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Working Group Stories: Public Domain, Open Sustainability, Open Education

Katelyn Rogers - September 6, 2013 in WG Open Education, WG Public Domain, WG Sustainability, Working Groups

Working Groups Stories, a blog series we started back in May, is our way of showcasing the incredible work being done in all different domains across the Open Knowledge Foundation Network. Working groups are domain-specific groups, promoting, defining and producing open knowledge in everything from Archaeology to Shakespeare.

okf-booksprint-data

Public Domain Working Group

The Public Domain Working Group has been busy over the last few months, working in partnership with OKF France and the French Ministry of Culture to develop a French Public Domain Calculator. Public Domain Calculators are tools to help users determine whether or not a piece of work is in the public domain. In France, this comes at an important time, as we enter the period when most of the works produced by authors who died during the second world war will (theoretically) enter the public domain. However, French copyright law stipulates that authors who died for France during the war have extended terms of protection. This complication could lead to a number of works being incorrectly assumed to be in the public domain.

The value of Public Domain Calculators extends far beyond the particularities of national copyright law. Calculators help identify and promote good practices and open data policies within cultural institutions. They will be used by cultural institutions as a benchmarking tool to identify flaws and gaps in the structure or content of their bibliographical metadata, to increase the accuracy of the results. If you are interested in finding out more about public domain calculators or want to build one for your country, please get in contact at getinvolved {at} okfn.org or join our Public Domain Mailing List.

Open Sustainability

The Open Sustainability Working Group has been growing fast since its launch less than a year ago, with activity in several countries including Finland and Italy and a new twitter account (@OpenSusty). The group are key in the OKFN global #OpenCO2 campaign to bring more transparency to emissions tracking, so big polluters are held to account. The new local Open Sustainability group in Finland has met with energy companies about access to personal energy use data, and is interested in opening up sustainability and climate data and modelling. Energy software has been built using open data at Energy hack events in Germany and Finland. Next up is the Sustainability and Development topic at OKCon this month in Geneva. Join the growing conversation on the Open Sustainability mailing list and follow us @OpenSusty.

Open Education

Open Education, the newest addition to the working group family, has been busy despite its official launch still being a few weeks off! This week, the group organised an Open Education Handbook mini-booksprint in London, inviting open education experts along to share ideas and write down copy relating to various aspects of open education: resources, data and pedagogy. The event resulted in an initial outline of the book to be drafted; the final edited version is due for October 2014. If you are interested in hearing more about the Open Education Handbook or would like to contribute to it then join the Open Education Working Group mailing list for updates.

Cover image: The O-Pen, by O’Khoas creations, from the Public Domain Remix. Illustration: OKF Booksprint Data, by Kevin Mears. All CC-BY

Carbon emissions transparency should be at the heart of the global open data agenda

Jonathan Gray - June 21, 2013 in Featured, Open Data, Policy, WG Sustainability

This week eight of the world’s most powerful nations made unprecedented multilateral commitments to open up their data:

  • the Open Data Charter says that that public information should be published in accordance with open data principles by default;
  • the Lough Erne Declaration emphasises the importance of increased transparency in cracking down on tax evasion, corruption and illegal or unfair practises in natural resource extraction and land transactions.

But while “pollution levels” gets a cursory mention as an example dataset under the ‘Energy and Environment’ heading of 14 data areas which are ‘recognised as high value’ (see 6.2 in the technical annex), there was a conspicuous absence of discussion about carbon emissions transparency or data that will be essential to implementing and monitoring commitments to cut emissions.

This reflects a more general lack of prioritisation of climate change at the G8 meeting, which was challenged by France and Germany earlier this year, and picked up on by climate NGOs, protestors and policy experts alike earlier this week.

Apart from a page in the closing 33 page communique, noting that “climate change is one of the foremost challenges for our future economic growth and well-being”, the topic was not treated with the level of gravity or urgency that you’d expect, given the scale of the commitments and energy needed for the world to avoid catastrophic changes in our climate.

There was explicit agreement that the world needs to ‘limit the increase in global temperature to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels’, but – apart from allusions to the next major UN summit on climate change in 2015 in Paris – there was little discussion of how G8 countries will achieve and monitor the emissions cuts that are needed.

