Our climate is changing fast. What can be done to reduce these changes, to minimize their impacts, and to make societies, economies and ecosystems more resilient is increasingly at the core of national and international political debate.
But to be effective, policy frameworks and plans for transformative climate action must be shaped by evidence. Policymakers, scientists and activists alike depend on reliable information on the levels and trends in the main drivers of climate change, such as fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions; the measurable impacts, such as water levels and species losses; mitigation efforts, for example money spent on renewable energy; and adaptations, including changes in resource use patterns and agricultural practices.
Minimizing the extent of climate change, reducing its impacts or better adapting to the changes it brings all rely on high-quality statistics to serve as benchmarks for setting goals and monitoring progress. With the high political stakes surrounding climate change, the political independence and quality assurance offered by official statistics is essential.
With the powerful call to “unite behind the science” made by climate activist Greta Thunberg ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit still resonating around the world, UNECE’s Steering Group on Climate Change-Related Statistics unites the expertise of climate change statisticians to respond to the key information needs for climate action, by sharing the best available practices and developing tools collectively to help respond to the greatest challenge of our time.
The seventh UNECE Expert Forum for Producers and Users of Climate Change-Related Statistics took place in Geneva this week, focusing on statistical methods to measure climate change adaptation, hazardous events and disasters. A panel debated the role of the statistical community in climate action, with official statistics occupying a unique role among the many stakeholders in climate change debates.
Some of the countries taking the biggest strides in climate change-related statistics are those with a lot to lose. The Netherlands, where flood risk is high, showed how the national statistical office is taking a more active role in sharing microdata to help analysts produce better risk maps and risk analyses—critically important when data show a 24cm rise in sea levels since 1890. Mexico, where climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, mudslides and fires have struck with increasing frequency in recent years, showcased a national information system set up by the statistical office. Combining statistical and geospatial information, the system is used to coordinate information sharing among state institutions allowing them to analyze, respond to, and reduce the risk of disasters.
A UNECE Task Force of international experts presented the progress of their work on the core set of climate change-related statistics and indicators for the UNECE region. The initial indicator set, agreed internationally in 2017, provides a common framework for countries to produce national official statistics on five key areas related to climate change: drivers, emissions, impacts, mitigation and adaptation. The indicators complement those produced by non-statistical agencies, such as information about temperature and the weather.
The group is now developing guidelines to help statistical offices produce these indicators, including ways to make use of new data sources and geospatial information. In 2020 they will release their recommendations including refinements to the core set following pilot testing; contextual and operational indicators to complement the basic indicators; and guidelines for translating the recommendations into action.
Ensuring high quality statistics for climate action is critical to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 13, ‘take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’.
* * *
Documents and presentations from National Statistical Offices and international experts made at the Expert Forum can be viewed at unece.org/index.php?id=50812
UNECE’s repository of good practices for climate change-related statistics is available at: statswiki.unece.org/display/GPCCS/
For more on UNECE’s work in support of climate change-related statistics, see: unece.org/stats/climate.html