How can digitalization of data help us fight climate change?

Source: eKapija Wednesday, 15.11.2023. 23:59

(Photo: Marion from Pixabay)
"You can`t manage what you can`t measure" is the rule that statisticians are guided by. Fortunately, when it comes to climate change, measurement is not the problem.

The modern world generates huge amounts of data - an estimated 2.5 billion gigabytes of data are produced daily - which, if analyzed in the right way, can be a serious tool in the fight against climate change.

Various tools are in use around the world, from serious ones intended for experts to simple tools aimed at increasing pollution awareness, such as calculators for calculating carbon footprints, waste, emissions.

How is it in Serbia? At the end of last year, the Digital Climate Atlas of Serbia was presented, an online platform that provides insight into current and future climate changes based on meteorological and geospatial data. Also last year, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the digitization of local pollution source registers, which, as they pointed out, will enable the adoption of adequate plans. The National Climate Council pointed out that among the most vulnerable sectors in Serbia, when it comes to climate change, is agriculture, and only one drought in 2012 led to damage and losses in agriculture estimated at 2 billion USD.

How can data actually help us in the fight against climate change, either in spreading awareness about its effects, or in mitigating the consequences? How much is Serbia losing because of climate change? Which sectors are affected the most? Do we have systematized and digitized data? Do we even have data? These are just some of the questions we explore in this textu.

Digital atlas of the climate of Serbia - Data on the climate in one place

We do not know how far the project of digitizing local registers of sources of pollution, which was announced last year by the Environmental Protection Agency, has reached, because we have not received answers from this institution to the questions raised. What is the biggest obstacle in the digitization of data from the field of environmental protection, we did not manage to find out even from the Office for Information Technologies and Electronic Administration, which operates under the slogan "We Digitize Serbia."

ABut we know what the Digital Climate Atlas of Serbia brings us, a platform for displaying the assessment of threats from climate change that came to life at the end of last year.

Professor of the Faculty of Physics and participant in the creation of the Digital Atlas, Dr. Vladimir Djurdjevic, points out for the eKapija portal that the initial idea for creating the platform, which is owned by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, is the fact that there is much more climate data that can be useful for risk studies rather than the number of users using the data efficiently..

- Today, climatologists have Big data, but only a small part is used. As if there is some invisible barrier that prevents people from using it. It is difficult to bridge the gap between what information about the climate is and how it is expressed in a sector, and these tools serve to reduce that gap - says our interlocutor.

The platform is designed for a wide range of users. It can be used by people who have the least experience in this field, for educational purposes, even in elementary school, but also by professionals who need reliable data on the basis of which they can do further research. And that is precisely where the difference is compared to similar tools in the world.

- The tools in the world are usually focused only on one item, or they are made simply, to be easy to use, or there are portals where professionals download data, with a more serious interface, without maps. We wanted to unify both sides.

According to the professor, the main menu is designed to be intuitive and easy to use, so that anyone can successfully use the atlas in terms of basic functionality in a relatively short time or after a short training. Those who need more serious data, rather than maps and graphs, can download a large amount of raw data and process it further.

- The simplest example are hydrological models that simulate the hydrological cycle. Such models do not need a map, but a time series of large amounts of data. If someone is interested in simulating the hydrology of a watershed in terms of future climate conditions, he can download all the data from the atlas and let them be the input for the hydrological model - explains the professor.

Anyone can use the atlas free of charge

All data on the atlas is open, mostly taken from global professional platforms, the use of which requires expert knowledge. Then they were adapted for the territory of Serbia because, as the professor explains, databases containing meteorological data needed for research are usually created for a larger territory, such as Europe.

- All data are reference. When climate and climate change research is carried out in the EU, the same dataset used for the Digital Atlas is usually used. If you are dealing with climate projections of what the climate will look like in the future, the information that is shown on our Digital Atlas is the same that is used by those who deal with the problem in Germany, France, Italy. All climatologists in the world take projections for the future from the same database, looking at the territory of their interest. When you say that you used the Eurocordex database for climate projection, everyone knows what that is and you are a relevant interlocutor in the field of climate research - Dr. Đurđević notes.

The atlas is designed to be easy to use (Photo: atlas is designed to be easy to use

Apart from the referentiality of the data, their systematization is also important. Sometimes, as our interlocutor explains, users have to spend days analyzing a huge amount of data in order to extract the most relevant ones. But here it has already been done for them. Availability is also another plus.

- All the data on the atlas are open, downloaded from global open data bases. If you, for example, do meteorological observations or you need climate data, you should probably contact the Hydrometeorological Institute first, so that they can tell you if there is data, and in some cases they charge for the data. There is no such thing here, everything is open, it can be used by anyone, with the recommendation of sources of information citation - says the professor.

We have reliable data in the field of climate change

As our interlocutor further explains, data from our institutions were not directly used in the creation of the atlas, but indirectly. Our Hydrometeorological Institute is an institution responsible for observation at meteorological and climatological stations. The data that have been directly observed is sent by our institute to international exchange. Meteorological practice for decades has been for global centers to collect observations from around the world.

- In order to make a weather forecast, you must have meteorological observations from all over the world, so you cannot make a weather forecast in Serbia by having data only from Serbia. Everyone in the world has to make measurements and exchange them with each other, via these global centers - the professor explains.

When the observations are sent to the global center, one of the research groups in Europe does the so-called data gridding.