Recent scientific research seems to indicate that to reduce the probability of a 2ºC global temperature increase to below 20%, the world has a total quota of around 886 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide to emit between 2000 and 2050. Estimates suggest that we had already burned our way through around a third of this total quota by 2011 – and the fossil fuel reserves owned by the top 100 listed coal and top 100 listed oil and gas companies alone amount to more than our remaining quota. Known global reserves amount to the equivalent of over 2,795 gigatonnes.

If we want to remain within this 886 gigatonne quota to avoid a temperature rise of more than 2ºC, governments around the world need to start making serious and concrete commitments very soon, and to publish more timely and granular information about how they are performing – so they can be held accountable to their targets.

The UK’s draft order on greenhouse gas emissions reporting requirements for top UK companies is a step in this direction – but it is not explicitly connected with the UK’s open data efforts (the order mentions nothing about the information being made available in machine readable or openly licensed form). Our Advisory Board Member Hans Rosling has managed to secure a commitment from the Swedish government to reduce delays in publication of essential emissions statistics by 6 months – demonstrating that it is indeed possible for countries to publish critical emissions data with less than an 18-24 month delay (a delay which makes it hard for emissions related stories to break into a news culture which places a premium on recency).

We think carbon emissions data should be at the heart of global open data agenda – and we urge open data policy makers, public servants, advocates and civic hackers to join us to make this happen.

If you’d like to find out more about our efforts to open up the world’s carbon emissions data, you can follow #OpenCO2 on Twitter or sign up to our open-sustainability mailing list:

Image credits: Match smoke by AMagill on Flickr (CC-BY). Diagram showing comparison of the global 2°C carbon budget with fossil fuel reserves CO2 emissions potential from the Carbon Tracker Initiative‘s Unburnable Carbon report

We need open carbon emissions data now!

Jonathan Gray - May 13, 2013 in Access to Information, Campaigning, Featured, Featured Project, Open Data, Policy, WG Sustainability, Working Groups

Last week the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, a level which is said to be unprecedented in human history.

Leading scientists and policy makers say that we should be aiming for no more than 350 parts per million to avoid catastrophic runaway climate change.

But what’s in a number? Why is the increase from 399 to 400 significant?

While the actual change is mainly symbolic (and some commentators have questioned whether we’re hovering above or just below 400), the real story is that we are badly failing to cut emissions fast enough.

Given the importance of this number, which represents humanity’s progress towards tackling one of the biggest challenges we currently face – the fact that it has been making the news around the world is very welcome indeed.

Why don’t we hear about the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from politicians or the press more often? While there are regularly headlines about inflation, interest and unemployment, numbers about carbon emissions rarely receive the level of attention that they deserve.

We want this to change. And we think that having more timely and more detailed information about carbon emissions is essential if we are to keep up pressure on the world’s governments and companies to make the cuts that the world needs.

As our Advisory Board member Hans Rosling puts it, carbon emissions should be on the world’s dashboard.

Over the coming months we are going to be planning and undertaking activities to advocate for the release of more timely and granular carbon emissions data. We are also going to be working with our global network to catalyse projects which use it to communicate the state of the world’s carbon emissions to the public.

If you’d like to join us, you can follow #OpenCO2 on Twitter or sign up to our open-sustainability mailing list:

Image credit: Match smoke by AMagill on Flickr. Released under Creative Commons Attribution license.

Data Explorer Mission on Carbon Data

Vanessa Gennarelli - April 11, 2013 in Open Science, School of Data, WG Sustainability

Sign up now for next week’s Data Explorer Mission on Carbon Emissions Data, a pilot initiative of our School of Data and P2PU, to help people explore a topic, while at the same time building their data skills through experimentation and doing.

8364602336_facaa10cdf_oImage CC-By-SA J Brew on Flickr

At the School of Data, we teach in two ways.

1) By producing materials to help people tackle working with data and 2) By running Data Expeditions – where learners tackle a problem, answer a question or work on a project together, learning from one another as they get hands on with real data.

