As the second week of COP26 progresses, we have seen leaders focused on building resilience by boosting clean technologies some of which has not yet been developed. Many of these innovative solutions depend on inputting complex information into consistent frameworks to inform government decision-making, or even individual behaviour. Gathering and analysing data through machine learning, blockchain or more standard analytics processes is pivotal in accelerating our understanding of trends and enabling better decision-making in the next decade and beyond.
On the Resilience day at the Blue Zone event called Measuring What Matters: Towards a Consistent Approach on Data and Labelling for Supply Chain Resilience, speakers underlined the importance of collecting and reporting carbon data under a standardised approach. This would allow for the efficient development of solutions to reduce emissions in supply chains. Importantly, there are precedents to consistent data reporting across the entire industry, namely in nutrition and allergen labelling on food products in the UK. Adopting a similar approach to carbon data would make it possible to label products according to carbon embedded in them, their packaging, origin and scope 3 emissions created during their production.
Furthermore, weather data can be used to build resilience to climate-induced disasters by enabling reliable predictions of the severity and frequency of their occurrence. For example, location-specific historic weather data can ensure that decisions made today take into account exposure of most at-risk communities to a given weather event. Accordingly, innovative data-enabled insurance products have been developed to ensure that vulnerable communities and biodiverse ecosystems are protected.
Putting data-enabled technologies at the core of building resilience and supporting adaptation creates a need for new models of data governance. Data cannot be owned but it can be managed and governed by its collector, who, under the current framework, often puts restrictions on access to the collected data. This poses obstacles to using private and public data to inform technology needed for rapid decarbonisation and gradual adaptation. Such an approach, however, can be modified by putting data under the management of data taskforces or data trusts. This is a novel but not a revolutionary idea - Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership, for example, recently published their report, Risk Sharing in the Climate Emergency with recommendations including the creation of data trusts to manage data gathered by insurers which, when shared, could better inform risk management and underwriting practices in the industry.
Indeed, technology, data and innovation have been at centre stage of COP26 so far. However, regardless of the advantages that technology and data offer in building resilience, technology is not a silver-bullet solution. Technological advances whether in mitigation or adaptation must be accompanied by sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions if the world is to have any chance of keeping 1.5 degrees within reach.