White House, Google, Amazon, Launch Big Data Tool to Help Companies’ Climate Resilience Planning

by | Sep 22, 2016

prep-screen-shotBig data gives environmental and resource managers an invaluable tool to increase efficiencies and better manage risk.

Real-time information is already widely used in facilities management to monitor emission and reduce energy use, for example. And it’s increasingly being employed by companies to improve their water and waste management — by pinpointing water leaks, tracking employees’ shower time, and highlighting materials being recycled and thrown in the trash.

A big data partnership announced today — a collaboration between the White House, the World Resources Institute, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other public and private entities — will also provide a tool to help corporations make long-term infrastructure decisions by improving their climate resilience planning. The project is called the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP).

“Understanding the threats posed by climate change and extreme weather are critical to protecting people, homes, businesses and livelihoods. Data must be part of the solution,” said Janet Ranganathan, vice president for science and research at World Resources Institute.

The open-source platform will help communities, companies and investors first access the latest climate-relevant data, and then translate that data into usable information to make better planning and business decisions, Ranganathan told Environmental Leader.

“PREP will help companies manage the physical risks of climate change by providing easy access to location-specific data that can be integrated into planning, operational, and investment decisions,” she said. “For instance, utilities will be able to access data on how droughts or sea level rise could impact planned power plant locations while manufacturers could assess the risks from more frequent and extensive flooding on their operations.”

The partner organizations reads like a who’s who of top government agencies and data providers. Others working on platform development include the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy NASA, NOAA, the US Global Change Research Program, the US Department of the Interior, Amazon Web Services, CARTO, Descartes Labs, Earth Knowledge, Esri, Forum One, Google Cloud Platform, Google Earth Engine and Vizzuality. Additional working group collaborators include Earth Science Information Partners, Future Earth, Group on Earth Observations, IBM and Microsoft.

“Decision-makers today are facing increasingly complex challenges related to climate change,” said Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist of Microsoft in a statement. “By making critical data both more accessible and rapidly available, we can accelerate the development of tools, such as PREP, that harness that data to empower communities to make smarter decisions.”

Plus, the diverse set of partners — from government, civil society, the private sector, and international organizations — will make climate data easier to access and use, Ranganathan said.

Instead of relying on static reports or sifting through hundreds of sources with conflicting and confusing data, PREP will provide dynamic data, climate reports and projections directly sourced from NASA, NOAA, and others as they become available. The platform will also be technology agnostic to suit the needs of all users.

“It will be much easier to access robust up to date information on climate impacts, combine that data with their own location specific data, and get it in the hands of those in their company who can use it to make better decisions,” Ranganathan said.

The PREP beta platform is launching today with domestic and international collaborators including Sonoma County, California; the Washington State Climate Impacts Group; Porto Alegre, Brazil; and the US National Climate Assessment team. PREP plans to scale up after launch with testing in other communities around the globe over the next 12 months.

The partners say the goal is to expand data transparency so users know if data comes from governments or commercial entities. They expect users to be able to create customized climate risk dashboards within one year. In the interim, the partnership will add datasets and case studies as available.

“Companies can use the data and resources already on the site,” Ranganathan said. “Over time we will add new data sets and functionality, including the ability to create personalized dashboards of climate risks. We will pilot the customized dashboard feature with a variety of users, including business. Given the work of the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) we envision growing business demand for the type of data and resources provided on the PREP platform.”

And considering risks from climate change impacts like more frequent and extreme storms, floods and droughts are expected to increase 50 percent over the next 12 years, we expect this type of planning tool to play a leading role in business decisions.

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