It’s come to our attention, that sometimes, it’s handy to combine the two – handing people materials to tackle the challenges they are likely to encounter along the way. The Data Explorer Mission is like a data expedition with one crucial difference: your guide is a robot…

Read on to learn more…

Your Mission: Tell Stories with Carbon Data

Learn how to tinker with, refine and tell a story with data in this 4-week course. Each week you’ll be commissioned to work with others on a project that will hone your data-wrangling skills. Lessons will be pulled from Open Knowledge Foundation and Tactical Tech with help from Peer 2 Peer University. At the end of the course, you will have finessed, wrangled, cleaned and visualized a data set and shared it with the world.

What to Expect

The course will run April 15 to May 3, and each week your team will receive weekly “Missions” from Mission Control over email. You’ll work together on those projects, including a 30-minute Google Hangout each week. Each “Mission” will lead up to your final project. For each skill you master in the course, you can earn a Badge to show your mastery and to get feedback to further your talents.

The Topic

Carbon Emissions. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about them at the moment, you don’t need to be a topic expert and the data skills you will learn will be very transferrable to other areas!

The Level

No prior experience is required, we’ll cover spreadsheets and working with data. If you’re more advanced, you are also welcome to join us to hone your skills, and the only limit on what you can learn is your imagination – so if you’re prepared to push yourselves on the project front the data-skills-bucket is your oyster!

About Mission Control

Normally – Data Expeditions are guided by a human sherpa, in this course, we’re weaving School of Data course material with a robot sherpa to help guide participants through the phases of the expedition. You’ll need to listen out for Mission Control’s instructions to guide you through the phases, keep timing and look out for handy tips, but organising your team is up to your group…

Sign up by completing the form below!

Sustainable energy policy demands sustainable open data

pierre chrzanowski - April 8, 2013 in Featured, Open Data, WG Sustainability

What kinds of energy are we producing, and what kinds are we consuming? How much comes from renewable sources? What is our energy dependency on other countries? Energy policy is today at the heart of every country’s agenda, but can citizen discuss it fairly? Do even policymakers have enough reliable information to implement new energy transition programs, required to secure energy supplies and achieve CO2 reduction targets?

Europe aims to reach a low carbon economy through transition energy policies. The objective is that by 2050, the EU should cut its emissions to 80% below 1990 levels through domestic reductions alone. The strategy also discusses how the main sectors responsible for Europe’s emissions (i.e power generation, industry, transport, buildings, and agriculture) could make the transition most cost effectively. As part of its energy transition policy, Germany has called to close all its nuclear power plants by 2022. More recently, France launched a national debate on energy policy, with the aim of cutting its carbon emission by a factor of 4 or 5 by 2050, and in the meantime by reducing the share of nuclear in the electricity mix to 50% by 2025.

But how do we get there? As we discuss energy policies, much data is still missing – not only for the general public, but also for policy makers and energy players. To deliver a sustainable energy policy, we need a sustainable and smart open data approach.

Here are some of the data on energy transition that we could start to open:

CO2 microdata

The well known statistician Hans Rosling has launched a call for the release of CO2 microdata. There is at least one source of CO2 microdata in Europe that we could demand openly: the EU Emissions Trading System, which was launched in 2005 to fight climate change, and covers more than 10 000 factories, power stations and other CO2-emitting installations. Despite the fact that this microdata is being collected at an installation level, we only have access to CO2 emissions data per sector or countries – this needs to change.

Market players

Our energy future depends on the market. But what do we know about the energy market and its players? In a recent interview for newspaper Le Monde, Christophe de Margerie, head of the oil group Total, declared: “We need to put all the data on the table: energy demand, and available resources together with their cost, environmental impact and feasibility”. He was right in asking for those data, but he forgot to mention that we also need data about energy players themselves. Which players produce what types of energy in Europe? How much tax do they pay, and in which jurisdictions? How much do they invest in sustainable energy? How much CO2 and others pollutants do they produce? Private energy companies need to release their own data in order to be accountable. Projects like Open Corporates can help us to find datasets on energy private sector but there are still jurisdictions, such as France, where you cannot access corporate data for free.

Risk assessments

As we debate the future of energy, risk assessments on energy sources is key information we need. Once you have data on energy stocks, reserves and economic efficiency, you also need solid, peer-reviewed, scientific data on the risks associated with those energy sources. Debates on Nuclear Energy, Renewable Energy or Shale gas all need risk assessment data.

