In this dispatch, Florencia Romano and David Groisman discuss the role of data to help the city of Buenos Aires become more resilient and reduce impact of climate change on the city.
Florencia Romano: Undersecretary of Open Government and Accountability, Buenos Aires City Government.
David Groisman: Director General of Management Exchange, Buenos Aires City Government, and Chief Resilience Office
In the last few months, we have been coping with a pandemic that challenges our society, and as every crisis does, accelerates change and transforms processes to adapt and overcome it. These changes are happening in the management of governments at every level, in urban planning, in the private sector, and, of course, in our daily-life dynamics.
Evidence-based data has become a fundamental factor in decision making. The way in which governments, academia, and international organizations produce and share information has evolved. Open data platforms report COVID-19 cases and mortality rates disaggregated by country and city -even by neighborhood- and “seroprevalence studies” was unfamiliar before 2020.
Some of the best-known platforms for the pandemic have been designed by John Hopkins University and the World Health Organization. Cities like Madrid, Chicago, Bogota, and La Paz launched their own. Likewise, Buenos Aires City publicly opened data platforms with information regarding its crisis management through COVID-19. This platform updates automatically and has an open-source format, following international standards. In these cases, open government initiatives have stepped up quantitatively and qualitatively to deliver results communities need.
These online portals help address the duality of the crisis response: on the one hand, a government-led health strategy, and on the other, individual behavior and commitment. Neither can succeed nor have acceptable results without the other.
For individual actions to be responsive and effective, it is essential to keep citizens in the loop about the magnitude of the challenges we face, how the situation is evolving, and what they should do in each scenario. Constantly publishing methodical and reliable data is an effective means for explaining why decisions were taken, reduce uncertainty, and increase civic engagement.
Although our focus today is on managing the pandemic, this logic for data and information sharing also applies to the next great threat of the following decades, one we should already be addressing: climate change.
In the last 40 years, the number of natural disasters increased from 200 to over 800. In other words, it has risen fourfold. Extreme climate events imply enormous expenses to the world in terms of human losses, livelihood conditions, infrastructure, and economic activity. For example, only a few weeks after China -the pandemic epicenter- flattened the contagion curve, one of the worst storms ever registered hit the country leaving over 2 million people displaced.
The challenges posed by the climate crisis are colossal, and similar to the pandemic, individual action is crucial to achieving better collective results. This is why governments opt for empowering citizenship by opening data and highlighting the importance of the individual commitment. When the information is freely available, the creativity of an entire community can help to co-create innovative solutions.
Within this context, Buenos Aires City, with the support of the Resilience Cities Network, C40, and the United Nations, launched BA Climate Change, an online platform that combines open climate data and civic activation to engage citizens in collective action towards the climate crisis.
The platform arises under the umbrella of Buenos Aires’ commitment to being carbon-neutral by 2050. In this quest, we understand that, as a government, we cannot achieve this goal on our own. We need citizens, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector alike to do their part.
Consequently, the site is the result of a participatory process to enhance the commitment and boost City action on the climate agenda. Opening more than 30 datasets gives users access to interactive visualizations of greenhouse gas emissions, the evolution of temperature and rainfall, and air quality. This information is available for download and reuse.
BA Climate Change is a dynamic platform that will continuously incorporate new data, information, and initiatives. The city’s soon-to-be-launched 2050 Climate Action Plan will be monitored through the data available on this platform.
To build a resilient city -that can respond to impacts and tensions like a pandemic or climate change- we need to implement public policies based on evidence and share that data with our communities. People can make better decisions and may be willing to change their conduct and lifestyle when they have reliable, accessible, and high-quality information available. Public information is a necessary condition for any successful long-term public policy. We need open data to get citizens engaged as the champions of solutions to flattening the curves of these great challenges.