Climate information: Data made useful
“After meeting today, we will return to our island homes. Some of us will find our villages inundated by waves and our homes and public infrastructure wrecked by cyclones. Our coral reefs are dying, our food is disappearing, and we fear for the safety of our loved ones, who are being injured and even killed by some of the most ferocious of cyclones and other extreme weather events ever witnessed in our region.”
This statement was published by the Pacific Islands Forum in May 2019, just under one year before Tropical Cyclone Harold devastated areas of Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, an estimated $123,500,000 (USD) worth of damage.
More information about today’s climate and how it is changing cannot prevent extreme weather events like tropical cyclones. However, access to this information can support national governments in making evidence-based decisions to support their resilience on a long-term basis.
IPP CommonSensing is working with the Met Office in the UK and the governments of Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to support access to, and effective use of, climate information, including with the aid of remote sensing technologies.
How do we turn data into information?
There is now more free Earth Observation data from satellites than ever, but on its own, the value of the data is limited. The true value comes in the ability to interpret the data and turn it into actionable information to strengthen climate action policies.
A combination of past, present and projected future climate information is extremely valuable when it comes to decision-making. For example, satellite data can tell us where people live right across an island nation and how many metres above sea level their homes are, which can then be analysed to show us which communities are most vulnerable to flooding or landslides. By combining historical data – in some cases, stretching back 30 or 40 years – with ground truthing and surface observations, we can design and evaluation climate models to make projections of future climate conditions that may lead to these situations.
How do we make it useful?
A core part of our work in Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands has focused on working with government agencies, regional groups, and organisations in the individual countries to understand local context and challenges to ensure that the information we provide is relevant and useful for those purposes. Many governments already have existing systems and programmes, and CommonSensing is designed to be embedded or used alongside these rather than as a replacement.
Understanding the needs of the stakeholders we are working with means that we have been able to design a system that presents information in a way that is meaningful to the users. In the case of CommonSensing, this means that historical data will be available visually in mapped layers. However, future trend projects rely on incredibly large datasets which cannot be resolved into a useful image so will be presented in summary webpages. Our training resources are supporting users in understanding the inherent uncertainties in this.
Sustainability of resources is key for making long-term predictions linked to climate change. In addition to providing a system, we are delivering live training sessions and providing e-learning resources for stakeholders in the nations on the information that is available, how to interpret it, and then how to apply and share that knowledge.
By using a range of different platforms for delivering the training, we can ensure that potential future users of the CommonSensing system are able to access and develop actions based on the information provided, irrespective of our mutual locations.
All of this combined with information on disaster risk management and food security will support Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands increase their resilience by informing policies and operational decision-making, and provide vital evidence needed to apply for climate funding.