Smart Grid data

Smart grid technologies promise to better manage production and distribution of electricity through a better use of data. Smart Grid efficiency relies in part on consumer behaviours and third party innovation. This can only be achieved through the release of data captured from the smart grid system directly to consumers (smart disclosure) and anonymously to other stakeholders (open data).

Help us to identify data on energy transition

These are just a few examples, to show the importance of sustainable open data to sustainable energy policy – but there are many more. You can help us to identify them by telling us what kind of data we would need to tackle energy transition and sustainability challenges.


Open Transition Energie

open transition1

As part of the National debate on Energy Policy in France, which is due to end with a new Energy Policy Framework proposal by the end of the year, the French OKF local group launched Open Transition Energy, a simple website to share, explore and visualize open data and other open resources related to energy transition, together with a dedicated group on the French datahub nosdonnees.fr a dedicated group.

An Open Knowledge Platform on Building Energy Performance to Mitigate Climate Change

Anne-Claire Bellec and Martin Kaltenböck - March 14, 2013 in Featured Project, Open Data, WG Sustainability

Buildings account for more than 30% of final energy use and energy-related carbon emissions in the world today. This sector has the potential to play a crucial role in mitigating the global challenge of climate change. However, the building industry is a local industry and the sector is fragmented at all levels, from planning to design and practical construction and over its various technical aspects.

In this context, how best to help the sector deliver its global mitigation potential? Our answer at the Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN) is collaboration: stimulating collective knowledge and analysis from experts and building professionals worldwide to advance best building performance policies and solutions that can support better decision-making. At the cornerstone of this strategy is our new Linked Open Data website launched on the 21st of February. This web-based tool is unique in that it has been designed as a global participatory open data knowledge hub: harvesting, curating and creating global best knowledge and data on building performance policies.

As the energy performance of buildings becomes central to any effective strategy to mitigate climate change, policymakers, investors and project developers, members of governmental institutions and multilateral organisations need better access to building performance data and knowledge to design, evaluate and compare policies and programmes from around the world.

The GBPN encourages transparent availability and access to reliable data. The GBPN data can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone (as provided under a Creative Commons Attribution CC-BY 3.0 FR license.) – subject to the requirement to attribute and share alike. In addition, the GBPN Knowledge Platform has been developed making use of Linked Open Data technology and principles to connect with the best online resources. The GBPN Glossary is linked to DBpedia as well as the reegle’s Clean Energy and Climate Change Thesaurus developed by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and (REN21). A “News Aggregator Tool” service is also available. And our platform connects to our Regional Hubs data portals: Buildingsdata.eu, the open data portal for energy efficiency in European buildings developed by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), and Buildingrating.org, the leading online tool for sharing global best practices on building rating and disclosure policies launched by the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) in 2011.

One of the main features of the website is the “Policy Comparative Tool” enabling comparison of the world’s best practice policies for new buildings. By understanding how countries have designed and implemented best practice codes, policy makers can use this information to strengthen the future design of dynamic policies. The tool provides interactive data visualization and analytics.

The GBPN aims to facilitate new synergies with energy efficiency experts and building professionals worldwide. For this purpose, the new website offers a Laboratory, a participatory research collaboration tool for building energy efficiency experts to share information and generate new knowledge on how best to develop ambitious building energy performance policies globally.

The GBPN will be enriching its data over time with additional topics and information generated through data exchange projects and research partnerships and is inviting any interested organisations to suggest any opportunities for collaboration.

The GBPN Open Knowledge Platform has been developed together with the Semantic Web Company, a consulting company and technology provider providing semantic information management solutions with a strong focus on Open Data and Linked Open Data principles and technologies.

About the GBPN:

The Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN) is a globally organised and regionally focused network whose mission is to advance best practice policies that can significantly reduce energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions from buildings. We operate a Global Centre based in Paris and are represented by Hubs and Partners in four regions: China, India, Europe and the United States. By promoting building energy performance globally, we strive to tackle climate change while contributing to the planet’s economic and social wellbeing.

