I started my career as a quantitative researcher, so looking at data and human behaviours and thinking about how we can combine them to understand how to fix problems and build better products and services has always been at the heart of what I do. Now having moved into the climate space, I feel strongly that data must underpin our climate action and approach to mitigating the climate crisis. But we won’t achieve this by just collecting terabytes of data, and then locking that data in organisations for decades until it becomes obsolete. Data needs to be made accessible and utilised through effective collaboration. But how do we break out of these silos and into a model where openness is the norm?
It’s important to remember that the significance of data is what you do with it. Data equips us with the vital insights we need to assess different choices, take evidence-based decisions, and strengthen storytelling. With climate change, each of these elements is critical to accelerate informed action. When we establish policy, data must be front and centre of enacting evidence-based decisions and incentivising progress. However, we are currently facing significant barriers in reaching these goals.
When it comes to climate action, we now find ourselves with a short and rapidly shrinking window of time to make the significant changes that we need to halt global warming. The only way we can work at the speed required is to move past our ‘silo mentalities’ and aggregate efforts. When we talk about climate change, whilst each country will have its own manifestations of climate crisis, the causes are global, and the actions of those on one side of the planet can have disastrous impacts on those on the other. We need to learn from each other. And not just by sharing climate data, but also through sharing knowledge of technologies, as well as effective policies to support pro-climate innovation and behaviour change. Some of those answers we just can’t get to on our own. Learning from each other, and with each other, needs to become the norm.
Thinking about climate change as a global problem and how collaboration can help us can mean we address these challenges more effectively. But what does this mean in practice? Let’s say policymakers are looking to define policy that supports sustainable commercial transport. By breaking down our silos, we can piece the puzzle together and build cohesive insights, both within and beyond the climate sphere. Manufacturer and retail locations and logistics data can be overlaid with data on regional consumer behaviour, road networks, electric vehicle (EV)-lorry battery capacity, and infrastructure for electric charging. This then allows us to understand the delta between the goals we want to achieve against what we currency have. And when doing this, it’s not just the analysis itself which is valuable – the act of partnering and collaborating across industries and sectors to jointly solve problem solving with a climate end goal in common is invaluable. It’s not easy to do, but it is invaluable, and having diversity of voices so we can understand how those changes might impact different parts of society is critical to successful adoption of better climate practice.
From our perspective at Subak, the world’s first accelerator for climate not-for-profits, whilst we’re early in the process, we’re already starting to see some great outcomes. We’re supporting early-stage organisations who can think in these agile ways and work collaboratively to find new and interesting answers.
Take the issue of emissions, for example. One of our members, Ember, focuses on how we can support the shift from coal to clean energy. Their analysis combining key findings of modelling by the Climate Change Committee, Energy Systems Catapault’s (ESC) modelling for Good Energy, and National Grid’s energy scenarios, along with their understanding of green energy technologies, was a key influencer of the government’s ‘UK to zero-carbon power by 2035’ plans, including our world-leading coal and gas phase-out goals.
Another one of our members, Climate Policy Radar, recently launched the alpha of their policy platform at the COP26 UN climate summit. This is aggregating climate policy information from around the world so that policymakers don’t have to go hunting to find out what others are doing and potential best practice in this space.
Taking a data approach in climate action that factors in impact when choosing where to invest can be invaluable as well. When looking at climate finance, for example, we often find that investment is disproportionately put into areas that are the most profitable, rather than those that have the greatest climate impact. By looking at the data we can identify where these gaps are, and open conversations to address that.
This is also one of the reasons that a not-for-profit model is so important, because it inherently removes that profit incentive and forefronts climate impact. At Subak, each not-for-profit organisation that joins as a member signs up to share some of their data publicly through the Subak Data Cooperative. And it’s not just not-for-profits who can get involved. Whilst that is the focus of our accelerator, when we think about the big problems that need solving, we know that some of those solutions will come from for-profit organisations as well. This is why we also support climate positive for-profits who would like to make their data available through our data cooperative. That’s how it should be. This is a global collective problem: we need all hands on deck regardless of business structure. This is a place for all working to climate benefit to come and share, regardless of what type of organisation they have.
We’re trying to crowdsource a global solution to gigantic problems. To do so, we need lots of aggregators who help us to have an idea of what we’re dealing with, so then we can suggest solutions that are applicable in global contexts.
Ultimately, collaboration and openness is crucial to tackling the climate crisis in all aspects of climate action, including data. We need to urgently accelerate this data sharing, openness and cooperation to inform effective policy making and behaviour change. Truly working together to share tools, data and infrastructure must be inherent to climate action moving forward.