Potential applications of big data to climate resilience

The capacity to collect and analyse massive amounts of data is transforming research in the natural and social sciences. However, climate resilience strategies have largely overlooked these developments. Efforts to track climate resilience worldwide have been challenged by an absence of comprehensive, reliable, and up-to-date datasets. Careful application of big data could revolutionise management of climate risks and long-term resilience in all sectors.

As IPCC Report 2015 shows, vast amounts of updated complex geocoded global data on human-environment interactions relevant to climatology and climate resilience exist digitally. The value of this big data for disaster and climate resilience lies in the insights that can be gained from combining data crumbs with enhanced capacities or analytics.

Big data provides four main types of analytics for climate resilience, namely:

1. description (early detection of disasters and impacts)
2. prediction (making inferences about unobservable or unmeasurable concerns, and accurately predict both sudden and slow-onset disasters)
3. prescription (examining future scenarios by identifying causal pathways); and
4. discursion (generating value for resilience through raising awareness about disaster risks and providing real-time feedback to enhance response and community-led preparedness)

Such analyses not only creates geo-referenced datasets on factors affecting vulnerability, such as population, habitation characteristics, economic status, location of sensitive infrastructure, and trends for environmental conditions; but also helps communities map climate hazards and characterise their exposure, risks, emergency and timescales.

The long-term potential of big data in enhancing society's ability to avoid climate disasters and improve resilience lies in awareness raising for community engagement and an action cycle on prevention, monitoring, response and recovery. Big data can boost the ability to overcome obstacles associated with complex monitoring and evaluation of climate resilience by providing metrics on how adaptation and mitigation actually affect community perceptions and behaviours, which are important components for enhanced capacity to respond to drastic climate impacts.

Big data provides an enormous and untapped opportunity for improving our understanding of climate resilience and informed decision-making. It is an opportunity yet to be seized.

This article is contributed by Ir Dr Alex Gbaguidi with the coordination of the Environmental Division.

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