CoP 27 : Good use of data is key to mitigating the climate emergency 

MapAction urges world leaders and stakeholders gathered at COP27 to promote data-driven solutions to improve the lives of people on the front lines of climate change. 

In the last year alone we have seen scorching fires in the Amazon rain forest, record-breaking temperatures across Europe, devastating droughts in Kenya and unparalleled flash floods in China. Hurricanes swept havoc across the Caribbean; severe floods hit Pakistan. Regular climate-related disasters are exacerbating water and food insecurity. 

How emergency relief stakeholders and governments coordinate their responses to the climate emergency can impact the recovery of affected communities. That is why good data is key to preparedness and mitigation, especially in locations with limited resources. 

Ice and snow on the Hindu Kush mountain range, which runs along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is melting and causing devastating floods in both countries. Photo: Alex Macbeth

As the changing climate ravages and displaces some of the world’s poorest communities, good data use will not prevent such climate-driven occurrences. It can only soften the effects by helping the affected communities, and stakeholders, to be prepared and to coordinate relief strategies. Good use of data, in decision-making at key moments, can dramatically reduce the human cost of the climate emergency. 

“Data, often visualised through maps, can help identify who the most vulnerable people are, where they are, and highlight need,” says Nick Moody, MapAction’s chair of trustees. “At this CoP there is a recognition that while this information is critical during a crisis, it can have an even greater effect if used in advance. MapAction has a huge role to play in helping others to build resilience through data.”

Why MapAction?

Since MapAction’s inception over 20 years ago, the charity has provided data and specialist technical geospatial and data volunteers in more than 130 crises, many climate-related, worldwide. Our team has supported responses alongside UN, regional and national agencies as well as INGOs and local civil society organisations, providing relief to some of the most vulnerable climate-exposed people worldwide. 

Our 80+ volunteers come from across the ever-growing range of sectors using data and geospatial technology, bringing a huge diversity of technical expertise. MapAction gives them the training, operational experience and support needed to operate effectively in humanitarian situations. 

Working in collaboration with many emergency relief partners, our teams create unique situation maps, data visualisations, data sets and other products that help coordinate disaster relief using the best available information in the most insightful ways. The improved decisions they enable can help mitigate, for example, the impact of droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, famines and health crises, to save lives and protect communities. In 2022 alone, MapAction has provided data products to support climate-related emergency relief operations in Madagascar, Suriname, Gambia, Paraguay and South Sudan. 

From response to anticipation

While MapAction’s initial expertise was in support of emergency response, our work is increasingly moving into early warning and preparedness. Anthropogenic climate change has been proven to alter both the likelihood and the severity of extreme weather events around the world, and the growing frequency of these can be predicted, if not precisely then generally. Being ready to spot the indicators, triggering early support for anticipatory action can be life-saving. Predictive analytics can allow us to define the mechanisms that trigger these actions by analysing current and historical data and developing models, as long as the data is reliable.

“It is more important than ever to be able to respond effectively to such events, but also to be able to anticipate them, in order to more effectively mitigate their impact,” says Daniele Castellana, lead Data Scientist at MapAction. “Through our collaborations with the Centre for Humanitarian Data and the Start Network, MapAction has been working on this flourishing component of humanitarian aid.”

“The African CoP”

“This CoP has been described as the African CoP; it is all about adaptation and resilience, and rightly so,” says MapAction Chair of Trustees Nick Moody, who is in Egypt for CoP27.  “In the last 21 months more than 52 million African citizens have been directly affected by drought and floods, and the continent is warming faster than the global average over both land and sea. While we mustn’t forget that every individual has a story, the grinding effects of climate change and extreme events on poverty, food insecurity and displacement at these scales must also be understood through data.” 

Early action is one of the most effective ways to address the ever-growing climate impacts. That is why MapAction has partnered with the START Network, a coalition that focuses on humanitarian action through innovation, fast funding and early action. START Network brings together 55 international non-governmental organisations and 7,000 partners worldwide. In 2022 MapAction also  launched its own Innovation Hub, to address some of the key humanitarian challenges by taking advantage of new opportunities in the data and geospatial sectors. 

From commitment to action

MapAction has made concrete commitments to actively seek solutions to reduce the impact of climate change. In October 2021, we signed the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organisations. The charter was developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and guided by a 19-person strong Advisory Committee which included representatives of local, national and international NGOs, UN agencies and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as academics, researchers and experts in the humanitarian, development, climate and environmental fields.

Signing that charter commits us to being a part of the solution and helping people adapt to a changing climate and environment. It will also help strengthen our own resolve and efforts to be environmentally sustainable. Most of all, it recognises that our efforts must be a collective endeavour – no organisation can tackle this alone.

Together with a growing range of partners, looking to engage ever more locally, we are using geospatial data, data visualization and data science to start laying the groundwork for climate resilience. The objective is to improve preventive actions and strategies in humanitarian response. 

Because what we map today we can mitigate tomorrow and in the future. That is why the science of how we source, analyze, shape, share and deploy data must be at the heart of all current and future discussions on adapting to climate change. 

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