In August 2017, several days of heavy rain triggered a landslide in the Regent area outside of Freetown, Sierra Leone, killing over 1,000 people, affecting at least 6,000, and costing over $31 million in loss and damage, according to a World Bank estimate. The disaster intensified national conversations on climate risks, land use and urban planning, disaster response and information sharing. The tragedy also shined a more critical light on the climate data that is being collected and how it is being shared between decision-makers and stakeholders and used to inform decisions.
The Sierra Leone case is an example of a growing global trend toward the use of open data on climate factors to help local decision-makers assess risks over time. Making the data on such factors as climate vulnerability, hazards, landslides, infrastructure and rivers more open can amplify its impact with different stakeholders.
Open datasets are those that can be freely used and distributed, accessed without licensing restrictions or paywalls, and that are interoperable and comparable.
As part of this trend, an international effort is underway to identify key open climate datasets and to support governments’ efforts to collect and release climate open data, including:
UN Statistics Division’s new knowledge platform and framework for climate data statistics collection;
The Open Data Charter, which aims to help countries develop plans of action for the release of priority datasets.
These are promising developments, but it remains to be seen whether they will be enough to ensure prioritization of the collection and release of climate data to meet international obligations under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Working with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), WRI sought to ascertain key open climate data needs and gaps by conducting workshops and interviews with government agencies, civil society organizations and members of the private sector in Sierra Leone and Tanzania. We identified a number of climate datasets that national stakeholders have prioritized for collection, and the main capacity gaps and challenges related to the collection, release and use of climate data. We found that both countries have some clear priorities for which types of data should be released by civil society and government, as outlined in the chart below:
Priority Data Types identified by Tanzanian Stakeholders
Priority Data Types Identified by Sierra Leonean Stakeholders
Early warning weather data systems for ports and vessels
Changes in weather patterns for farmers
Rainfall attenuation (seasonal)
Early warning weather data systems for coastal and agricultural communities
Changes in weather patterns for farmers
Changes in the national cropping calendar
Timing and duration of rainfall
Risks to infrastructure from rainfall, temperature, oil and gas exploration or pipelines
Water tariff setting, water use and availability of water services
Waterway levels and quality
Condition of water point sources, such as wells and taps
Types of irrigation facilities
Wildlife, biodiversity and forests
Deforestation and reforestation, including tree planting, planning for planting and harvesting trees
Geospatial data on forest use
Land use change emissions
Alternative livelihoods to reduce pressure on forest exploitation
Local communities’ vulnerability (livelihoods and impact of climate change)
Demographic and geospatial data overlays to understand vulnerability to flooding, storm surges and other climate risks
These answers are illuminating. But data will only be released if policy and legal frameworks enable open data policies and laws that guarantee access to information. There are deep data gaps in both countries that must be filled to achieve the targets set out in SDG 13 on climate.
Measuring the collection and release of climate datasets offers one way to help countries as they prepare now for the 2019 review of progress on SDG 13 climate targets at the High Level Political Forum. The Open Data for Resilience Index shows that countries need to do much more to start collecting key datasets to engage stakeholders, so they in turn can address climate impacts in their communities. One good target for reform and donor support is the creation of a data environment that prioritizes the creation of quality, updated, specific open datasets (historical and real-time) including geolocation or high-resolution data. This kind of data helps foster engagement with civil society, academia and the private sector.
While Tanzania and Sierra Leone have made significant advances to better understand the state of climate data collection, resource constraints and political factors have held back collection and release efforts and limited use by civil society. The data environment remains challenging in many countries. To meet the SDGs, countries will need to review policy, law, coordination and capacity-building approaches to ensure that they are robust enough to achieve the goals. There is still time and need for more focused action.