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Tackling Climate Change

By [email protected] - 20th June 2008 - 12:18

For the first time The GeoInformation Group is producing a series of white papers dedicated to key topics that affect our lives. These white papers explore the subject in more detail than conventional product brochures, setting out the problems we face, the current options available and solutions that can be developed using geographic information, and possible actions to solve these problems in an intelligent way. The first paper in this series tackles arguably the biggest challenge to our prosperity and well being, namely global climate change, and looks at how geographic information can make a difference at the local level to our plans and actions for the future.
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGEClimate change is the biggest long-term threat to our prosperity and well-being â managing the threat requires a radical de-carbonisation of the economy, and massive technological change away from the use of fossil fuels. This is not only about large-scale action at international and national levels, but localand individual action too. The scientific evidence on climate change is now compelling.The reports of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have set out the scientific consensus. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are currently at 430ppm CO2e (carbon equivalent). On a business as usual scenario, emissions will reach 550ppm CO2e by 2035 â at which, global Temperatures are predicted to rise by at least two degrees. Keeping temperature rises to two-three degrees is considered to be essential if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, so we need to keep emission concentrations at the 550ppm level. Climate change is an economic issue. Sir Nicholas Sternâs review on the economics of climate change concluded that âthe benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not actingâ. He has estimated that if we donât act, the costs will be in the range of 5-20 per cent or more of global GDP each year, whereas the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change would be around 1 per cent of global GDP by 2050. And a social issue too. Research and experience tells us that the poorest communities are and will be disproportionately affected by climate change. Leadership on climate change can be located alongside leadership to tackle poverty in particular fuel poverty, and water security, and the promotion of social justice. So we need to use less energy, use energy more efficiently, find alternative energy sources and neutralise carbon emissions where fossil fuels are used, if we are to stabilise the climate. We also need to adapt to and plan for a changing climate.PREVIOUS OPTIONSGeographic information underpins all our planning activities and interactions with the environment. There currently exists some information available to local authorities but by no means enough to accurately assess the scope of the issues and support responses to a global climate change programme at a local level.Barriers to use of geographic information: 1. Lack of intelligence in the National Topographic map Information on land usage, open space, detailed terrain information, energy loss potential are all missing from National topographic mapping currently available to Local and Central Government departments; key environmental response planning cannot be undertaken. 2. Lack of detail in National terrain data Terrain data at the National level is only available at rather coarse levels and more detail data is limited in coverage. Databases are often out of date and composed of multiple surveys so reducing the validity of any final derived analysis 3. Limited models for building type, usage and age National mapping provides details on the geographic location and address of properties, but there is limited data available on the use, age and structural type of the building so hampering energy monitoring programmes and energy conservation planning. 4. Lack of detail on open spaces and neighbourhood profiles Local development plans and national mapping do not contain detailed information on the local extent and make up of open space areas. This makes it difficult to develop an overall consistent picture of land use which is required to create high quality environments to cure local area deprivation. ConclusionUsers are data rich but information poor; knowing âwhereâ is only half the equation, knowing âwhatâ in an environmental context is critical to solving local responses to global climate change.GEOGRAPHIC INTELLIGENCETo meet the targets on our commitments to reducing CO2 emissions action is required at the local level. To do this geographic information is required at the local level to enable planning and responses on not only a neighbourhood level, or a street level but down to a house level. Not only must this data be accurate at the house level but it must contain a rich set of geographic information to enable real planning and decisions to be made.This paper looks at the geographic information available to directly support local actions plans, to measure and reduce our CO2 emissions and to build sustainable and environmental resilient communities in the face of a changing climate.Four ACTION AREAS are proposed:Energy EfficiencyFlood risk planningCreating High Quality EnvironmentsEngagement with citizensIMPLEMENTATIONSo what can you do? Local and central government will have to show leadership in the fight to reduce carbon emission to meet the UKâs commitments, namely a 32 percent reduction in carbon emission by 2020 and 60 percent by 2050. The LGA paper and DEFRAâs Joint Environmental prospectus, referenced earlier on in this white paper sets out some excellent action points for the short, medium and long term. These should be referred to in depth as many of them have a geographical component. Anumber of actions are proposed.CONLCUSIONSWhilst there is still uncertainty about how we can best tackle climate change there is one thing that is certain, we are going to have to face up to a changing climate. The summer of 2007 has already seen the impact of a changing climate with some of the worst flooding seen in the UK in over 100 yrs. Local authorities and planning bodies face paradoxical challenges in the coming years. The governmentâs targets, set out in its housing green paper, are to increase house building by some 80,000 additional new homes a year until 2020. Yet many of these can and will have to be built on a flood plain of some kind. Geography in the form of land use mapping, terrain modelling will be crucial to having the right information to hand when planning local responses to these conflicting challenges. However as with all data, that geographical information should be accurate, timely, and intelligent and above all be fit for purpose. Geographical information can and should be at the heart of any action plan whether local or national in the fight to reduce our carbon emissions and mitigate the effect of a changing climate.In the Picture above:An example of LiDAR imagery showing ground and surface features colour coded by their height above sea level.

Author: Dr A Jones

Bio.: Managing Director of The GeoInformation Group

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