We’ve recently started looking into how much environmental data made available on the web is open in accordance with the Open Knowledge Definition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has a Data Distribution Centre (DDC) – which is a good start to see what data is available. The DDC “offers access to baseline and scenario data for representing the evolution of climatic, socio-economic, and other environmental conditions”. Many datasets from research centres around the world are available from the centre.

The “Why does the DDC exist?” page states:

Data are being provided by the DDC over the World Wide Web. All research groups supplying datasets have agreed to these being in the public domain. The data are provided free of charge, but all users are requested to register to ensure both that the data are used for public scientific research rather than for commercial applications and also that they can be informed of possible modifications, additions and other new developments at the DDC.

It is unfortunate that the Centre is restricting commerical re-use of the datasets they provide – especially given that many important environmental datasets are produced by US government research groups and are effectively open.

Some datasets have more specific licensing information or terms of use, such as the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios 4th Asessment Report (SRES-AR4) Global Climate Model data page, which states:

These data are licensed for use in Research Projects only. A ‘Research Project’ is any project organised by a university, a scientific institute, or similar organisation (private or public), for non-commercial research purposes only. A necessary condition of the recognition of non-commercial purposes is that all the results obtained are openly available at delivery costs only, without any delay linked to commercial objectives, and that the research itself is submitted for open publication.

It would be great if more data producers and distributors had clearer metadata about the licensing and terms of use of their datasets! This would allow a more fine-grained approach to re-use, as opposed to the blanket approach of the IPCC DDC, and several other environmental dataset distributors.

(As an aside: we’ve started an Open Environmental Data wiki page and we’d warmly welcome any contributions to this!)

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.

4 thoughts on “The IPCC Data Distribution Centre – environmental data licensing”

  1. I give IPCC all the credit in the world for at least making fence sitters take notice. Every environmental cause should have such a mechanism for churning out science to overcome and overwhelm the skeptics. I noticed that this past weekend the biodiversity camp is getting closer to its own version of IPCC, only they call it IMoSEB. I’ve summarized the report in my frog blog, and the link to the report is in there, too: http://frogmatters.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/can-this-acronym-do-for-biodiversity-what-ipcc-has-done-for-global-warming/

  2. Thanks for this Jeff!

    I guess the relevant objective from the recent ISC meeting in Montpellier is: “Improved access and timeliness of peer-reviewed scientific results on biodiversity so that they can be more readily and more effectively used in decision making” (see http://www.imoseb.net/internationalsteeringcommittee_2).

    It would be great if IMoSEB helped to distribute (at least some) open data on biodiversity!

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