By Tanner Gildea and Lily Bermel
“This is the decisive decade for the climate crisis,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary J.R. Littlejohn during a presentation to the Department of State’s Enterprise Data Council in January. “And that’s why we’re calling the Climate Data Campaign ‘Data for the Decisive Decade.’”
In March 2023, the Department concluded a six-month surge of data and analytics support to bolster the U.S. government’s ability to respond to the climate crisis. This data campaign, one of six conducted so far under the Department’s 2021 Enterprise Data Strategy (EDS), delivered several products to make critical information more accessible to a variety of users across the Department. Tools such as new interactive dashboards and static reference sheets organize core climate statistics on mitigation, climate foreign assistance, and more. These products better position the Department and USAID to advance U.S. diplomacy and development efforts on what the U.S. National Security Strategy deems the existential crisis of our time.
Every day, Foreign Service officers (FSO) in the field witness and respond to the impacts of the climate crisis, like the recent floods in Pakistan that displaced more than 30 million people. FSOs also advocate for policies that can mitigate climate change, such as accelerating the transition to clean energy and away from Russian energy in Europe. This is critical and life-saving work. It is also incredibly complicated.
What countries do in this decisive decade will determine whether the world can remain habitable for generations to come. The United States must play a strong and sustained leadership role to marshal an urgent global response.
Within the first week of his administration, President Joe Biden ordered federal agencies to put the climate crisis at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security via Executive Order 14008. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reiterated his commitment to ensuring that climate is “woven into the fabric of everything we do at the State Department,” and the Office of Management and Strategy Solutions (M/SS) is diligently working to cement climate in the Department’s operations and engagement in order to institutionalize U.S. leadership in driving global climate action. This requires a full-scale mobilization of the Department and USAID resources and personnel. And employees at all levels and throughout the Department and overseas are responding to this direction. But they need the tools and information at hand to do so.
The Climate Data Campaign was developed to empower the government to more strategically, effectively, and efficiently shape a global response to the climate crisis, and it is doing just that. Previously, preparation for a high-level bilateral meeting could take up to nine hours of research and analysis to identify objectives, talking points, and background material. Tools developed by the Climate Data Campaign make research for climate-related issues so much easier, it now takes only nine seconds. Core climate data for individual countries is immediately available across the Department, at fingertip access.
Not only are officers more empowered to work on climate, but the Department itself is better positioned to develop data-informed decisions and strategy on climate. Enhancing the Department’s efforts to integrate climate into all the Campaign’s work are new interactive dashboards and static reference sheets that organize core climate statistics on mitigation, climate foreign assistance, and more.
With these tools and just a few clicks, officers can immediately answer questions like: “How much money has the United States spent on which climate programs in Peru? Which programs are focused on adaptation and which ones focus on clean energy? What are South Africa’s estimated 2030 emissions based on its targets? Which countries have large energy sector emissions, but have not signed on to our clean energy initiative? Who should I talk to about the Global Methane Pledge?”
Data scientists worked with experts from the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (SPEC) and the Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs’ (OES) Office of Global Change to produce Mitigation Reference Sheets for use at COP27 in November 2022, the two-week United Nations climate conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Mitigation Reference Sheets are an automatically populated, one-stop-shop for bilateral mitigation information: nationally determined contribution (NDC) summary and analysis; engagement with U.S. international climate initiatives; historical and projected emissions; emissions by sector; and energy consumption data. Mobile-friendly, printable, and easily inserted into briefing papers, these sheets provided reliable and timely information during negotiations, bilateral meetings, and high-level remarks.
On the ground in Sharm El-Sheikh, a M/SS Center for Analytics data scientist provided additional analytics support. As countries announced new NDCs, the delegation assessed new targets in real time utilizing the Campaign’s framework and methodology. Data scientists also fed ad-hoc analyses to colleagues participating in live negotiations and supported event logistics for President Biden’s speech. Reflecting on the experience, one climate policy advisor observed that “data was at the heart of U.S. climate policy and negotiations.”
After COP27, the Climate Data Campaign team expanded the scope of its work to adaptation and funded programs—the other pillars of U.S. international climate policy. Specifically, the Campaign unearthed U.S. climate foreign assistance data. Interactive dashboards enabled officers to instantly create visuals that tell the story of the United States’ aid, based on program indicators, sector, agency, and dollar value.
The Climate Data Campaign not only produced analytic products, but also built technical infrastructure in partnership with the Bureau of Information Resource Management. The Campaign offered written recommendations for storing, managing, and keeping up-to-date relevant internal Department climate data for future reporting. Across the board, the Campaign team revamped systems of climate knowledge management, working through an iterative and partnership-based process with SPEC, OES, Office of Foreign Assistance, USAID, and others in the field.
The Campaign team integrated all data harvested from the systems revamp into existing resources and processes. The Campaign remodeled the Department’s internal “Climate@State” hub, built a database of climate points of contact, and un-siloed climate strategy documents across the Department and USAID enterprise into a central strategy repository. Furthermore, the Campaign jumpstarted wider climate data collaboration by facilitating weekly spotlights of climate data-related efforts—live presentations from various offices or bureaus— across the Department. Spotlight participants included the Global Engagement Center’s Analytics and Research team, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and the M/SS Greening Diplomacy Initiative, among others. Additionally, the Campaign engaged with field officers via monthly Climate Leads calls and numerous one-on-one engagements with posts and missions.
As a force-multiplier to existing Department climate training resources, Campaign products are well-suited for incorporation into the Foreign Service Institute’s Environment, Science, Technology, and Health; Climate; and Economics tradecraft courses.
In remarks to the M/SS workforce last fall, Secretary Blinken encouraged everyone to ask, “What do the data say?” when making decisions and gave his word he would ask “WDDS?” at every opportunity.
Thanks to the Climate Data Campaign and continued efforts, officers in various bureaus and overseas posts now can spend less time, energy, and resources answering the question, “What do the climate data say?” The answer is just a click away.
Tanner Gildea is a data scientist at the Center for Analytics in the Office of Management Strategy and Solutions. Lily Bermel is a policy advisor in the Office of Global Change, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.