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Environmental Data as a Public Good
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December 3, 2021
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Environmental Data as a Public Good

Read the full Opportunity Brief here.

Environmental data, which takes many forms, is essential for effective climate action, environmental management and public health protection, but has not been prioritized as a useful tool. Current incentives, standards, rules, and regulations related to environmental data are not always workable for communities collecting and using data, nor for government actors who could use this data to better inform policy and decision making. An opportunity to make environmental data work better for us lies in recognizing it as a public good.

This brief presents the opportunity to firmly establish environmental data as a public good in both the traditional sense of being non-rival and non-excludable, as well as in expanding the conceptualization of public goods to include utility and equity. To fully reach its potential as a public good, government, community, and academic stakeholders must address four major barriers: (i) lack of awareness of, (ii) overabundance of, (iii) the potential to misuse, and (iv) lack of infrastructure for environmental data resources. The data and its infrastructure must also be workable and useful for users with diverse experiences, capacities, and access to resources.

The current political moment presents several opportunities for the use of environmental data as a public good in service of environmental justice and climate solutions. Any efforts to leverage these opportunities should also support understanding, accountability, and the need for useful tools and infrastructure beyond this political cycle.

Get Started Now Recommendations for government and non-government actors:

1. Public funding agencies like the NSF should strengthen and enforce open data policies for their grantees as they relate to environmental and climate research data, within the confines of consent-based protections.

2. Local policymakers and organizations should organize public forums on issues related to using, finding and collecting environmental data, as well as on understanding the climate crisis. They should conduct needs assessments to understand what environmental data resources are available, what data resources are needed, and the barriers or entry points for accessibility.

3. Federal policymakers should publicly define local community knowledge and Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge. They should create and share plans for collecting and integrating this knowledge into the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. They should coordinate with the Interagency Working Group on Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge to incorporate Indigenous experience into the Screening Tool and larger Justice40 decision processes. They can ensure accountability by allowing community stakeholders to access and comment on their selection of Justice40 programs.

Recommendations for a broader three-year policy development framework:

At the local level communities and governments can work with organizations like OEDP to design community data hubs, model local data review boards and develop environmental data curriculum and training partnerships for current and future data users.

At the local, state, and federal levels, standardized templates for ground truthing exercises should be developed, specifically in relation to the Climate and Economic Justice Tool and a corps of environmental data officers and liaisons should be built.

Read the full Opportunity Brief here.