Isabel María Álvaro
Public Policy and Internet
Data has proved to be a key ally in the fight against climate change. In the early 1980s, data collected by the scientific community was crucial to identifying this pressing global problem. Different international organizations and governments allocated part of their resources to the collection of essential data for the study of the causes and effects of climate change. As a result, a better understanding of this challenge laid the foundations for the development of climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. Although the quality and access to data have improved enormously in recent years, we are still far from reaching its full potential.
Throughout these past decades, data collection has evolved hand in hand with digitization. At first, it made possible to optimize the processing, transmission and use of data. Next, the widespread use of new technologies facilitated the automatization of existing manual data collection processes, increasing efficiency and quality. Currently, we are going through a new phase in which data is obtained and collected practically in “real-time”. High levels of connectivity and a more profound digitization enable a quicker collection and transmission of aggregated and anonymized data.
The integration of aggregated and anonymized data from Mobile Network Operators (MNO) is close to achieving live tracking of dynamic and variable events, something that was unimaginable years ago. This new tool proved to be key in the fight against Covid-19, allowing better monitoring of population movements to predict the spread of the virus. More recently, aggregated and anonymized data from MNOs was also used to study population movements caused by the eruption of La Palma volcano. The application of this brand new up-to-the-minute monitoring technology to climate change issues could greatly improve the study of both the triggers and impacts of climate change, especially climate migrations. Water shortages, rising sea levels and unproductive crops caused by high temperatures will result in the displacement of large parts of the population. Tracking population movements could help fill current knowledge gaps in the measurement of climate migrations, such as the duration and distance of movements. In addition, it could facilitate the design of adaptation and resource allocation policies in the most affected areas, as well as in areas receiving migration. Telefónica is already working to prevent this worst-case scenario through initiatives such as Smart Agro. This project was created with the aim of boosting the agricultural sector by installing sensors on crops that provide real-time information to farmers on humidity and water consumption in the field, thus optimizing resources and introducing a more sustainable agricultural model.
The benefits of using anonymized and aggregated data is undeniable, highlighting the importance of driving this new tool through a global digital transformation. However, this process needs closer collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as an effective regulatory and public policy framework that address the challenges and provide solutions. This issue is particularly relevant in developing countries since they are the most vulnerable group to climate change and its consequences. The availability of quality and up-to-date data in these regions is a major challenge for international community, resulting on the omission of data of vital importance for monitoring climate change.
Thus, the study of this phenomenon is overall incomplete due to the absence of reports on the existing climate conditions and impacts in a large number of countries. Considering that much of the decision-making is based on these reports, the lack of data can lead to ineffective initiatives or policies that do not address the problem in its entirety.
At Telefónica, we believe it is essential to empower and connect these regions in order to speed up this transformation and facilitate decision-making to fight climate change. To advance on the path of digitization, in 2018 we launched the “Internet for All” initiative in Latin America, stimulating the deployment of high-quality connectivity in an efficient and sustainable way. To favour the use of aggregated and anonymized data, we rely on the “Big Data for social good” initiative of LUCA, our unit specialized in data and Artificial Intelligence. Under this program, we generate our own connectivity data together with external data to bring the value of data back to the world and contribute to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to raise the value of data in development and decision making. These initiatives complement current European projects such as Destination Earth, a Big Data platform that aims to gather climate data to further monitor and forecast the consequences of climate change on the planet.
All in all, digitization and the potential of data are fundamental in the fight against change. For this reason, it is crucial to promote the generation of aggregated and anonymous data to enable up-to-the-minute monitoring of this global problem, especially in the most vulnerable countries. In this sense, Telefónica and the rest of telecommunications operators become key players not only to connect everyone and promote digitization, but also to fight against climate change.