Cities and the climate-data gap
With the devastating effects of climate change already bearing down on the world’s urban areas, ambitious decarbonization and adaptation promises from municipal leaders could not come soon enough. But making good on these commitments requires scaling up the tools for collecting and analyzing the right information.
With more governments adopting strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, cities everywhere need to get better at collecting and interpreting climate data. More than 11,000 cities have already signed up to a global covenant to tackle climate change and manage the transition to clean energy, and many aim to achieve net-zero emissions before their national counterparts do. Yet virtually all of them still lack the basic tools for measuring progress.
We know that climate-preparedness plans are closely correlated with investment in climate action including nature-based solutions and systematic resilience. But strategies alone are not enough. We also need to scale up data-driven monitoring platforms. Powered by satellites and sensors, these systems can track temperatures inside and outside buildings, alert city dwellers to air-quality issues, and provide high-resolution information on concentrations of specific GHGs (carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide) and particulate matter.
Most of these hazards can be identified early and avoided through experimentation, with cities pursuing unique strategies and promising new metrics. But unless cities scale up their monitoring and data-collection systems, they will have little chance of delivering on their climate targets. Better analysis can help drive increased awareness about climate risks, optimize responses, and ensure mitigation and adaptation strategies are more equitable. We cannot manage the climate crisis until we measure it, and we cannot measure it until we can collect and analyze the right information.