The open source movement takes on climate data
Thu, 09/03/2020 – 00:15
As GreenBiz co-founder and Executive Editor Joel Makower wrote earlier this week, many companies are moving to disclose “climate risk,” although far fewer are moving to actually minimize it. And as those tasked with preparing those reports can attest, the process of gathering the data for them is frustrating and complex, especially as the level of detail desired and required by investors becomes deeper.
That pain point was the inspiration for a new climate data project launched this week that will be spearheaded by the Linux Foundation, the nonprofit host organization for thousands of the most influential open source software and data initiatives in the world such as GitHub. The foundation is central to the evolution of the Linux software that runs in the back offices of most major financial services firms.
There are four powerful founding members for the new group, the LF Climate Finance Foundation (LFCF): Insurance and asset management company Allianz, cloud software giants Amazon and Microsoft, and data intelligence powerhouse S&P Global. The foundation’s “planning team” includes World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Ceres and the Sustainability Account Standards Board (SASB).
The group’s intention is to collaborate on an open source project called the OS-Climate platform, which will include economic and physical risk scenarios that investors, regulators, companies, financial analysts and others can use for their analysis.
The idea is to create a “public service utility” where certain types of climate data can be accessed easily, then combined with other, more proprietary information that someone might be using for risk analysis, according to Truman Semans, CEO of OS-Climate, who was instrumental in getting the effort off the ground. “There are a whole lot of initiatives out there that address pieces of the puzzle, but no unified platform to allow those to interoperate,” he told me.
There are a whole lot of initiatives out there that address pieces of the puzzle, but no unified platform to allow those to interoperate.
Why does this matter? It helps to understand the history of open source software, which was once a thing that many powerful software companies, notably Microsoft, abhorred because they were worried about the financial hit on their intellectual property. Flash forward to today and the open source software movement, “staffed” by literally millions of software developers, is credited with accelerating the creation of common system-level elements so that companies can focus their own resources on solving problems directly related to their business.
In short, this budding effort could make the right data available more quickly, so that businesses — particularly financial institutions — can make better informed decisions.
Or, as Microsoft’s chief intellectual property counsel, Jennifer Yokoyama, observed in the announcement press release: “Addressing climate issues in a meaningful way requires people and organizations to have access to data to better understand the impact of their actions. Opening up and sharing our contribution of significant and relevant sustainability data through the LF Climate Finance Foundation will help advance the financial modeling and understanding of climate change impact — an important step in affecting political change. We’re excited to collaborate with the other founding members and hope additional organizations will join.”
An investor might use the platform, for example, to run projections focus on portfolios or specific investment opportunities. Governments might consult the resource while evaluating resilient infrastructure projects and policies.
The main buckets of historical and forward-looking information that the LFCF group hopes to make available include research and development spending, policy response scenarios, or historical data about fires, floods and droughts. One example of a tool that data hounds will find there is a Finance Tool related to the Science-Based Targets Initiative. There also will be industry-specific data, likely starting with the energy, transport and industrial sectors, Semans said. Early beta versions of various pieces of the platform will be available this fall, with certain elements of the data commons available first, followed by modeling and analytics resources.
Just because the data is “open” doesn’t mean it’s entirely free. Companies need to be a member of the foundation to participate in the governance process (although there will be seats on the board for non-fee paying members from academia, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations). Talk to your CIO about the power of open source, and consider this your call to action.