Across the country, state and local leaders are on the front lines of climate change—and it is impossible for them to ignore the consequences. In 2012 alone, extreme weather events caused more than $110 billion in damages and claimed more than 300 lives.
While no single weather event can be attributed to climate change, we know that our changing climate is making many kinds of extreme events more frequent and more severe. Rising seas threaten our coastlines. Dry regions are at higher risk of destructive wildfires. Heat waves impact health and agriculture. Heavier downpours can lead to damaging floods.
Even as we work to curb greenhouse gas emissions and expand renewable energy generation, we need to take steps to make our communities more resilient to the climate change impacts we can’t avoid—some of which are already well underway.
That’s why today, delivering on a commitment in the President’s Climate Action Plan, we are launching the Climate Data Initiative, an ambitious new effort bringing together extensive open government data and design competitions with commitments from the private and philanthropic sectors to develop data-driven planning and resilience tools for local communities. This effort will help give communities across America the information and tools they need to plan for current and future climate impacts.
The Climate Data Initiative builds on the success of the Obama Administration’s ongoing efforts to unleash the power of open government data. Since data.gov, the central site to find U.S. government data resources, launched in 2009, the Federal government has released troves of valuable data that were previously hard to access in areas such as health, energy, education, public safety, and global development. Today these data are being used by entrepreneurs, researchers, tech innovators, and others to create countless new applications, tools, services, and businesses.
Data from NOAA, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Defense, and other Federal agencies will be featured on climate.data.gov, a new section within data.gov that opens for business today. The first batch of climate data being made available will focus on coastal flooding and sea level rise. NOAA and NASA will also be announcing an innovation challenge calling on researchers and developers to create data-driven simulations to help plan for the future and to educate the public about the vulnerability of their own communities to sea level rise and flood events.
These and other Federal efforts will be amplified by a number of ambitious private commitments. For example, Esri, the company that produces the ArcGIS software used by thousands of city and regional planning experts, will be partnering with 12 cities across the country to create free and open “maps and apps” to help state and local governments plan for climate change impacts. Google will donate one petabyte—that’s 1,000 terabytes—of cloud storage for climate data, as well as 50 million hours of high-performance computing with the Google Earth Engine platform. The company is challenging the global innovation community to build a high-resolution global terrain model to help communities build resilience to anticipated climate impacts in decades to come. And the World Bank will release a new field guide for the Open Data for Resilience Initiative, which is working in more than 20 countries to map millions of buildings and urban infrastructure.
Every citizen will be affected by climate change—and all of us must work together to make our communities stronger and more resilient to its impacts. By taking the enormous data sets regularly collected by NASA, NOAA, and other agencies and applying the ingenuity, creativity, and expertise of technologists and entrepreneurs, the Climate Data Initiative will help create easy-to-use tools for regional planners, farmers, hospitals, and businesses across the country—and empower America’s communities to prepare themselves for the future.
Article by John Podesta and John P. Holdren. John Podesta is a Counselor to the President. John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.