Follow us on Twitter @GBPNetwork
Contact us at info@gbpn.org – www.gbpn.org

“Carbon dioxide data is not on the world’s dashboard” says Hans Rosling

Jonathan Gray - January 21, 2013 in Featured, Interviews, OKFest, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open/Closed, WG Sustainability, Working Groups

Professor Hans Rosling, co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation and Advisory Board Member at the Open Knowledge Foundation, received a standing ovation for his keynote at OKFestival in Helsinki in September in which he urged open data advocates to demand CO2 data from governments around the world.

Following on from this, the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Jonathan Gray interviewed Professor Rosling about CO2 data and his ideas about how better data-driven advocacy and reportage might help to mobilise citizens and pressure governments to act to avert catastrophic changes in the world’s climate.

Hello Professor Rosling!

Hi.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Is it okay if we jump straight into it?

Yes! I’m just going to get myself a banana and some ginger cake.

Good idea.

Just so you know: if I sound strange, it’s because I’ve got this ginger cake.

A very sensible idea. So in your talk in Helsinki you said you’d like to see more CO2 data opened up. Can you say a bit more about this?

In order to get access to public statistics, first the microdata must be collected, then it must be compiled into useful indicators, and then these indicators must be published. The amount of coal one factory burnt during one year is microdata. The emission of carbon dioxide per year per person in one country is an indicator. Microdata and indicators are very very different numbers. CO2 emissions data is often compiled with great delays. The collection is based on already existing microdata from several sources, which civil servants compile and convert into carbon dioxide emissions.

Let’s compare this with calculating GDP per capita, which also requires an amazing amount of collection of microdata, which has to be compiled and converted and so on. That is done every quarter for each country. And it is swiftly published. It guides economic policy. It is like a speedometer. You know when you drive your car you have to check your speed all the time. The speed is shown on the dashboard.

Carbon dioxide is not on the dashboard at all. It’s like something you get with several years delay, when you are back from the trip. It seems that governments don’t want to get it swiftly. And when they publish it finally, they publish it as total emissions per country. They don’t want to show emission per person, because then the rich countries stand out as worse polluters than China and India. So it is not just an issue about open data. We must push for change in the whole way in which emissions data is handled and compiled.

You also said that you’d like to see more data-driven advocacy and reportage. Can you tell us what kind of thing you are thinking of?

Basically everyone admits that the basic vision of the green movement is correct. Everyone agrees on that. By continuing to exploit natural resources for short term benefits you will cause a lot of harm. You have to understand the long-term impact. Businesses have to be regulated. Everyone agrees.

Now, how much should we regulate? Which risks are worse, climate or nuclear? How should we judge the bad effects of having nuclear electricity? The bad effects of coal production? These are difficult political judgments. I don’t want to interfere with these political judgments, but people should know the orders of magnitude involved, the changes, what is needed to avoid certain consequences. But that data is not even compiled fast enough, and the activists do not protest, because it seems they do not need data?

Let’s take one example. In Sweden we have data from the energy authority. They say: “energy produced from nuclear”. Then they include two outputs. One is the electricity that goes out into the lines and that lights the house that I’m sitting in. The other is the warm waste water that goes back into the sea. That is also energy they say. It is actually like a fraud to pretend that that is energy production. Nobody gets any benefit from it. On the contrary, they are changing the ecology of the sea. But they get away with it as the destination is energy produced.

We need to be able to see the energy supply for human activity from each source and how it changes over time. The people who are now involved in producing solar and wind produce very nice reports on how production increase each year. Many get the impression that we have 10, 20, 30% of our energy from solar and wind. But even with fast growth from almost zero solar and wind it is nothing yet. The news reports mostly neglect to explain the difference in percentage growth of solar and wind energy and their percent of total energy supply.

People who are too much into data and into handling data may not understand how the main misconceptions come about. Most people are so surprised when I show them total energy production in the world on one graph. They can’t yet see solar because it hasn’t reached one pixel yet.

So this isn’t of course just about having more data, but about having more data literate discussion and debate – ultimately about improving public understanding?

It’s like that basic rule in nutrition: Food that is not eaten has no nutritional value. Data which is not understood has no value.

