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Fall 2021 Series: Environmental Data as a Public Good In Efforts to Address Climate Change
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August 20, 2021
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Environmental Data as a Public Good In Efforts to Address Climate Change

Current State and Future-Thinking

Environmental data will be integral in addressing the climate crisis at all levels of governance and across the gamut of mitigation, adaptation, and migration efforts. The warming climate is causing increased variability in our natural systems, which in turn increases the variability in our social, economic, and governance systems. 

Part of this variability includes a shift within the U.S. government, as we witness long-awaited federal attempts on action on climate change with the Biden-Harris administration. There is pressure to address the climate crisis with a lens that prioritizes environmental justice with a recognition that environmental data (in all its iterations) will be necessary. The federal government is realizing what communities collecting and utilizing data have known all along: We will need the stories that data can tell us in our pursuit of addressing the climate crisis. 

The significance of environmental data requires that we catalyze its understanding and mechanization as a public good, something that is nonrival and nonexcludable; a tool that is provided with meaningful access and available without limit. How do we make environmental data a public good that serves communities in their efforts of adapting, mitigating and migrating from climate change? What pathways, levers and incentives are ripe for actionable change in the environmental data landscape?

We seek to understand the landscape of environmental data as a public good within the scope of the climate crisis, before imagining future narratives. The goal of this project is to produce an opportunity brief and a set of future narratives examining these questions.

Research Questions

  1. How data systems work now: when, where and how data is collected along the decision-making process and how data moves between actors?
  2. What changes could be made to the data: what new or overlooked forms/sources of data could inform your work?
  3. What changes could be made to the system: how can a data system adapt to changing community needs? 
  4. How might we value and communicate community solutions and innovations and incorporate them into data collection and governance efforts?
  5. How could we build future representative data systems for community environmental governance while considering the need for legacy environmental governance systems?

Methodology, Audience, Timeline

The opportunity brief and future narrative pieces will be informed by an internal research desk review and by two conversations, held in September and October. The first conversation will focus on the current landscape of data systems, largely focusing on the first three questions above. The participants will include those who interact with data at the local, regional, and state level.  The second conversation will convene a new set of participants who can speak to the design of data systems, focusing on the last three questions above. 

The first product, the opportunity brief, will examine, analyze and communicate where there is an opportunity and a route for change within data systems that inform climate policy within the United States. The second product will build from the opportunity briefs and result in a set of pieces focusing on future narratives, imagining a reality that is informed by the reality of our legacy systems, but with a eye for leverage points in which we can reimagine and test out new ideas.