From Paris to Glasgow
This is a reflection on data driven climate action, and of my attendance at COP26 (26th Conference of the Parties for Climate Change) in Glasgow, as I consider the collective steps needed on a global scale to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
I had the opportunity to attend COP26 as a delegate/observer on behalf of the University of Strathclyde. As an observer, I did not have access to the World Leaders Summit, however I was able to observe elements of the conference during my delegation.
On the first day, a moment that struck me, as I waited in a lengthy queue to enter the conference, was a young girl in the window of a hotel holding a sign, “Save our Planet”. While surrounded by people from around the globe from numerous sectors including journalists, professionals from health departments, the auto industry, space industry, energy policy makers, architecture, scientists and more, the gesture reflected the gravitas of the conference and what we were collectively aiming to achieve - solutions to the numerous challenges associated with the climate crisis and to mitigate the crisis.
Image: Astrid at COP26 in Glasgow
To further put this into perspective, the ACU Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort is a collective of climate researchers with expertise from around the world where each is facing a different climate challenge, emulating a microcosm of the expertise and climate challenges being represented at COP.
Following my input into the process of designing and delivering a research-to-action climate project with colleagues from the cohort, and being aware of the communication challenges which resulted from this international and interdisciplinary project, I began to consider: “How can the global climate community achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement?”
Considering this problem from a data science perspective, one could identify each country as a node in a network with each country having their own attributes in the form of objectives, challenges, priorities, culture, history etc. These nodes (countries) could be connected - for example via borders, shipping and aeroplane routes, political relations, ocean currents that transport plastic from one coast to the other etc. This creates a complicated network, where the most influential nodes are often the richest countries with their own priorities and objectives.
Thanks to the predictive insights of climate models, the objectives of many countries have aligned over recent years, with 175 parties signing the Paris Agreement (174 states and the European Union). With the increasingly accepted reliance of climate models, today the global consensus is that we are in a climate emergency.
It has taken decades for climate change to reach this level of global awareness and consensus - the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was founded in 1988! This crucial panel collects research and data to drive climate action. The data produced is the result of the newest and most sophisticated climate prediction models. The development of technology such as supercomputers allow complex models to collect and analyse vast amounts of data. The more data computers can handle, the more reliable the output.
Image: Messaging at COP26
Supercomputers, and model outputs help us understand the climate crisis, such as offering insight into what we are likely to face and why. However, the capacity of scientists is limited when it comes to interpreting and handling the outputs of this data modelling to generate recommendations for every community. For many communities which are already facing the devastating impacts of climate change, these supercomputer analyses do not help solve their challenges.
This brings us back to communities and the need for action policies and leaders to facilitate opportunities and possibilities. Local community leaders foster deep knowledge about their regions including the strengths and weaknesses of communities and can help identify priorities. We have seen local climate leaders take action in vulnerable neighbourhoods to bring together multidisciplinary backgrounds to find solutions. While technology and data have helped identify the causes of climate change, it is communities that will lead on climate solutions.
The climate cohort projects
The ACU Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort has created five research to action climate projects to raise awareness of solutions such as affordable clean energy technologies, nature-based solutions, food production technologies and the consequences of marine pollution. One group is exploring the perspective of young people on climate change in order to bridge the communication gap between current and future policymakers. The aim is to share relevant knowledge to enable communities to implement appropriate solutions.
Looking ahead to COP27 which will be hosted by Egypt later this year, the question on my mind is, what should the world focus on with catastrophic weather events on the rise globally? Perhaps shifting from damage prevention to loss and damage control?
In November 2021, Scotland became the first country to contribute to loss and damage funding (provided to those impacted by loss or damage as a direct result of climate change), demonstrating recognition and loyalty to vulnerable and developing countries and those most urgently impacted by climate change. It is my hope that other countries, especially those that have benefited from the industrial revolution, will follow Scotland’s lead. Not only with contributing to funding for loss and damage, but also with increasing climate funds to help the world’s most vulnerable nations.
To wrap up, technology alone cannot save humanity, but humanity can use technology such as super computers to advance climate action and address the climate crisis. With fossil fuels as the main energy source for most technologies, we can look back at the history of our planet and use climate models to look ahead and see that we have a rare opportunity to address the challenge unfolding in real time. Hence, it is imperative that we demand and facilitate sustainable technologies and use it appropriately to maximise its potential.
The climate crisis will not be solved during a fortnight hosted annually at COP - it remains a challenge that requires fostering technology in line with multidisciplinary, collaborative, creative and ambitious action.