Big data for environmental sustainability

10 Dec 2021 10:15h - 11:45h

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Event report

Many cities, countries, and regions around the world are facing increasingly severe ecological and environmental problems. New technologies are increasingly utilised to investigate, monitor, and tackle these problems to achieve sustainable development. This workshop focused on the potential of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide effective solutions to address environmental challenges.

Mr Gong Ke (President, World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO)) agreed that big data is a powerful tool that can help tackle severe environmental challenges. However, he pointed out that finding ways to fully explore the great potential of big data is another great challenge. Addressing the issues of data availability and quality, privacy and security of data, effective processing of data, and narrowing the digital or data divide, to name but a few, requires a series of innovations in big data science technology, engineering, and governance, according to Ke.

Mr Ricardo Israel Robles Pelayo (Universidad Anáhuac On-Line) provided an example of the implementation of big data in the use of clean energy within the framework of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). According to him, there are multiple benefits of using big data and analytics in renewable energies to achieve environmental sustainability are fourfold: there is the possibility of obtaining detailed information on the process of generating electricity and renewable energy; a better understanding of the integration of renewable energies electricity grid; and subsequently, better use of energy will have a less environmental impact.

Similarly, Ms Tomoko Doko (Nature & Science Consulting, Japan) presented a study on AI-oriented advanced monitoring of forest-dwelling animals in Japan, while Ms Chuang Liu (Chinese Association for Sciences and Technology) referred to several case studies where big data sets are utilised, such as ‘Yanchi Tan Sheep Huamachi Town Arid Grassland Case on Ecosystem Protection and Sustainable Development’.

Not only does data contribute to increasing overall knowledge but it can also improve the capability and realise the potential of digital technologies, according to Mr Xiang Zhou (Chinese Association for Science and Technology). He referred to an example of LANDSAT, a big data project that provides 40 years of space data freely on the internet

Challenges to data management

Ms Daisy Selematsela (University of Johannesburg) referred to several challenges in the positioning of data management faced in particular by countries of the Global South. Some of the challenges include alignment with national priorities, funding and sustainability, technical feasibility and standards, quality assurance and management, governance, policies about open source open data, accessibility to data, and the level of participation and data sharing in Africa.

Talking about challenges, risks, and gaps in environmental data management, Mr Horst Kremers (CODATA-Germany) addressed the aspects of governance needed for big environmental data sustainability and the elements of information governance such as sustainability in finance, recording and valuation of ecosystem services, environmental-economic accounting, and dialogue with companies and business associations, to name but a few. Particular attention has been paid to ‘all-of-society participative governance’ and raising the awareness of civil society.

Liu also addressed some of the challenges to environmental sustainability, including the lack of easily accessible and trusted data. He showed various case studies of the implementation of data in achieving environmental sustainability.

By Katarina Andjelkovic

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