from many additional societal benefits, enhancing city livability for citizens. A data-driven climate action plan is key to city transformation. But getting reliable and accurate climate data to help city teams structure their plan well is complicated.

Finding climate data isn’t easy 💻

Data is a common obstacle that city teams must overcome—finding quality, relevant, and regional data to name a few—to support their city’s climate action plan.

Finding quality data

The data needed for a climate action plan can have a broad scope. Obvious examples of climate data can be carbon emission or energy usage statistics. This data is used to assess the role of clean energy or energy efficiency in a climate action plan. It will usually be of high quality with granular annual tracking. Less obvious examples of data would be food waste or recycling levels for a particular city or region. This data could be used to analyze if there are benefits to conducting environment awareness campaigns surrounding waste and recycling. But it may be difficult to come by quality data for these measures. It could rely on infrequent household surveys with low participation levels, for example.

Finding relevant data

The multi-varied nature of data can make a city team’s life difficult. The time needed to research all the datasets relevant to their climate action plan is hard, and it’s unlikely that a city has all the resources to carry out the task effectively. Also, datasets are usually extensive, so finding relevant and valuable data is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Finding regional data

Another challenge arises when granular data isn't available and qualified assumptions need to be made. For example, the majority of a city’s energy consumption comes from private individuals, through private transport, and residential consumption. Granular energy usage data from private individuals are generally not available and if it is, then the scale of the data may mean it’s not worthwhile to use. Usually, the solution to this is to analyze population samples or take high-level analysis from national or global sources to estimate consumption from private individuals. This approach may not take regional differences into account leading to poor estimations and inaccurate analysis.

Manual data issue

When it comes to acting on climate, time is precious. However, many official data sources have a backlog of 2 years or more on emissions data. This makes it hard for city teams to assess the impact of climate measures that need to be taken today. On top of that, a lot of manual work is needed to keep the city’s climate plan up to date with the latest data.

Overall, it’s up to a city’s officials to set the methodology for creating a climate action plan. Part of the task will be deciding where to use granular climate data and where to use assumptions and/or sampling techniques.

Taking a more granular approach will be more time-consuming and the city may not have the resources or budget to do this effectively. On the other hand, taking a more high-level approach with multiple assumptions runs the risk of giving a plan that may be inaccurate and ultimately leads to higher climate action implementation costs for a city.

Credible data is important for effective climate action. But getting paralyzed until data is available is probably not the best idea. Instead of spending time and resources in having the perfect data, we encourage the best use of the available insights to take action. Data paralysis is one of the traps to avoid, as we explore in another article.

Climate data
Smart and credible climate data is key to your plan.

Where to source credible climate data 📈

Cities can use several different types of data sources to create their climate action plan. It’s best practice to prioritize official government data sources to ensure reliability and standardization across other cities. For general climate data, this could mean using platforms like Eurostat, the EEA, or the World Bank's data repository.

General climate data is useful to get started, but ideally, localized data sources should be used as much as possible. Most countries have a national statistics institute where data on a city or regional level is provided, but there are also many other sources that could give useful data.

Here’s an example: How to procure reliable data for carbon emission reduction

For more detail, let's take the example of a carbon emissions reduction objective. To do this, emissions from the residential sector, public and private transport, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and local authority buildings/property would need to be quantified. The following list provides detail on each of these sectors and where city-specific data could be sourced, if available:
Residential (Electricity and Heating) – Emissions data could be quantified from a mix of national census data, a building energy rating register, and national energy statistics.
Transport (Public and Private) – Emissions from private transport could be assessed from a mix of national transport statistics and motor tax registries. Public transport data should be more readily available as fuel usage will typically be tracked by operators.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) – Emissions from SMEs could be quantified through national commercial building energy rating registers, property tax registries, and direct utility energy data.
Local Authority Buildings – Emissions data from a city council's own buildings is likely to be tracked with a high-level of granularity through energy meters and fuel usage monitoring.

These are just a few of the data sources that could be used when creating a climate action plan for a city. Getting access to this data isn’t always easy as some data is confidential and publicly sourced information may be difficult to find and interpret.

With regard to public information, data can come from several different sources such as statistics offices, energy agencies, transport agencies, regulators, local power, and gas utilities, etc. The extent of sources that need to be exhausted to create an effective climate action plan is numerous and time-consuming. And it may not always be clear what data is relevant and needed for a particular city.

A climate action tool to bridge the divide ☀️

The good news is that there are a growing number of companies creating advanced tools to help cities source relevant data, easily develop a climate plan, and help them follow through and track their climate goals. These digital tools are created to help city officials across the globe create more effective and accurate climate change action plans. And to use these plans to drive city transformation.

FutureproofedCities is such a tool. One of the tools' many benefits is having access to a database of local and national climate data sources. The platform automatically pulls all public data banks on climate data into one tool for city teams to review and support their planning process. Also, the platform helps segregate data according to Futureproofed’s insightful data framework. Here we simplify the data by grouping it as either a diagnosis or baseline data, measures data, or a plan monitoring data.

Having to manually check data updates is a thing of the past. When new data is available, Futureproofed will automatically pull and make it available in one place. This way, city officials can be assured to work with the best available data.

Learn how FutureproofedCities sources creditable data to support city teams in their climate action plan.

Futureproofed provides capabilities that remove a large part of the data-gathering exercise that city teams must do to create a climate action plan. The time saved by not filtering through endless websites searching for reliable data can be spent more productively by focusing on the actual implementation of climate plan actions. In addition, there is a reduced risk of irrelevant or inaccurate data finding its way into the analysis of the plan.

Empowering cities with smart climate data 🏙️

We all have a duty to contribute to the fight against climate change. Our cities have a great impact on the climate—and if administrations can create intelligent climate action plans and implement them successfully, we can reduce climate change and transform our cities for the better. Our climate change response can be the catalyst to creating more attractive, liveable, and cleaner cities to be enjoyed by future generations.

The combined effort of sustainability managers, city planners, and city teams across all cities globally can make this happen, but they need good data, sourced easily. Tools like FutureproofedCities can help city teams bridge the data gap, source credible data more quickly, and focus their attention on putting their climate plan into action.

Antonio is the Climate Action Specialist at Futureproofed. His specialties include mitigation and adaptation measures research, urban climate adaptation, local climate data, and more. When he's not hard at work helping cities become more sustainable, he can be found cycling across Flemish fields.

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