It is interesting that you use the term data literacy. Actually I think it is presentation skills we are talking about. Because if you don’t adapt your way of presenting to the way that people understand it, then you won’t get it through. You must prepare the food in a way that makes people want to eat it. The dream that you will train the entire population to about one semester of statistics in university: that’s wrong. Statisticians often think that they will teach the public to understand data the way they do, but instead they should turn data into Donald Duck animations and make the story interesting. Otherwise you will never ever make it. Remember, you are fighting with Britney Spears and tabloid newspapers. My biggest success in life was December 2010 on the YouTube entertainment category in the United Kingdom. I had most views that month. And I beat Lady Gaga with statistics.

Amazing.

Just the fact that the guy in the BBC in charge of uploading the trailer put me under ‘entertainment’ was a success. No-one thought of putting a trailer for a statistics documentary under entertainment.

That’s what we do at Gapminder. We try to present data in a way that makes people want to consume it. It’s a bit like being a chef in a restaurant. I don’t grow the crop. The statisticians are like the farmers that produce the food. Open data provide free access to potatoes, tomatoes and eggs and whatever it is. We are preparing it and making a delicious food. If you really want people to read it, you have to make data as easy to consume as fish and chips. Do not expect people to become statistically literate! Turn data into understandable animations.

My impression is that some of the best applications of open data that we find are when we get access to data in a specific area, which is highly organized. One of my favorite applications in Sweden is a train timetable app. I can check all the communter train departures from Stockholm to Uppsala, including the last change of platform and whether there is a delay. I can choose how to transfer quickly from the underground to the train to get home fastest. The government owns the rails and every train reports their arrival and departure continuously. This data is publicly available as open data. Then a designer made an app and made the data very easy for me to understand and use.

But to create an app which shows the determinants of unemployment in the different counties of Sweden? No-one can do that because that is a great analytical research task. You have to take data from very many different sources and make predictions. I saw a presentation about this yesterday at the Institute for Future Studies. The PowerPoint graphics were ugly, but the analysis was beautiful. In this case the researchers need a designer to make their findings understandable to the broad public, and together they could build an app that would predict unemployment month by month.

The CDIAC publish CO2 data for the atmosphere and the ocean, and they publish national and global emissions data. The UNFCCC publish national greenhouse gas inventories. What are the key datasets that you’d like to get hold of that are currently hard to get, and who currently holds these?

I have no coherent CO2 dataset for the world beyond 2008 at the present. I want to have this data until last year, at least. I would also welcome half year data but I understand this can be difficult because carbon dioxide emission vary for transport, heating or cooling of houses over the seasons of the year. So just give me the past year’s data in March. And in April/May for all countries in the world. Then we can hold government accountable for what happens year by year.

Let me tell you a bit about what happens in Sweden. The National Natural Protection Agency gets the data from the Energy Department and from other public sources. Then they give these datasets to consultants at the University of Agriculture and the Meteorological Authority. Then the consultants work on these datasets for half a year. They compile them, the administrators look through them and they publish them in mid-December, when Swedes start to get obsessed about Christmas. So that means that there was a delay of eleven and a half months.

So I started to criticize that. My cutting line was when I was with the Minister of Environment and she was going to Durban. And I said “But you are going to Durban with eleven and a half month constipation. What if all of this shit comes out on stage? That would be embarrassing wouldn’t it?”. Because I knew that she had in 2010 an increase in carbon dioxide emission and it increased by 10%. But she only published that coming back from Durban. So that became a political issue on TV. And then the government promised to make it earlier. So 2012 we got CO2 data by mid-October, and 2013 we’re going to get it in April.

Fantastic.

But actually ridiculing is the only way that worked. That’s how we liberated the World Bank’s data. I ridiculed the President of the World Bank at an international meeting. People were laughing. That became too much.

The governments in the rich countries don’t want the world to see emissions per capita. They want to publish emissions per country. This is very convenient for Germany, UK, not to mention Denmark and Norway. Then they can say the big emission countries are China and India. It is so stupid to look at total emissions per country. This allows small countries to emit as much as they want because they are just not big enough to matter. Norway hasn’t reduced their emissions for the last forty years. Instead they spend their aid money to help Brazil to replant rainforest. At the same time Brazil lends 200 times more money to the United States of America to help them consume more and emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Just to put these numbers up makes a very strong case. But I need to have timely carbon dioxide emission data. But not even climate activists ask for this. Perhaps it is because they are not really governing countries. The right wing politicians need data on economic growth, the left wing need data on unemployment but the greens don’t yet seem to need data in the same way.

