Connecting people and data

 “People aren’t waiting for the international negotiations to get a result. People are adapting now.”

Considering people within science is a tricky balance to achieve. This is a pity because people are at the heart of climate change impacts and it must be kept in mind that when we are looking for solutions and weighting what level of warming to accept and how to adapt. With approximately 250 million people expected to migrate due to climate induced reasons by 2050, these people must be looked after using all the tools possible to ensure adaption is as effective as possible and connecting people and data is a crucial element to successful adaption.

Platforms of data shape the essence of life and how we can adapt.”

The UNFPA [UN Population Fund] have spent the last couple of years, developing a tool called DECA which connects population data with geographic information systems to make an easy to use, automated programme which can provide all sorts of information such as at-risk geographies. In the context of climate change, this can be used to compare areas where there is high population density versus areas that are flood prone or where agriculture is the main source of livelihood and where drought may be common as two basic examples.

Mobile phones are also an easy tool to figure out population movements and responses to both slow and rapid climate onset impacts. As an example, mobile SIM cards through call data records are used in Bangladesh, in an area vulnerable to flooding to measure migratory patterns. Using call data records is an invaluable tool to easily measure something which is inherently difficult to measure. The records show where populations reside and how they change over time which is very useful for trying to work out where to direct adaption measures and how the population is responding. After one particularly large storm, there was a clear drop in the number of people in the specific area and then afterwards there was a pattern of some people returning but then a slow decline in the population which was later attributed to the people having lost their livelihood which is attributed as a fundamental cause of climate-induced migration. Whilst far from a perfect measure, with access to the records, there is a fast, easy and cheap source of data available to assist resilient adaption measures.  

 “2C global mean temperature rise means nothing to an individual facing the consequences now.”

The quote above whilst from a different side event illustrates the disconnect between the numbers thrown around in high level negotiations and how for many their livelihoods are already under threat and are having to adapt right now, even though there is no assistance available to them given the lack of climate finance.

Another interpretation of this quote which was from this event is that the thought of this number totally ignores the concept of scale, which is crucial for effective adaption. The magic 2C temp remember is the global mean average and the actual increase varies spatially. For example, NZ is only effected by about two thirds of temp rise [although don’t take too much hope from this as wind patterns and other impacts will have a more than proportionate impact]. Another example is the many Pacific Islands where sea level rise is between three and six times the global average which rapidly compounds the problems they are facing. The urban heat island effect may be more relevant to you. Cities are hotter than rural areas because of their large surface area which absorb more heat and the human activities which collectively generate more heat. Some cities are already on average 2C warmer than pre-industrial levels so it can be expected that urban centres will be my much warmer than the global average.

Overall, people need data and data needs people to have mutual meaning. People need to data to help make informed decisions and the data needs people so that it can be relevant to the people who want to use the data. The next step is connecting it with policy and politics.