How big data is crucial for effective climate action

January 22, 2021

Aside from the extended coverage of the pandemic lies the continued threat of climate change and the challenge of implementing effective measures to reduce emissions and keep our global temperatures to the levels set in the Paris Agreement. Despite short term reductions in emissions due to the impact of Covid-19, reports in 2020 highlighted predicted rises in emissions and temperatures in the long term, unless we take drastic action. Some analysts believe that big data could be critical in rising to the challenge.

A connection between big data and climate change has been acknowledged for some time, but until recently, applying big data to climate science and measuring the impacts of pollutants and other gases has been relatively limited. There is increasing support for big data, and it’s potential supporting our transition towards a green economy.

There is a simple rationale for big data. For all markets to operate more efficiently requires information and data on their products. At present, commodity production businesses have huge amounts of data on their products and where these materials are created. Despite having all of this information, very little is passed on to investors and even less to the end-user. By making this data available, means both investors and customers would be capable of making better investing and purchasing decisions, which could gradually result in a switch to greener products.

For example, the petroleum extraction industry is very technologically advanced, and businesses gather significant amounts of data on each barrel of gas extracted and sold. At present, no information is available to investors in the stock market. No details are provided on where the oil is purchased and sold, which is crucial when some refinery procedures are far more detrimental to the environment. Investors and customers have little knowledge of these details, and consequently are unable to make an informed decision. Today, businesses, investors and consumers are more aware and conscious of our environment, purchasing choices, and the impact of products on our environment is critical.

In reality, we have all of this data available and the information to enable investors and people to make more informed decisions. Data has been collected and stored by extensive IoT networks spanning nearly every industry, but at the moment, this information remains in the networks and remains unused.

The future challenge

Improving this information connection and increasing the availability of data to customers and investors will be a challenge. Many production businesses consist of the necessary technology, but this may not be the case for everyone. Small-scale producers in developing nations would struggle to utilise this data, with limited data systems and lower access to the internet.

On a more positive note, businesses are working on leveraging big data to transition to greener markets. For example, carbon credit registries in North America are a fine example of this in action. Another example is the systems being created by Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, focusing on creating a world where carbon credits are traded just like commodities.

Data can make powerful changes and has proven already to be capable of transforming industries for the better. For example, the music business experienced a dramatic industry change in previous years, and this movement was predominantly down to customers having more information. In the late 1990s, CD sales had peaked, and in this year Napster launched downloads. This was the beginning of a digital music revolution, sparked by the fact that customers had more information about the music they were downloading. In terms of the oil industry, big data could equip investors of the future with detailed information on the oil extraction process and environmental impacts of this. For businesses and investors actively seeking to focus on their green credentials, this level of information could make a considerable difference.

It may not be in the interest of large manufacturing and mining businesses to make their data widely available to the public but climate policies and added pressure from investors and consumers is driving a big data revolution in industry. We are demanding more information and are aware the data is available for us to utilise. Businesses should be looking to investors and consumers and using this data to work together to improve and transform the impact of industry on climate change.

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