- It actually means the translation of observations from irregular networks to a regular network. If the stations in Serbia are irregularly distributed, then they are translated into a regular network so that every 10 kilometers you have information about e.g. temperature. The gridded data is on the Digital Atlas - says our interlocutor.

While in other areas, from waste management to pollution, Serbia does not have relevant, let alone digitized data, in the area of climate everything is clear.

- In terms of climate and climate change, this data set is the most relevant possible. There is no missing information in the basic climate parameters. When you go deeper into research, more specific observations such as the length of sunlight, cloudiness, there is no such thing on the atlas, but the largest number of climate research is planned on the parameters that are there, temperature, precipitation, so the atlas is very relevant - our interlocutor notes.

Although the atlas is a year old, it is still a relatively new tool. So far, three training workshops have been organized, for which, as our interlocutor notes, people from various spheres were interested, from the state administration, which could potentially use the atlas in their daily work, to researchers engaged in climate change research.

- Two research groups wrote scientific papers using the atlas, the City of Belgrade adopted a new version of the climate change adaptation plan, which includes data from the climate atlas. The national program for adapting to climate change, which is to be adopted soon, will also be partly created based on data from the atlas - says Djurdjevic.

Risk assessment for different sectors is missing

What is missing in this atlas, which is a task for some future platforms, is data on the vulnerability of various sectors. Such is, for example, the EU Climate Adapt platform, on which there is a series of risk assessments for various sectors, from drought, extreme precipitation, stormy weather, as well as solutions and a list of adaptation measures.

- We currently don`t have that, but it would be good if we did. Such a platform is a multi-sector task. The digital atlas was easier to create because most of it is a job for climatologists, while a platform that would deal with sectoral risks requires the close cooperation of a large number of experts and requires sectoral data, which are more difficult to collect and organize to be uniform, compatible, easily accessible, processable. Making multi-sector analyzes is complicated, although it seems easy to us. Often, different words are used for the same thing in two professions, and that, although it sounds banal, is a barrier to more efficient cooperation - Dr. Djurdjevic points out.

(Photo: Sasa Prudkov/
(We are missing a platform that would show vulnerability by sector)

In Europe, there are many projects and initiatives to make climate data available, adds our interlocutor. One of them is the Copernicus system, designed to monitor the state of the planet Earth in real time.

- One of the thematic units is climate change, and as part of that, risks in various sectors are monitored. It is not easy for them either, it is difficult to create integrative platforms, but we are moving in that direction, it is likely that at some point such digital platforms will begin to appear in our country as well - Dr. Djurdjevic points out.

Each of these platforms will have to overcome the obstacle from the beginning of the story - how to "package" the abundance of data so that they can serve users.

- It`s a challenge in the field of communications, it`s not just a question of technique and profession. People think that someone who is trained and professional will easily find what they need, but that is sometimes not the case. It is not just a matter of how much data is available on those platforms, but how it is presented and adjusted so that people can access it as easily as possible, it is a special kind of challenge, which is often overlooked - our interlocutor says.

Carbon Footprint Calculators

Precisely because of the desire to simplify the problem of climate change and bring it closer to a larger number of users, calculators were created that calculate the carbon footprint so that we can all get an impression of how much our activities contribute to climate change.

According to the organization, these calculators are powerful tools in the fight against climate change because they increase the awareness of individuals and motivate them to make better environmental decisions. Individual actions, when multiplied, have the potential to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases, they emphasize in this organization..

- The collective use of carbon footprint calculators can significantly contribute to global efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. These tools allow individuals and communities to take concrete actions that together create a positive impact on the environment - believes the organization

So, by using one of these calculators, we can find out that 400 kilowatt hours of electricity, which is consumed per month by an average household in Serbia, creates a footprint of 0.39 tons of CO2 or 3.85 tons on an annual basis. For driving 10,000 kilometers a year in a diesel car, that person will increase his footprint by another 1.7 tons of CO2. If he travels by plane on the Belgrade-Rome route once a year, he will create another 0.19 tons of CO2.

According to this calculator, the average carbon footprint for people in Serbia is 6.52 tons, slightly less than 6.8 in the EU. These calculators will suggest us to reduce our carbon footprint by e.g. turn down the heating by one degree, spend less time showering, pour only the amount of water we really need into the kettle, turn off electronic devices when we are not using them.

Good news also comes from the global Climate TRACE coalition, which is backed by nine associated organizations and former US Vice President Al Gore, who recently announced an innovative project where emissions of greenhouse gases in near real time worldwide will be monitored using artificial intelligence, satellite image processing, machine learning and other remote sensing technologies.

The importance of data in the fight against climate change will also be discussed at the upcoming UN conference on climate change COP28, when the Deloitte report on this topic will be presented, which points to the issue that our interlocutor also spoke about - how to communicate a huge amount of data.

- We have technology, we have data and we have information to solve climate change. We just need to use them and find the answer to the question "how" - said Ben King, director of management at Google Singapore.

Yvonne Zhang, director of sustainability and climate change for Southeast Asia at Deloitte, agrees that there is a lot of data.

- The question is how to bring them down to a level where resources, information and changes can take place "from the bottom up" - pointed out Zhang, emphasizing the need for data management policies to be mutually compatible, to form strategic partnerships and make meaningful use of insights as well as existing and future technologies.

M. Dedić

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