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Using Data to Address Climate Challenges: 5 Takeaways from Sierra Leone and Tanzania

This post originally appeared on the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data website.

Sierra Leone and Tanzania, two low-income countries vulnerable to extreme weather, shifting rainfall patterns, warming temperatures, sea level rise and deforestation, face difficult choices about how much to spend on data about climate change. The 2017 Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data says resource allocation should be conducted through multi-stakeholder partnerships that include government, business and civil society. And the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s ambition to “leave no one behind” calls for data generation that reflects the needs and concerns of those it is supposed to help. Ideally, this information should be open:  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. Climate-relevant data goes beyond meteorological and climate information to include data relevant to climate change mitigation or adaptation, including emissions, climate and weather, along with risk scenarios, socioeconomic and other data relevant to resilience, and data tracking the progress of climate policies and plans.

Here’s what our research found:

1. Barriers to data access and availability can be infrastructural or institutional

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 Sierra Leone and Tanzania lack overarching climate legislation, leaving roles and responsibilities for climate data management unclear. Also, despite the presence of Access to Information laws and other rules meant to facilitate data sharing, there is little awareness of how to use these mechanisms. When data is released, it may be in formats that are not truly open—such as PDFs—as is Sierra Leone’s Open Data Portal. Finally, if intended users don’t know when data are released or how it affects them, efforts may be wasted.

2. Poor inter-agency communication and coordination leads to missed opportunities

Efforts to collect, collate, and disseminate sustainable development and climate-relevant data may be fragmented or disconnected across institutions. Open data initiatives in Sierra Leone were disconnected from the Ministry of Water Resources’ efforts to collect and release water quality and quantity data. Without these linkages, there may be missed opportunities to gather climate-relevant data nationally.

3. Meteorological data for early warning systems is a high priority

Meteorological data to support early warning systems was given high priority in both countries. This is may be due to recent climate-related hazards 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. 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. Efficient planning and effective implementation requires multi-stakeholder approaches

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 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 advocates emphasize the critical role of non-governmental organizations can play in communicating climate data to communities affected by climate change. This can be made easier when governments partner with a wide range of CSOs to increase awareness of existing data and help make it more open and usable. Building sustainable partnerships across sectors requires time and leadership, which can be challenging for constrained agencies. Donors should invest in platforms to support long-term, multi-stakeholder partnerships.

5. Despite constraints, climate-relevant innovations do exist

Despite resource and capacity constraints, both countries have seen climate-relevant data innovations, driven by domestic leaders in the public, private and non-profit sectors, often in collaboration with multilateral agencies. In Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Water Resources recently launched a website with disaggregated data on water quality 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 formed a cross-governmental climate change committee, and 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 of distribution of 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 threats are fully aligned stakeholder-driven priorities as well as national assessments. Stakeholders in both countries want greater access to climate-relevant data. 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, businesses and leaders at all levels of government.

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