Open Data and the Power of AI: Supporting Local Experts to Tackle the Climate Crisis

14 January 2022

The four supporters of Lacuna Fund’s new investment in climate change datasets explain how the climate crisis, unbiased, local data, and their different funding strategies connect.

Communities suffer from increasingly frequent heat waves, but policymakers lack the data to better prepare them for the effects of climate change.

Models that help us understand the impact of rainfall on malaria are failing in parts of the world because of missing local data.

AI and remote sensing could map energy infrastructure needs for renewable energy deployment, but many geographies do not have data to create these tools.

As the climate crisis looms large, machine learning represents a key means to understanding and tackling climate change. But as the issues above highlight, a lack of unbiased, local data puts the benefits of machine learning out of reach for many parts of the world and hampers communities’ ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

In a first-of-its-kind partnership, four funders—The Rockefeller Foundation, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Wellcome, and Google.org—are coming together with a bold commitment to massively scale engagement and funding on open data related to climate change. With a pooled $8.3 million investment into Lacuna Fund, a collaborative effort to mobilize funding for datasets that solve urgent problems, this effort will support dataset creation, aggregation, and maintenance by and for local communities most affected by climate change. Datasets will be funded in two tracks:

  • Understanding climate harms to health and livelihoods
  • Improving energy systems and infrastructure for climate change mitigation and adaptation

Read more about the two tracks and the upcoming call here.

Lacuna Fund will also explore a third possible future track focused on climate impacts on forests and agriculture.

Tackling climate change requires an all-hands-on-deck, interdisciplinary approach. Solutions will include everything from energy to public health. From expanding access to clean electricity by accurately assessing community needs, to informing interventions to mitigate climate’s impact on health, these tracks will address the different disciplines touched by climate, while connecting them in acknowledgement that solving the climate crisis will require progress in multiple domains.

Today, people and geographies least responsible for causing climate change are experiencing some of its most dire effects. With a geographic focus on low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, these funds will put resources directly into the hands of actors in affected areas and ensure solutions are developed locally and centered on community needs and priorities.

“Machine learning has great potential to help us understand and respond to the climate crisis. To realize this potential, we need training data that represents the people and places at the greatest risk. This new Lacuna Fund call is an important step towards improving the equity and efficacy of climate AI globally.”
– Evan Tachovsky, Director & Lead Data Scientist, Innovation, The Rockefeller Foundation

Both the Climate & Health and the Climate & Energy tracks will open request for proposals processes in April of 2022. Start thinking about your dataset ideas, and sign up for the newsletter (at the bottom of this page) to stay up to date on this funding opportunity!

“Tackling the global climate crisis is a top priority for German Development Cooperation. In fact, we know that the impact of climate change will be even more dramatic in the Global South. That is why, we support partners across the globe to develop innovative solutions for climate protection based on technology such as Artificial Intelligence. The Lacuna Fund’s initiative works with prestigious institutions in Africa and Asia to democratize AI because only then can it work for climate goals worldwide at scale.”
– Dr. Tania H. Rödiger-Vorwerk, Director Private Sector, Trade, Employment and Digital Technologies at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

“The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet aims to extend clean electricity to a billion people, create 150 million green jobs, and avert 4 billion tons of greenhouse gas emission. To achieve these goals, we’ll need data that accurately represents the diverse energy needs of communities around the world. We’re proud to support Lacuna Fund’s effort to build open-source datasets that will improve renewable energy planning.”
– Eric Wanless, Managing Director of Innovation, The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet

“Climate change is harming people’s health directly and indirectly: from the effects of extreme heat and weather, to the changing patterns of infectious disease and the impacts on agriculture. But for the countries and populations likely to experience the worst of these impacts, we have less data to develop solutions. That’s why Wellcome is contributing to this Lacuna Fund call, which will begin to fill this critical data gap, and support researchers in the machine learning community to develop the datasets and tools that are most needed.”
– Tariq Khokhar, Head of Data for Science & Health at Wellcome