As well as issues getting hold of data at a national level, are there international agencies that hold data that you can’t get hold?

It is like a reflection. If you can’t get data from the countries for eleven and a half months, why the heck should the UN or the World Bank compile it faster? Think of your household. There are things you do daily, that you need swiftly. Breakfast for your kids. Then, you know, repainting the house. I didn’t do it last year, so why should I do it this year? It just becomes slow the whole system. If politicians are not in a hurry to get data for their own country, they are not in a hurry to compare their data to other countries. They just do not want this data to be seen during their election period.

So really what you’re saying that you’d recommend is stronger political pressure through ridicule on different national agencies?

Yes. Or sit outside and protest. Do a Greenpeace action on them.

Can you think of datasets about carbon dioxide emissions which aren’t currently being collected, but which you think should be collected?

Yes. In a very cunning way China, South Africa and Russia like to be placed in the developing world and they don’t publish CO2 data very rapidly because they know it will be turned against them in international negotiations. They are not in a hurry. The Kyoto Protocol at least made it compulsory for the richest countries to report their data because they had committed to decrease. But every country should do this. All should be able to know how much coal each country consumed, how much oil they consumed, etc and from that data have a calculation made on how much CO2 each country emitted last year.

It is strange that the best country to do this – and it is painful for a Swede to accept this – is the United States. CDIAC. Federal Agencies in US are very good on data and they take on the whole world. CDIAC make estimates for the rest of the world. Another US agency I really like is the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Denver, Colorado. Thay give us 24 hours updates on the polar sea ice area. That’s really useful. They are also highly professional. In the US the data producers are far away from political manipulation. When you see the use of fossil fuels in the world there is only one distinct dip. That dip could be attributed to the best environmental politician ever. The dip in CO2 emissions took place in 2008. George W. Bush, Greenspan and the Lehman Brothers decreased CO2 emissions by inducing a financial crisis. It was the most significant reduction on the use of fossil fuels in modern history.

I say this to put things into proportion. So far it is only financial downturns that have had an effect on the emission of greenhouse gases. The whole of environmental policy hasn’t yet had any such dramatic effect. I checked this with Al Gore personally. I asked him “Can I make this joke? That Bush was better for the climate than you were?”. “Do that!”, he said, “You’re correct.” Once we show this data people can see that the economic downturn so far was the most forceful effect on CO2 emission.

If you could have all of the CO2 and climate data in the world, what would you do with it?

We’re going to make teaching materials for high schools and colleges. We will cover the main aspects of global change so that we produce a coherent data-driven worldview, which starts with population, and then covers money, energy, living standards, food, education, health, security, and a few other major aspects of human life. And for each dimension we will pick a few indicators. Instead of doing Gapminder World with the bubbles that can display hundreds of indicators we plan a few small apps where you get a selected few indicators but can drill down. Start with world, world regions, countries, subnational level, sometimes you split male and female, sometimes counties, sometimes you split income groups. And we’re trying to make this in a coherent graphic and color scheme, so that we really can convey an upgraded world view.

Very very simple and beautiful but with very few jokes. Just straightforward understanding. And for climate impact we will relate to the economy. To relate to the number of people at different economic levels, how much energy they use and then drill down into the type of energy they use and how that energy source mix affects the carbon dioxide emissions. And make trends forward. We will rely on the official and most credible trend forecast for population, one, two or more for energy and economic trends etc. But we will not go into what needs to be done. Or how should it be achieved. We will stay away from politics. We will stay away from all data which is under debate. Just use data with good consensus, so that we create a basic worldview. Users can then benefit from an upgraded world view when thinking and debating about the future. That’s our idea. If we provide the very basic worldview, others will create more precise data in each area, and break it down into details.

A group of people inspired by your talk in Helsinki are currently starting a working group dedicated to opening up and reusing CO2 data. What advice would you give them and what would you suggest that they focus on?

