ABU DHABI // As the first major global conference on the environment since the United Nations adoption of the sustainable development goals, the Eye on Earth Summit convened in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday with hopes of better understanding why our planet is heating up.
This year, the main speakers agreed, was pivotal to finding a solution to climate change, as much of the work being done will culminate in the Paris 2015 summit, the biggest environmental event since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in Japan in 1997.
“Global agreement this year on major intergovernmental commitments on sustainable development has brought into sharp focus the need for transparent, timely and accurate data and information on the state of the world’s resources,” said Razan Al Mubarak, secretary general of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.
The summit aims to create a common understanding that knowledge about the Earth should be shared openly.
Ms Al Mubarak said it was the process of data collection that shed light on the way the planet worked and that data sharing between countries and nations would continue to provide insights into solving global crises.
“These global agreements are creating a tipping point for the role of data in sustainable development and Eye on Earth will help to accelerate this transition,” she said.
UN environment programme executive director Achim Steiner said: “If good data drives better decisions, open data drives better collaboration. We will need both to meet the challenges of a sustainable future for our planet and its peoples.
“When information and knowledge are accessible to everyone across the social spectrum, informed choices and decisions can be made at all levels that support the goals of sustainable development,” he said.
A big part of what access to data meant was not simply to read or view it, but to also generate it themselves in citizen science.
The Eye on Earth Summit would draw attention to citizen journalism as a key component of understanding climate change.
“We have spent perhaps the last 20 years trying to figure out what to do with data,” he said. “Today we are able to do things that were unimaginable ten years ago, now we can start connecting data points.”
Mr Steiner spoke about the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ compilation of the endangered species list, known as the “red list”.
“Now we can start correlating interesting data like where are certain biodiversity hotspots overlaid with where indigenous people are living,” he said. “Linking data, this is the frontier and we are only beginning to see the power of that.”
The panel agreed that data collection on its own meant nothing to scientists or citizens.
“We are not only doing it in Abu Dhabi, but on a regional level to collect data and analyse it because we thought there was a gap in analytics and the final stage is to provide this information to decision makers,” Ms Al Mubarak said.
As an example, she said that UAE residents could look forward to the launch of an updated website from the EAD.
“We want to reach people, so that they can see what, for example, air quality means to them,” she said. “We want to empower people and, indeed, empower all of us in our daily lives.”