Safety in num­bers

For any ac­tion on cli­mate-change front, we need ac­cu­rate and ac­tion­able data

Governance Now - - ENVIRONMENT - Bhar­gavi Na­gen­dra

Abuild­ing comes up based on a plan, which is based on dis­cus­sions among the client, the ar­chi­tect and the builder. Can they draw a blue­print with­out ba­sic in­for­ma­tion like mea­sure­ments of land, lo­ca­tion, mar­ket price of ma­te­ri­als re­quired and so on? Some­thing like that is hap­pen­ing in the cli­mate sec­tor, as 175 na­tions pledge to limit the rise in global tem­per­a­tures to 2OC (com­pared to the 1800s lev­els) as per the Paris Agree­ment – with­out in­volv­ing the vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties who find no way to voice their views.

Change in tem­per­a­ture and pre­cip­i­ta­tion lev­els, man­i­fest­ing in the form of floods, droughts, heat waves, rais­ing sea lev­els, is al­ready on the up­ward trend. These are dis­cussed by key of­fi­cials at na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els when the im­pacts are ac­tu­ally felt by the most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties. Those lower down the lad­der of hi­er­ar­chy are of­ten left out of the con­ver­sa­tion.

A new re­port, re­leased dur­ing the 48th Ses­sion of In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) at In­cheon in South Ko­rea in early Oc­to­ber, re­veals that the coun­tries are nowhere on track in keep­ing up to the 1.5OC limit which was aimed at ear­lier. In­dia has al­ready wit­nessed ex­treme cli­mate events: floods in Ker­ala, Hi­machal Pradesh and Kodagu (Kar­nataka) and se­vere drought in at least 140 dis­tricts in the same year. We are at a higher risk be­cause of mis­man­age­ment of nat­u­ral re­sources, large pop­u­la­tion de­pend­ing on agri­cul­ture, un­sus­tain­able re­source con­sump­tion and un­planned de­vel­op­ment. To make the coun­try re­silient, we need ac­tion plans at lo­cal level and these ac­tion plans re­quire its im­por­tant build­ing block which is ac­tion­able data at lo­cal level.

The 2018 Pub­lic Af­fairs In­dex (PAI), which ranks states on var­i­ous gov­er­nance pa­ram­e­ters, also has en­vi­ron­ment as an im­por­tant theme among 10 other key themes. Data for all the 100 in­di­ca­tors in­clud­ing 14 of the en­vi­ron­ment theme re­lied com­pletely on sec­ondary data (gov­ern­ment) data to cap­ture var­i­ous fac­tors im­pact­ing re­silience of the state. The in­di­ca­tors cover ar­eas like pol­lu­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal vi­o­la­tions, for­est cover, re­new­able en­ergy, waste man­age­ment, sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, wa­ter re­source man­age­ment, and in­sti­tu­tional frame­work for en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion.

Stud­ies like these, which aim to bring out deeper mean­ings be­hind the num­bers, of­ten hit road­blocks ow­ing to un­avail­abil­ity, in­con­sis­tency, ir­reg­u­lar­ity of data both at the lo­cal level and state level. Even with the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing air qual­ity lev­els trends wit­nessed in ur­ban ar­eas, the only avail­able state­wise datasets date back to 2011-12! An­other ex­am­ple would be that of solid waste man­age­ment in cities. In­for­ma­tion on the ex­tent of waste gen­er­ated by the cities, waste gen­er­ated per capita, per­cent­age of waste pro­cessed or re­cy­cled at ward level and at city lev­els is ab­sent. Lit­tle im­por­tance is at­tached to sys­tem­atic col­lec­tion, anal­y­sis and mon­i­tor­ing of data.

Where does this data in the en­vi­ron­ment theme come from? If you want to check the air qual­ity of a par­tic­u­lar city, you have to go back to the data gen­er­ated from the air qual­ity mon­i­tors that are si­t­u­ated strate­gi­cally in busy traf­fic junc­tions, res­i­den­tial ar­eas, in­dus­trial ar­eas, etc. Ideally, the

Stud­ies like these, which aim to bring out deeper mean­ings be­hind the num­bers, of­ten hit road­blocks ow­ing to un­avail­abil­ity, in­con­sis­tency, ir­reg­u­lar­ity of data both at the lo­cal level and state level. Even with the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing air qual­ity lev­els trends wit­nessed in ur­ban ar­eas, the only avail­able state­wise datasets date back to 2011-12!

pe­ri­od­i­cally col­lected data is com­piled weekly, monthly and an­nu­ally for cities, towns, over­all for the state and fi­nally com­piled for the coun­try. But In­dian cities lack the nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture to cap­ture all as­pects of di­verse data. For ex­am­ple, Kan­pur is dubbed by WHO as the most pol­luted city in the world – based on the data that a sin­gle anal­yser of the Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (CPCB) col­lects for a city with an area of 403 sq km and a pop­u­la­tion of 27.3 lakh! WHO man­dates an air qual­ity anal­yser for ev­ery 10 lakh pop­u­la­tion but up­com­ing cities in In­dia which are yet to reach the 10 lakh bench­mark lack any air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nism.

Data is sparse in the en­vi­ron­ment do­main and there­fore re­quires ef­forts from across var­i­ous spheres which also means break­ing the si­los. These num­bers are in­di­ca­tors car­ry­ing mean­ing and there­fore di­rect pol­icy de­ci­sions and im­ple­men­ta­tion. In a global phe­nom­e­non like cli­mate change and its im­pact felt by ev­ery­one, data should start di­a­logues and dis­cus­sions among stake­hold­ers across di­verse ver­ti­cals in­clud­ing- govern­ments, mar­kets, donor agen­cies, NGOS, you and me. A com­mu­nity, lo­cal­ity or a city want­ing to draw up a re­silience plan re­quires in­ter­ac­tions from var­i­ous de­part­ments like dis­as­ter man­age­ment and state pol­lu­tion con­trol board, among many oth­ers, to talk to each other. It can­not be han­dled by just the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Reg­u­larly col­lected data helps for­mu­late ef­fec­tive poli­cies and ac­tion plans in a dy­namic and grow­ing coun­try like ours.

Timely, up­dated, rig­or­ous, trans­par­ent and lo­calised data be­comes a tool for pol­icy mak­ers to plan bet­ter, re­duce haz­ards (ex­am­ple: re­duce ex­po­sure to dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals through pol­lu­tion con­trol and oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety), adapt bet­ter and take strong mit­i­ga­tion steps. There are many mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions now that tell you what the air qual­ity level is be­fore you step out. But en­sur­ing easy ac­ces­si­bil­ity of data for im­por­tant pa­ram­e­ters to the most af­fected and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple re­quires go­ing be­yond mere pro­to­cols on col­lect­ing data. Ac­tion­able data is an en­abler to­wards tak­ing up adap­tive mea­sures and for that to hap­pen the gov­ern­ment needs to in­vest in de­vel­op­ing data col­lec­tion and mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems and fo­cus on build­ing ca­pac­i­ties on anal­y­sis of data within the sys­tem. Na­gen­dra is pro­gramme of­fi­cer with Pub­lic Af­fairs Cen­tre, a not-for-profit think tank.

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