Sir Ian Diamond: Data is essential to saving our planet

We must ensure that data and statistical insights are at the heart of climate action, explains Professor Sir Ian Diamond. To do this, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is collaborating with partners across government to bring together key climate statistics on a new portal
Source: Alamy

By Ian Diamond

08 Nov 2021

Tackling climate change will require significant changes to the way we live. Just as our actions now and in the future are critical to reaching the targets needed to limit the scale and impact of climate change, so are data and statistics. After all, it is insight gained from data that is giving us the knowledge of what needs to be done.

Often the unsung hero in a major global crisis, data allow us to assess impact and inform response. Rapid data allowed us to track the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, just weeks after it started, and is enabling us to constantly assess the effectiveness of policy responses.

Data is everywhere: in many cases it is a by-product of our everyday activities. Having data is vital, but it’s not quite enough. It is bringing the best of that data together to underpin accessible, high-quality statistics and insight which is critical to success.

At the ONS, we have a strong track record of producing environmental statistics and insights to inform policymakers and the public on climate change. We measure the low carbon and renewable energy economy every year, we track greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by sector, and we estimate the value of nature to the UK.

We are further developing this work with a range of insights being published around Cop26 on attitudes to low emission vehicles, emissions and woodland cover at local level, and household behaviours – with more to follow.

While these provide critical insights, there is still more work to be done. To get the full picture, we need to ensure this kind of data and statistics from across sectors are brought together.

This is why we’re working closely with partners from across government to create a new UK climate change statistics portal, bringing this key environmental data together in one place for the very first time

Our aim is to make the best possible information and insights on climate change available to everyone, to aid understanding, inform policy, and support responses across the public, private and third sectors, and by citizens and communities across the UK.

While all of this work gives decision-makers, researchers and the public better tools to help address climate change on national, regional and local levels, we must also remember that climate change is a global issue, requiring global collaboration and global data and statistics.

In many areas of research and statistics, less developed countries may lack technical capability and/or relevant data of sufficient quality. This means that those places being most affected by climate change can often be those least able to plan, react and monitor impacts effectively.

The ONS has led work on monitoring progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the UK and is supporting others to do so globally. We are also supporting other countries to benefit from our learnings on natural capital accounting.

We are keen to do all we can to assist efforts on climate change across the globe. We can help to harmonise approaches; share new methods, such as our approach to the climate portal; and engage with more collaborative projects, bringing and linking data together internationally.

We are committed to playing our role to equip the UK and the world with the best possible insights on climate change.

There is a long road ahead, but we are in a good place for mapping out the rest of the journey with data and statistical insights.

I invite organisations from across the public, private and third sectors to combine efforts and bring together the vital data needed to inform climate change action.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond is the UK's national statistician
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