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Voice of the Commonwealth - The Global Influencer

Voice of the Commonwealth - The Global Influencer

Decarbonizing with Data

Jeremy Brito, London

According to the UN IPCC Report (2021), global warming has accelerated and risen by an additional 1.1°C since the creation of the Paris Agreement in 2016. The increase in carbon (CO2) emissions and deforestation has led to extreme weather patterns such as catastrophic flooding, wild fires and desertification of farmland, as well as, the destruction of animal habits impacting the survival of species such as polar bears, tigers, turtles and bees. The inaction by governments and corporations has meant the recent COP26 summit goal of net zero emissions and limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2050 is under serious threat.

So, how do we hold these governments and corporations accountable for a lack of action? Many corporations proudly announce they are looking to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. Is this just a public relations exercise or are they truly making steps to achieve this goal? The question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘How can we effectively track climate change to ensure emissions are being reduced?’ One method is to implement data-driven technology to help predict, monitor and provide a more independent view of climate goals.

One example of corporations taking action and setting the precedent for sustainability is Google. Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, has pledged to run its entire business carbon free (24/7) by 2030. They have built data tools, such as the Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE) and Google Earth Engine to analyse earth-sized amounts of data helping people to understand their environmental impact and improve their sustainable actions. Let’s take a closer look at what these specific data tools have accomplished in the fight against climate change thus far:

Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE)

According to ‘Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI)’, a non-profit organisation promoting urban sustainable development, worldwide urban areas account for more than 70% of global emissions. Due to this staggering figure, Google provides the Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE) tool to assist 500+ global cities and local governments to reduce 1 gigaton (GT) of carbon emissions by 2030. The tool models and analyses environmental data to provide vital insights around air quality, building / transport emissions and tree coverage.

A data tool within the EIE called ‘Tree Canopy Lab’ combines Google Earth Engine’s data analytic capabilities and Google AI to capture the density of trees in a city. The City of Los Angeles uses the lab data provided by this tool to target specific areas around the city to plant trees which in turn improves air quality and brings down temperatures in areas that are prone to extreme heat. Mexico City is also incorporating lab data to measure building emissions. City planners are using this data to target energy poverty and providing those citizens without clean and affordable electricity with rooftop solar energy panels. By implementing data measures in city planning, the city ensures improved air quality while promoting a healthy environment encouraging its citizens to change their attitudes about climate change.

Google Earth Engine

Google Earth Engine is another powerful data tool that combines satellite imagery and geospatial datasets to detect changes on the Earth’s surface. The monitoring system is being used by the World Resources Institute to run their ‘Global Forest Watch’ initiative to fight deforestation and track data linked to tree loss and forest fires. This real-time data is used by non-profits, governments, corporations and individuals to combat illegal tree cutting and predict future threats.
The tool has enabled conservationists to analyse data and track deforestation activity within palm oil plantations. Palm Oil is in high demand due to widely being used in products such as shampoo, toothpaste, chocolate and crisps. Corporations such as Nestle have pledged to work with small farmers and large suppliers to produce 100% deforestation-free palm oil by 2022. However, conversationists ‘Rainforest Action Network’ have used Global Forest Watch data to confirm this statement is nothing more than a PR exercise with Nestle suppliers still carrying out more than 1000 cases of deforestation a day. To counteract this, the Rainforest Action Network have asked consumers to stop buying Nestle products containing palm oil.

The Indonesian government, one of the world’s largest producers of palm oil, made the statement to end deforestation in the country by 2030. However, Global Forest Watch data has shown new plantations are still being constructed illegally despite the government’s ban on planation permits. Environmental groups in Indonesia have used this data to call out the approval of new permits. This pressure proved to be successful as the Indonesian government recently took steps to revoke 137 planation permits of irresponsible corporations.

As we have seen, conservationists and interest groups play an important part in taking the data and using it to publicly call out governments and corporations to implement real change. The data allows consumers to comprehend tangible facts and in turn take evasive action. Data-driven technology provides real-time monitoring that ensures the right parties are being held accountable and their policies become more sustainable.

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