Future of the Environment

Open data is needed to enable sustainable development

Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio
Chairman, Space Time Ventures
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Future of the Environment

Disruptive change is happening throughout the world. This is being manifested through noticeable increases in the impact and frequency of weather extremes, which coupled with significant vulnerability increases of chaotic urbanization processes lead to an exponential increase in the impact and frequency of natural disasters.

Such climatic extremes are affecting the demand and supply side of resource systems like water, food and energy. In some places, these resources are running up against regional and local constraints, creating increased uncertainty in how best to deal with the trade-offs and risks across different resource classes. Against this backdrop, risk and resource management decision support capabilities associated to critical energy, water and food systems are a critical need for public authorities, businesses and communities alike.

The world has most, if not all, of the data it needs to manage this complexity and the associated risks, but it is not readily available, usable or indeed actionable. The petabytes of data accumulated monthly and sometimes daily are largely “closed” and stored in silos across a myriad of public, private and academic institutions around the world. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that these data sources need to be analysed and modelled across multiple disciplines – natural and social sciences and engineering – that normally do not interoperate with each other at multiple levels for informed action (e.g. the right spatial level for water resource allocation and policy-making and/ or risk management is at the watershed level).

There is a critical need for decision-makers to have access to appropriate data and more importantly to have open and transparent access to good quality, verifiable and readily available contextually-specific knowledge and information to act. This is the real lynchpin to better management of the global to local environmental issues and to sustaining productivity and growth in the face of environmental risks. Enabling informed decision-making requires a level of integrated analysis across multiple disciplines and trusted collaboration across institutional walls and countries that is unprecedented at the scale and speed that is required.

Fortunately, after significant experimentation in the last few years, we can rely on a range of open innovation vehicles, open source movements, innovative information and communication technologies, and public-private partnerships to enable the development of such information, designed and managed as informational global public goods.

A better understanding of how to address the market failures at play so as to provision these informational public goods will lead to the development of new incentive structures for the delivery of public goods by corporations and public institutions alike. Rewarding private networked enterprises and ecosystems to deliver these global public goods at scale will be an integral requirement of a sustainable growth ecosystem.

Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio is Chief Executive Officer of the Planetary Skin Institute (www.planetaryskin.org). He is currently a Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Climate Change.

Image: Technicians monitor electricity consumption at the French power grid. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier


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