Put me in contact with them! We can just go for one indicator: carbon dioxide emission per person per year. Swift reporting. Just that.

Thank you very much Professor Rosling.

Thank you.


If you want help to liberate, analyse or communicate carbon emissions data in your country, you can join the OKFN’s Open Sustainability Working Group.


Launching the Open Sustainability Working Group

Velichka Dimitrova - November 30, 2012 in Access to Information, Featured, Join us, Open Data, WG Sustainability, Working Groups

This blog post is written by Jorge Zapico, researcher at the Center for Sustainable Communications at KTH The Royal Institute of Technology and Velichka Dimitrova, Project Coordinator for Economics and Energy at the Open Knowledge Foundation

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Sustainability is one of the most important challenges of our time. We are facing global environmental crises, such as climate change, resource depletion, deforestation, overfishing, eutrophication, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, environmental pollution, etc. We need to move towards a more sustainable and resilient society, that ensures the well-being of current and future generations, that allows us to progress while stewarding the finite resources and the ecosystems we depend on.

Data is needed to monitor the condition of the environment and to measure how we are performing and progressing (or not) towards sustainability. Transparency and feedback is key for good decision-making, for allowing accountability and for tracking and tuning performance. This is true both at an institutional level, such as working with national climate change goals; at a company level, such as deciding the materials for building a product; and at a personal level, deciding between chicken and salmon at the supermarket. However, most of the environmental information is closed, outdated, static, or/and in text documents that are not possible to process.

For instance, unlike gross domestic product (GDP) and other publicly available data, carbon dioxide emissions data is not published frequently and in disaggregated form. While the current international climate negotiations at Doha discuss joint global efforts for the reduction of greenhouse gas emission, climate data is not freely and widely available.

“Demand CO2 data!” urged Hans Rosling at the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki last September#, encouraging a data-driven discussion of energy and resources. “We can have climate change beyond our expectations, which we haven’t done anything in time for” said Rosling in outlining the biggest challenges of our time. Activists don’t even demand the data. Many countries, such as Sweden, show up for climate negotiations without having done their CO2 emissions reporting for many months. Our countries should report on climate data in order for us to see the big picture.

Sustainability data should be open and freely available so anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it. This data should be easy to access, both usable for the public but also accessible in standard machine-readable formats for enabling reuse and remix. And by sustainability data we do not mean only CO2 information, but all data that is necessary for measuring the state of, and changes in, the environment, and data which supports progress towards sustainability. This include a diversity of things like: scientific climate data and temperature records, environmental impact assessment of products and services, emissions and pollution information from companies and governments, energy production data or ecosystem health indicators.

To move towards this goal, we are founding a new Working Group on Open Sustainability, which seeks to:

  • advocate and promote the opening up of sustainability information and datasets
  • collect sustainability information and maintain a knowledge base of datasets
  • act as a support environment / hub for the development of community-driven projects
  • provide a neutral platform for working towards standards and harmonization of open sustainability data between different groups and projects.

The Open Sustainability Working Group is open for anyone to join. We hope to form an interdisciplinary network from a range of backgrounds such as academics, business people, civil servants, technologists, campaigners, consultants and those from NGOs and international institutions. Relevant areas of expertise include sustainability, industrial ecology, climate and environmental science, cleanweb development, ecological economics, social science, sustainability, energy, open data and transparency. Join the Open Sustainability Working Group by signing up to the mailing list to share your ideas and to contribute.

Creating a more sustainable society and mitigating climate change are some of the very hardest challenges we face. It will require us to collaborate, to create new knowledge together and new ways of doing things. We need open data about the state of the planet, we need transparency about emissions and the impact of products and industries, we need feedback and we need accountability. We want to leverage all the ideas, technologies and energy we can to prevent catastrophic environmental change.

This initiative was started by the OKFestival Open Knowledge and Sustainability and Green Hackathon team including Jorge Zapico, Hannes Ebner (The Centre for Sustainable Communications at KTH), James Smith (Cleanweb UK), Chris Adams (AMEE), Jack Townsend (Southampton University) and Velichka Dimitrova (Open Knowledge Foundation).

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