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Climate change adaptation — making sense of the data maze

December 14, 2009

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    The Climate One Stop homepage. Photo:
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    Mercy Corps and colleague organizations need solid, reliable data to share with communities and governments to help them address long-term environmental and climate threats. Photo:

On December 14 at 9 A.M. here at the Climate Change Conference here in Copenhagen, Mercy Corps was part of a presentation hosted by USAID, as part of the U.S. delegation tent. Our presentation was part of the launch of Climate One Stop, a website acting as a one-stop shop for climate facts and figures.

The website brings together heavy duty data providers like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), data consolidators like the United Nations Development Programme and World Resources Institute, and data users like Mercy Corps and our sister agencies. You can read the NASA press release here 
and visit our startup site at http://climateonestop.net. Its basic task is to help us filter out and select quality, applicable data and information from the blossoming number of climate-related news feeds, then use that information to help the communities where we work.

Why has Mercy Corps been placing an emphasis on this? The starting point is our mission: helping people build secure, productive and just communities. A dilemma is that doing this successfully means taking a long-term view, which increasingly requires taking climate change adaption into account. But, in transitional countries where short-term needs are paramount, making the case for thinking ahead is tricky. It needs compelling data and argument, and this is where Climate One Stop comes into play.

Let me give some examples from where we have boots on the ground.

Take Afghanistan where we naturally think of the ongoing conflict, violence and need for stabilization. Obviously these challenges require the focused attention and resources currently being applied. But what happens when short-term objectives are met? A recent report to DFID, the United Kingdom's development agency, recently said "At present, climate change is not a consideration into the national or sectoral plans of the Government of Afghanistan, despite it presenting a significant threat to cross sectoral development."

But Afghanistan is literally running dry. That impacts agriculture and will therefore reduce food security. Unless we take that into account during short-term stabilization measures, how long will the benefits of any short-term gain last? We need reliable data to share with communities and governments to help them address long-term environmental and climate threats needing urgent consideration to bolster successes in security. We need reliable data to show stakeholders and partners like the Government of Afghanistan what is happening, and what needs to be done.

In Indonesia, Mercy Corps has been active in helping urban poverty reduction. More than 50 percent of the world's population are in cities that concentrate squalor and suffering. Yet, as we help people move forward in megacities like Jakarta, the communities we work with are increasingly hit by floods from increasing numbers of storms with strengthening intensity, and now face rising sea levels. We need reliable data to best predict how strongly climate change will worsen current hazards and set about planning responses with communities and government. As in Afghanistan, we need to merge short-term response with informed, long-term programming and protection of the legacy of our projects.

Finally, consider the disasters we respond to like the tsunami in Indonesia's Aceh Province and Sri Lanka, and the more recent earthquake that hit the western part of Indonesia's Sumatra Island. These areas suffered the unimaginable consequences of natural, rapid-onset catastrophe. Yet, as they are coastally located, they are certain to also suffer the impact of human-based, slow-onset disasters from climate impact, including rising sea levels and storms.

When we respond to immediate disaster, we hope to put in place disaster risk reduction strategies to protect people from future, similar events. Now we realize we need to incorporate the threat from the gathering tide of climate risks.

Areas as diverse as conflict states, peaceful urban centers and disaster sites all need to start thinking about climate adaptation to secure long-term stability. Yet to do that, solid data from multiple sources needs to be considered and applied. The work at Climate One Stop gives us a head start. This is why Mercy Corps supports it. We hope that you will too.