Redrawing the map of the world: what do the USA and Greece have in common when it comes to climate change?

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A few of us from the Young Foundation were lucky enough to spend the first week of the year in Paris taking part in the first of four EMAPS Sprints. EMAPS (Electronic Maps to Assist Public Science) is an EU funded research project which brings together data scientists, designers, social scientists, programmers and coders from across Europe to explore how pioneering visualization and mapping techniques can provide new insights into public debates on ageing and climate change.

The Paris Sprint, which was hosted by Sciences Po, was a weeklong workshop or hackathon, which brought together issue experts, designers and coders to create maps and other visualizations on specific issues relating to international negotiations on adaptation to climate change. They are Sprints because the week is spent racing to complete the electronic maps in time for the ‘show and tell’ session on the Friday afternoon.

After presentations from five issue experts, we split into groups, each examining a different aspect of climate change negotiations. The groups examined the following questions: who are the adaptation experts? What adaptation projects get funded and by whom? What exactly is adaptation – and defined by whom? Which countries devote the largest proportions of their aid budgets on adaptation? To what extent has adaptation to climate change played an important role in climate change negotiations? Each group then had four days to find the right data sources, extract the right information, clean the data and then generate the maps and visualizations.

Our groups were tasked with working out who the experts are and with trying to see whether the adaptation projects proposed by the least developed countries were the ones that were actually funded.
For the first, we pulled together a list of all those who had ever attended a COP – a list of about 70,000 people. These have been running for 20 years with thousands attending annually. From this list we were able to work out that only 85 people have attended all the COPs since 2004.

Who goes back for more? Attendance at the COPs over time.

Who goes back for more? Attendance at the COPs over time.

From this long list we looked at the people who had been invited to speak during the COP, or in one of its side-events, and those who’d been elected to sit on a board or committee to do with the COP. We made the assumption that we could equate the right to speak (and the right to speak in certain fora) with a certain level of expertise. This then gave us a list of about 2,000 people. The visualization below illustrates this process.

The Sprint process for team 1

The Sprint process for team 1


Another group was tasked with comparing the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) submitted by the Least Developed Countries (LCDs) and the funds that have been committed through the various adaptation funds – specifically the Adaptation Fund (AF), the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR).
Basically, we were trying to answer the following questions: how much money was committed through the NAPAs? Were the projects proposed in the NAPAs supported through the adaptation funds? Did similar countries propose the same kinds of projects? We found that there was no overlap between the projects requested and the projects funded and we also found considerable differences in the kinds of projects that were proposed (NAPA Projects) and those eventually funded (Multilateral Projects).

What was requested vs. what was funded?

What was requested vs. what was funded?


One of the most intriguing aspects of this project is that almost any document is a potential resource to be mined. The everyday and the mundane become a source of insight. The mining and visualisation approaches give us a bird’s eye view, enabling us to see what is really going on.
The maps provide a unique overview of debates and discussions. They showed us that adaptation has moved up the negotiations agenda over the last 20 years – as well as the peaks and troughs of other issues within the climate change debate. They also gave us new insights. One of the maps, for example, showed that the USA and Greece fund the same set of countries with their adaptation aid. Surprisingly this is OPEC, the League of Arab States, and the G77 group of developing countries.

Specialization of donor countries by negotiating groups in the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC)

Specialization of donor countries by negotiating groups in the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC)

As we look towards the Sprints in Amsterdam, Oxford and Milan, the key will be to build on the huge progress we have already made as a team to create new tools for engaging and supporting those working in the field of adaptation.

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