Data central to effective climate action


Though NITI Aayog has indeed brought out more targeted indices to track climate actions such as under SDG-13 (climate action) of SDG India Index.

By Yasar Waheed Khan

The centrality of data in managing challenges of 21st century has been most evidently demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic. From real-time data related to new infections and fatalities to risk of exposure through contact tracing, it has been at the core of effective response and decision making against the virus. The adoption of data-driven tools for managing pandemic induced disruption also offers an opportunity to restructure the data ecosystem for managing the disruptions of future that are more likely to be driven by climate change.

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In Indian context, the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP), 2012 recognises the importance of data in improving decision making, meeting the needs of civil society and generating revenue through either open or, registered and restricted access to datasets. In 2012, a government portal (data.gov.in) was also established as a unified platform to enable sharing of data available with ministries, departments and other public agencies for wider public use.

The sharing of data in this platform, apart from others, is further streamlined through the nodality of Chief Data Officer (CDO) in respective ministries. Certain datasets in such platforms are critical to develop a clear understanding of local capacities, its geographical setup, climate risks and vulnerabilities, and unique opportunities for mainstreaming climate action.

Though the challenge is not so much about whether we are collecting data, but rather whether it is usable, accessible and if it captures the details that end users are interested in. Even after years of the portal’s operationalisation, there are multiple data-sets that aren’t updated regularly (such as CSR expenditures that is available in a separate National CSR portal), or have missing data points (such as crop cultivation data-sets). Apart from these issues of quality of available datasets, there are others that just aren’t uploaded in it.

Though NITI Aayog has indeed brought out more targeted indices to track climate actions such as under SDG-13 (climate action) of SDG India Index. But it remains vague in tracking improvements in climate resilience, by solely using number of lives lost due to extreme weather events.

A data driven approach to climate resilience necessitates certain fundamental reforms in India’s data-ecosystem. First, there is a need to collect complete datasets required to assess climate risks and vulnerabilities. This involves collection of datasets that are sex-disaggregated and geo-spatial and collect more nuanced dimensions like behavioural tendencies and disaster response capacities.

It requires targeted research for designing better questionnaires and identifying new nodes for data collection. Updating the next census through minor addition to reflect these data needs could be a good starting point. Second, the data collected has to be made reliable and usable through an accountability framework. As the CDO currently doesn’t operate in the same legal framework as a Chief Information officer (CIO) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, there exists no liability for errors and omissions.

A separate legislation in this regard would bring in the much-needed consistency in periodic collection of identified datasets and their proactive sharing in designated platforms. Third, there is a need for centralising public data that currently exists with different departments and public institutions. Then there are also multiple entities that manage different aspects of data. The National Data Governance Centre was planned to be set up in 2019 for precisely this objective, i.e., holding all public data and establishing guidelines for its management, sharing and monetisation. But it is yet to be operationalised.

Data is truly useful when it can provide actionable information, and this is particularly needed for climate-action at sub-national levels. It is time that India places itself on track to address the issues around the known unknowns of climate change, rather than adopting a knee-jerk response to global trends.

Consultant with the Climate Resilience Practice at WRI India. Views are personal

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