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We need open data to fight climate change

Web Foundation · December 7, 2015

“Paris must mark a turning point. We need the world to know that we are headed to a low-emissions, climate-resilient future, and that there is no going back.” – Ban Ki Moon

Apocalyptic floods. Historic droughts. Food insecurity and mass migration. This is the future that faces us all if world leaders fail to agree and enforce a strong and binding deal to tackle climate change this week in Paris. “Never have the stakes been so high”, observed French president Francois Hollande as he opened the gathering, 24 hours after over 600,000 people around the world marched to demand that leaders take decisive action.

Of course, we’re going to need more and better data to measure and track progress against the targets that will (hopefully) be agreed this week in Paris. This would include tracking temperature changes, mapping deforestation and biodiversity in real time and cataloguing changes to flood plains as oceans rise. But making this data open by design could be the secret ingredient that accelerates progress.


First, it will enable collaboration. To tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time, we ideally need anyone, anywhere to be able to contribute. Being able to access the latest data in easily reusable formats will mean that diverse groups of scientists, civil society organisations, governments, international organisations and individuals can quickly reach common understanding.

Second, it will underpin innovation. Making climate data open by design will enable anyone to look for new and interesting patterns in the data. This could be citizen scientists, academic groups, or even social entrepreneurs.

Third, it will create accountability. Governments are going to make some tough commitments. The temptation to break them for profit will be immense. Committing to make climate data open will be a clear signal that they intend to keep their word. And, it will give all of us the ability to monitor progress and apply pressure to ensure promises are kept.

For example, this week 21 cities including Paris, Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans and Mexico City, committed to spending 10% of their budgets on sustainability measures. Open data could help citizens track how this money is being spent, and how effective the sustainability measure are.

A number of governments and organisations have recognised this and are leading the way in open environment data. The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has embraced open data for a number of initiatives – including mapping of floodplains. The World Bank has established a Climate Change Knowledge Portal, dedicated to sharing data and information in support of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. But we need to get more governments and organisations on board.

We want to make it as easy as possible to unlock these benefits. That’s why, members of the international Open Data Charter – the Government of Mexico, the Government of France and the Center for Open Data Enterprise are holding a roundtable with climate change and data experts from all around the world today to identify key datasets and their potential use for climate change adaptation and mitigation. This ‘open data climate package’ will provide standards and guidance to national, regional and local governments who want to open their climate data.

If you want to find out more on how your government can adopt the Open Data Charter or how your organisation can support it, don’t hesitate to get in touch at or find the team on Twitter at COP21 @opendatacharter.   

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