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International partnership launches new portal for climate data

Read a related blog from World Resources Institute here.

As communities around the world prepare for uncertainty in the face of climate change, they face a number of difficult decisions – from how to grow crops in the midst of worsening droughts in sub-Saharan Africa to protecting populations from dangerous storms in the Caribbean. Now, a new online platform seeks to help at-risk communities access and use the data they need to make those tough choices.

The new platform, called PREPdata, was launched this week by the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP), an international partnership of more than 30 leading government agencies, research institutions and technology companies.

The number of days of extreme heat (red) per year in relation to the location of croplands (yellow and blue dots) in sub-Saharan Africa. Dark red areas experience more days of extreme heat on average than other regions. Map: PREPdata

This easy-to-use, open-access tool allows users to explore and map high-quality information on a wide range of important factors – including rising temperatures, major infrastructure and socioeconomic data like income levels. The developers say that this platform can help cities and towns to safeguard populations from natural disasters like floods, heat waves and landslides.  

“Without access to reliable and timely data, communities around the world are flying blind when it comes to planning for the risks of increasing climate variability and change,” says Amy Luers, Executive Director of Future Earth. “PREP is a partnership of public and private sector leaders working together to change this and make data accessible and useful for the people who need it most.”

The PREP initiative was kicked off in 2016 in the United States by the White House. It now includes more than 30 partners, including top tech companies like Google and Amazon Web Services, and is jointly-led by Future Earth and World Resources Institute (WRI).

The launch of PREPdata comes on the heels of 2017, a year that saw a record hurricane season around North America and the Caribbean. That may be a sign of things to come: According to the World Bank, the impacts of climate change could drive a further 100 million people around the world into poverty by 2030. Too often, however, the data that could help cities, businesses and others to navigate these challenges isn’t easy to come by.

“There are thousands of datasets about past and future climate, scattered in different formats across a multitude of platforms,” says Lauretta Burke, Senior Associate at WRI. “PREPdata brings together a highly curated subset of these data in a map-based platform, radically improving access to data for climate preparedness.”

PREPdata, which is tailored for climate change adaptation planners, is a single platform that brings together a growing number of datasets. They include key information from NASA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other reliable sources. And that’s just the start: Communities and businesses can also use this tool to design customised “dashboards.” These web-friendly applications allow data users to pick indicators of their choice – from projections of sea level rise to changing patterns of agricultural land use – and track them over time through custom graphs.

While the capabilities of PREPdata are still expanding, the designers say that they hope the platform will help a range of communities and businesses to ask critical questions about their futures: Which towns along the Gulf Coast the United States, for example, are most vulnerable to storms like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which slammed the region in 2017? Should nations move infrastructure like power plants away from areas that are prone to dangerous heat waves?

Landslide risk data (purple) in relation to road networks (yellow) in India. Dark purple areas are exposed to severe landslide risks. Map: PREPdata

Leaders in the Indian states of Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh are already using the PREPdata platform to answer these sorts of tough questions.

In Uttarakhand, for example, which borders Nepal on the steep slopes of the Himalayas, severe rains in 2013 caused flooding and landslides that killed more than 5,700 people. Access to high quality data might help this state map where landslide risks overlap with important sites – such as population centers or tourism hubs. The South Asia Regional Office for Future Earth, which is based in Bengaluru, India, is engaging on this project by reviewing the data used by the PREP team.

“The PREP platform is a unique opportunity for the states to connect science with practice and policy, prioritise activities and learn from other states through a live, dynamically updated dashboards,” says Namrata Ginoya, a Project Associate at World Resources Institute in India.

“So many parts of the globe, including huge parts of Africa, don’t have access to even the most basic climate data, such as projections of changing rainfall patterns at the country level,” says Joshua Tewksbury, Director of the Future Earth Global Hub in Colorado. “PREPdata is beginning to fill those data gaps for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.”