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The data behind the blinking lights of climate breakdown

Some of the worst wildfires in California in living memory; exceptional and prolonged heat in Siberia; walls of seawater as Hurricane Laura lashes Louisiana; unprecedented rates of glacier melt and sea-ice loss… these are some of the blinking lights of the climate crisis.

Beyond headline-grabbing climate events, however, lie other indicators that our climate is changing more rapidly.

Data-driven approaches

The volume of data in the world is increasing exponentially. By some estimates, 90 per cent of the data in the world has been created in the last two years, and it is projected to increase by 40 per cent annually. Data is growing as it is increasingly being gathered by inexpensive and numerous information‐sensing, mobile devices and because the world’s capacity for storing information has roughly doubled every 40 months since the 1980s.

Big Data can help spot global environmental trends much more easily than in the 1990s. The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) World Environment Situation Room, set up in 2019, is a demonstration platform put together by a consortium of Big Data partners.

“The project is global with overarching environmental policy relevance and impact,” says Pascal Peduzzi, director of UNEP-GRID-Geneva. “The portal includes geo-referenced, remote-sensing and earth observation information integrated with statistics and data on the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

“The World Environment Situation Room collates climate data in near real-time and is painting a worrying picture. Monthly global temperatures for January, February, March and July 2020, were the second warmest since records began in 1880, while in April, May and June 2020 they were the warmest ever on record since 1880,” says Peduzzi.

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