Using Data to Address Climate Challenges: Five Takeaways From Sierra Leone and Tanzania
Sierra Leone and Tanzania are both low-income countries that are vulnerable to extreme weather, shifting rainfall patterns, warming temperatures, sea level rise, and deforestation. As developing economies, they must make difficult choices when allocating resources for data production, management, and dissemination while upholding national priorities for low-carbon development and climate adaptation. As reflected in the 2017 Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data, resource allocation processes should be conducted through multi-stakeholder partnerships that include government, private sector, and civil society stakeholders who can contribute to the production and use of data. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s ambition to “leave no one behind” calls for data generation to reflect the needs and concerns of those whom it is supposed to help. These collaborations can be enhanced when data holders take efforts to ensure data are “open,” meaning free to access, use, and distribute, and in formats that are interoperable and comparable.
In 2017, in collaboration with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and national stakeholders, WRI interviewed and surveyed several governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to better understand the production, accessibility, and use of “climate-relevant” data in Tanzania and Sierra Leone, producing Climate Change Open Data for Sustainable Development: Case Studies From Tanzania and Sierra Leone. By using the term “climate-relevant,” we expand the definition beyond meteorological and climate data to include data sets relevant to either mitigation or adaptation, including emissions, climate and weather data along with risk scenarios, socioeconomic and other data relevant to resilience, and data tracking the progress of climate policies and plans.
Here are five key takeaways from this research:
1. Barriers to data access and availability can be infrastructural or institutional
The availability of climate-relevant data is a function of several variables, including technological and human capacities to collect and process data, rules and incentives to encourage sharing and dissemination, and users’ ability to understand and make use of data. For instance, in Sierra Leone, weather stations destroyed during the decade-long civil war in the 1990s created infrastructural barriers. But just as often, the barriers are institutional: both countries also lack overarching climate legislation, leaving roles and responsibilities for climate data management unclear. Also, despite the presence, in both countries, of Access to Information laws and other rules meant to facilitate data sharing, there is little awareness of how to apply these mechanisms. When data is released, it may be in formats that are not truly open—i.e. in PDFs—as is Sierra Leone’s Open Data Portal. Finally, if intended users don’t know when data are released or how it pertains to them, efforts may be wasted.
2. Poor inter-agency communication and coordination leads to missed opportunities
We found that efforts to collect, collate, and disseminate sustainable development and climate-relevant data may be fragmented or disconnected across institutions. For instance, open data initiatives in Sierra Leone were disconnected from the Ministry of Water Resources’ efforts to collect and release water quality and quantity data. This may be due to the lack of a cross-governmental system to coordinate learning and collaboration across sectors and expertise. Without these linkages, there may be missed opportunities to gather climate-relevant data as part of national efforts on data release.
3. Meteorological data for early warning systems is a high priority
The report identified a wide range of climate-relevant needs—such as deforestation and land use data, projected climate impacts on yields of important crops, and demographic and geospatial overlays to understand vulnerabilities— however, meteorological data to support early warning systems was given high priority in each country. This is may be due to recent climate-related hazards that had human impact, such as flooding and mudslides in Sierra Leone and deadly droughts in Tanzania. Focus groups and workshops revealed that climate planning processes could be more open and inclusive, to build an understanding of climate risks and help build resilience. These needs are not being ignored—early warning systems are the focus of multilateral efforts to build resilience and disaster preparedness capacity. However, more work needs to be done to link these efforts to land use planning and community outreach and engagement.
4. Approaches must be multi-stakeholder to ensure efficient planning and effective implementation
Multi-stakeholder approaches to climate-relevant data planning and coordination processes that involve civil society organizations (CSOs) and the media can help to build wider awareness among the general public of what data exists, how to understand and use it, and how this data informs efforts to improve resilience and reduce risks. Interviews with civil society emphasize the critical role of NGOs that can translate climate data to communities impacted by climate change. This can be made easier when governments partner with a wide range of CSOs, so that there is awareness of existing data and CSOs can help make data more open and usable. Building sustainable partnerships across sectors requires inputs of time and leadership, thus may be viewed as costly to constrained agencies. Donors should invest in platforms to support long-term, multi-stakeholder partnerships to assess and improve data production and use.
5. Despite constraints, climate-relevant innovations do exist
Despite resource and capacity constraints, there are climate-relevant data innovations in both countries, driven by domestic leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sector, often in collaboration with multilateral agencies. In Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Water Resources recently launched a website with disaggregated data on water quality at point sources near communities, including a mechanism to engage community members on water quality and use. Another multi-partner effort launched Sierra Leone’s first early warning system for extreme weather events, in the wake of the mudslide disaster. Tanzania, with guidance from the UN Statistics Division, conducted a baseline assessment on the collection of climate data. Some innovations focus on governance. For example, Sierra Leone operationalized a cross-governmental climate change committee, and also promoted its Meteorological Department to agency level, allowing for more resources and authority. In Tanzania, the Meteorological Office began tailoring the format, presentation, and means through which it disseminates climate-relevant data to different communities to increase understanding and use.
While the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda have created top down incentives for data production and use, it is equally important that data initiatives responding to climate threat are fully aligned with the ambition to “leave no one behind” and thus reflect the stakeholder-driven priorities as well as national assessments of adaptation and mitigation opportunities. Stakeholders in both countries express a need for greater access to climate-relevant data and clarity on where such data may exist. The barriers to improving climate-relevant data production and use are as much related to governance, institutions, and incentives as they are technical. International partners and donors should continue to invest in these countries’ capacity not only to produce data but to make it useful and culturally-relevant for communities, business, and leaders at all levels of government.
(Photo by Mathias Apitz)