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Saving the environment with data analytics
THE spate of extreme weather over the last year has set new and deadly records across the world including parts of Asia, underscoring just how vulnerable South-east Asia's emerging economies are to climate change. Globally, more than 11,500 extreme weather events occurred between 1998 and 2017; more than half a million people lost their lives and economic damage totalled some US$375 billion.
Previously, it would have been a difficult task to confirm a correlation between climate change and extreme weather. In recent times, however, research has identified several life-threatening weather events that can be directly attributed to climate change that are a result of human activities, such as CO2 and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
CLIMATE CHANGE IN SINGAPORE
With calamitous extreme weather affecting some South-east Asia countries, Singapore is considered fortunate that it does not experience these impacts directly, due to its favourable geography.
However, this does not mean that the country is entirely safe from hazardous climate impacts. Political pledges from the 2015 Paris Agreement have had little effect as global GHG emissions continue their upward surge, and it would be opportune to reconsider how susceptible Singapore is to current and future climate change impacts.
There are many warning signs to heed, but there are three that stand out: higher temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns and the rise of sea levels.
Enduring short bouts of heat is nothing new to Singapore, with the country traditionally experiencing a drier period during the south-west monsoon season from June to September. However, the recent prolonged heat and irregular temperature changes are a direct result of climate change due to larger-scale GHG emissions and Singapore's urbanisation, the replacing of natural forests with concrete buildings.
Apart from heat, changes in rainfall patterns are expected to affect Singapore in the next 30 years, with the country likely to face issues of rainfall - either too much or too little.
Lastly, with Singapore being an island surrounded by bodies of water, the most severe climate impact in the next 50 years and beyond is the rise of sea levels. What would be a major cause of concern is that the average sea level around Singapore's coasts has risen steadily at a rate of between 1.2mm and 1.7mm per year, and this rate is forecasted to rise to 1m by 2100.
Back in 2017 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23), Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli announced that Singapore would designate 2018 as the Year of Climate Action.
The Singapore government has been actively working with businesses to address climate change and safeguard its environment through some key initiatives, covering key areas such as carbon emissions and waste management.
The World Economic Forum reports that the leading threat to businesses, apart from short-term extreme weather events, is the failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Due to these existing and projected impacts of climate change, it is imperative for businesses to prepare for today's climate reality.
When it comes to climate change in Southeast Asia, the region is faced with a two-fold challenge: the need to adapt to climate change caused by decades of advanced economies emitting GHG and to alter development strategies that are progressively contributing to global warming.
To prepare for climate change, businesses in the region need to build resilience, defined as the ability to anticipate, absorb, accommodate and recover from the impacts of climate change.
Increasingly, data and analytics are being used to improve the quality of life of citizens around the world. In the last few years, conservationists and others have turned to big data to get the big picture on environmental degradation, gaining the ability to answer and address some of the world's most pressing issues. Big data, in this case, comes in various forms, from satellite images and global trade databases to social media postings.
THE RELEVANCE OF BIG DATA
Policies and strategies aimed at the climate change phenomenon have been significantly influenced by big data and predictive analytics. Both government and private-sector companies have been developing trend-setting tools and technologies that help formulate advanced climate-change actions. Needless to say, these are based on big data. The more artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning technology is utilised, the easier it is to understand the current reality, predict future weather events and create new products and services to minimise human impact to the environment.
Climate researchers and innovators have the ability to test their theories and solutions on reducing air pollution, for instance, by utilising AI and machine-learning on green initiatives. Innovations such as these can be geared towards developing products and services that are beneficial to businesses and also safe for the environment. With big data, historical information is just as valuable as current information. It allows researchers to map various trends and patterns, which can then be used to better predict the future, and knowing what is to come means more viable solutions for dealing with potential problems.
Data gathered by the US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and aggregated at Landsat about the changing conditions of the world's land surfaces offers an accurate overview of how the world is changing. Scotland's Environment Web (SEWeb), for example, is using data visualisation tools to visualise information about Scotland's environment and interact with the data considerably more deeply than they could with books or by viewing the information on screens. SEWeb users can analyse and view multiple layers of data about the environment, enabling them to filter data based on their areas of interest (that is, air, water, ground). These data visualisation tools save users time and effort because they don't have to trawl through detailed reports to find the pertinent information. Plus, the tools make the environmental information that interests them most more visible, allowing users to absorb information faster and more completely.
Avangard Innovative, one of the largest recyclers in North America and Latin America, uses analytic software to analyse its data and discover insights based on an analytics platform and recommendation engine. The company is able to pull from numerous data sources - everything from its internal ERP system, to information coming from a third-party logistics provider, to smart machines out in the field at the customer site. Then they transform the data, put it into the integration layer and ultimately, the presentation layer. They are able to create visualisations and make insights a reality for both their customers and their internal staff.
It is well-known that data has the power to change the future and can influence thoughts and actions of individuals, businesses and societies at large. With data analytics and some resilience, businesses have the ability to maintain stakeholder confidence, build customer loyalty and assure investors that they are preparing for and will be able to recover from climate hazards. Whether there's a need to start a discussion, support an argument, or change the lives of thousands of people, data can help businesses take a significant step forward in addressing climate change and helping to save the environment.
- The writer is general manager for the Asia-Pacific and Japan at TIBCO Software Inc