In order to tackle the climate crisis and build a sustainable future, cities need data, writes Julia Moreno Rosino, inclusive climate action senior manager policy, data & analysis at C40, a network of the world’s megacities that are committed to addressing climate change.
World leaders are trying to address these problems with regulations and initiatives concerning greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, energy transition, and adaptation to climate hazards; and municipalities around the world are taking ever bolder action in these areas.
Cities, where 56% of the global population live, are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and are working to build a healthier and more sustainable future.
In order to do this, cities need data.
As data collection systems mature and expand around the world, they are providing an invaluable way for city officials to track their progress on a number of indicators and inform new strategies to tackle the most significant climate challenges. Tracking data alone is not enough – cities must be able to use that information to produce actionable insights to foster decision-making and introduce meaningful changes as part of their climate action plans.
Data-driven knowledge sharing: benchmark results and inspire success
Climate action planning needs to include monitoring and evaluation.
Policymakers can especially benefit from continuous, real-time data to develop action plans that are fine-tuned to local considerations. For this, cities are collecting data and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate city performance on emissions, air quality, energy, climate adaptation and other key elements.
At C40 Cities, a network of 97 cities taking ambitious climate action, we have built multiple dashboards, both internal and public-facing, using the data analytics software Qlik Sense to analyse these metrics and indicators.
This allows us, and cities, to analyse specific regions or sectors, in a faster and more intuitive way than having to assess multiple, complex datasets. It allows benchmarking city performance and rapid identification of which cities are on track to meet particular targets and which might need more support.
For example, our Greenhouse Gas Emissions Dashboard – hosted on C40’s Knowledge Hub – presents complex emissions data in an easy-to-analyse format. This dashboard can be used by cities, research organisations, or members of the general public to uncover which sectors and sub-sectors are contributing to higher emissions, such as aviation or buildings. City officials can also compare current emissions to previous years to better understand their emissions trajectory.
The Clean Construction Policy Explorer is a more niche dashboard that examines the policies cities have implemented to tackle emissions from a segment of their built environment and highlights which cities have committed to achieving low carbon and clean construction. By aggregating and surfacing this information, we hope to inspire all cities to raise their ambitions on clean construction policies while learning from the policies and progress of those who have gone first.
Our Adaptation Data Explorer allows cities to find other peers around the world that are experiencing similar climate hazards or extreme weather events. Here, city officials can obtain insights on how others are addressing a particular issue and the actions they are taking, either globally or within the same region. For example, there are many cities experiencing heat waves. Leaders from Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Barcelona, and others can learn from one another and – through C40 – connect to discuss what they are doing to deal with these extreme heat events. Similar groupings are forming in response to rising sea levels, wildfires, and floods.
Given that transportation accounts for an important percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, it is also important to look at how mobility is evolving – both in the face of infrastructure changes and the pandemic. We are using new forms of mobility data to see how public transportation dropped sharply during the first few months of the pandemic, and at the same time than cycling increased.
This has made an impact and changed the traditional mode share of transportation of many cities. What effect is this having on city emissions? Will this steep increase in cycling stay in most cities? These are all important questions that cities should be asking, and they need data to unearth the answers.
Advance to the next phase with automated insights
C40 not only aims to give our cities the data analysis and exploration options that I have explained above, but to also provide them with useful information on where to go next, so they can advance their respective climate goals in different sectors, often in highly local ways. To achieve this, we have dashboards that we share privately with our member cities, where we provide them tailored article recommendations depending on how they are performing against specific metrics.
For example, on their private page, a city can see its current rate of waste that is being diverted from landfill and incineration and compare this to peers and targets. The dashboard on the private Knowledge Hub page will also automatically recommend specific resources depending on the data for that city. If it is not on track on this indicator, it might be offered specific articles to support landfill reduction strategies. If a city is already progressing quickly, it will be recommended insights to further raise their ambition and work towards zero waste.
Every city has different needs and is in different phases of progression within multiple sectors; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the goal is to provide cities with the information that is most relevant to them depending on their data and queries, and ambitions.
Draw upon the expertise of others to achieve climate change goals
Data analytics and dashboards can help with this effort, providing a way for city officials to quickly explore their progress in various sectors, share knowledge and peruse proven insights. Such offerings will strengthen the network in which city officials and policymakers can draw upon the expertise of each other to achieve climate change goals. Although cities are taking big steps, we still need faster action to reduce the impact of climate change, and we hope that by helping cities to track results and performance, they will be better positioned to make meaningful changes.
Photo credit – Luke Chesser