How the National Data Strategy can help harness the power of data to support Net Zero

Sustainable data

Written by Alex Sunley, Senior Policy Adviser, National Data Strategy team

The Tech For Our Planet challenge, which was part of COP26, showcased how innovative data-driven solutions can make a vital contribution to our efforts to combat climate change across all sectors. We saw innovators using data and artificial intelligence (AI) to make commercial buildings smarter and more efficient and create the world’s largest database on insect biodiversity, to map impacts of agrochemicals and target conservation efforts. 

At COP26, we also saw the Office for National Statistics launch a new portal for data and insights on climate change. This portal, which is part of the Integrated Data Service, will allow us to accurately monitor and assess our progress towards Net Zero.

In addition, last week saw the final of the UK’s Civil Service Data Challenge. The winning project, led by Natural England, proposed a novel way of utilising artificial intelligence to support peatland restoration. The prize money will go towards ensuring this innovative approach can both support the UK’s net zero goals and reduce flood risk. 

These sorts of initiatives will be crucial in both supporting and monitoring the UK’s transition to Net Zero. The one thing they have in common? They all rely on the better use of data. The National Data Strategy sets out the UK’s plan to further unlock the power of data to tackle a range of challenges including climate change. 

 

What we’ve heard

Respondents to the consultation on the National Data Strategy identified both an opportunity and a responsibility for the National Data Strategy to explore how data can support a greener, more sustainable economy. Existing digital technologies could help cut 15% of UK emissions by 2030. At the same time, we need to consider the environmental impact of increased data use, including the carbon emissions generated by data centres. The Government Response to the National Data Strategy outlined some of the steps we’re taking to use data more effectively in pursuit of Net Zero. 

 

Exploring Net Zero through the National Data Strategy Forum

Earlier this year, we launched a National Data Strategy Forum workstream focused on understanding how we can best harness the power of data to meet our climate goals. 

On 21 October, alongside techUK, the Minister of State for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez MP, co-hosted the first event of this workstream. It invited the data centre community to share the sector’s progress towards Net Zero and the challenges they face going forward. The sector explained the steps they’re taking to reduce emissions, and updated us on their progress made to date through initiatives such as the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact.

We shared the actions government is taking to reduce its own ICT carbon footprint through the Greening Government: ICT & Digital Services Strategy 2020-2025, which seeks to develop the transparency and accountability needed to reduce carbon emissions and costs associated with government procurement. We are also embedding sustainability as a key decision point and principle for the design and approval of government-owned digital systems and services, as well as in our central procurement frameworks such as the cloud. 

 

Next steps: Join us for the Data & Net Zero workshop

Following our learnings from the first event, we’re running a workshop in partnership with the Royal Society on 21 January 2022. This workshop chaired by Baroness Brown, Julia King, will be an opportunity to showcase best-practice initiatives where data is being used to support Net Zero and will help us identify the barriers that are preventing different sectors from making the most of data in their own plans for reducing energy use and emissions. Following the session, participants should have a better understanding of how to be data ready in pursuit of Net Zero. If you are interested in participating, please email: [email protected]

 

Get involved with the National Data Strategy forum

Using data more effectively, as set out in the National Data Strategy, can revolutionise our efforts to meet Net Zero by 2050. However, government cannot and should not do this alone. If you are reading this and haven’t yet got involved, don’t worry, it’s not too late. The National Data Strategy Forum is always open and looking for more people to get involved. So click here to sign up.

If you have any ideas on how we should be taking this workstream forward into 2022, please do get in touch


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