Monday 21 August 2017

Germany weather service opens up its data

Some good news from Germany. The government has decided to make the data of the German weather service (DWD) freely available for all. This comes after a parliamentary hearing in April on a bill to make the data freely available. All but one expert at the hearing were positive about this change.

Data was mostly already free for research, but really free data still helps science a lot. If data is only free for research that means that you have to sign a contract. For a global study that means 200 contracts, in the best case where all countries do this, in the local language with hard to find contact persons, with different conditions each time and often only a part of the data. If the data is really free, you can automatically download it, create regional and global collections, enrich them with additional information, add value with data processing (homogenisation, quality control, extremes, etc.) and publish them for everyone to use. It would also make the data streams more transparent.

This move was aided by the resolution of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) calling on its members, the weather services, to free their data:
Strengthen their commitment to the free and unrestricted exchange of [Global Framework for Climate Services] GFCS relevant data and products;

Increase the volume of GFCS relevant data and products accessible to meet the needs for implementation of the GFCS and the requirements of the GFCS partners;
Unfortunately, there still is no legally binding require to share the data. The weather services cannot force their governments to do so, but the resolution makes it clear that governments refusing to open the data are hurting their people.

There is also a downside, the German weather service, [[Deutscher Wetterdienst]] (DWD), currently earns about 3.5 million Euro selling data. In perspective that is about 1 percent of their 305 million Euro budget. (The DWD earns about 20% of their budget themselves and thus costs only 3 Euro per citizen per year.)

Because of these earnings many weather services are reluctant to open up their data. Especially in poorer countries these earnings can be a considerable part of the budget. On the other hand, the benefits to society of open data are sure to be much higher. Because of more people and companies will actually use the data and because better data products can be produced. When it comes to climate data I hope that the international climate negotiations can free the data in return for funding for the observational networks of poorer countries.

The main problem in Germany are, optimistically were, the commercial weather services. They fear competition, both from the DWD themselves and because free data lowers the barrier to entry for other companies to start offering better services. These companies have been so successful that a long time it was even forbidden for the DWD to publish their weather predictions on their homepage. Weather prediction the DWD still had to make because it is their job to warn for dangerous weather. That was an enormous destruction of value created with taxpayer money to create an artificial market for (often worse quality) weather predictions.

There is a similar problem where commercial media companies have succeeded in limiting the time that public broadcasting organisations can make their information available for watching/listening/download. This destruction of public capital is still ongoing.

Good that for weather and climate data common sense has won in Germany. Only a small number of countries have made their data fully open, but I have the impression that there is a trend. It would be great if someone would track this, if only to create more pressure to open the data holdings.

Related reading

Link to the DWD open data portal.

German parliament press office: Experts endorse free provision of weather service data. In German: Experten befürworten entgeltfreies Angebot der Wetterdienst-Wetterdaten.

DWD press release: Amendment to the Deutscher Wetterdienst Act in force since 25 July 2017. Tasks and responsibilities of Deutscher Wetterdienst updated to take account of today's environment.

Free our climate data - from Geneva to Paris.

Congress of the World Meteorological Organization, free our climate data.

Thursday 3 August 2017

Ottmar Edenhofer in 2010 on international climate politics and redistribution of wealth

If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.
Cardinal Richelieu (or his circle)

[[Ottmar Georg Edenhofer]] (born in 1961 in Germany) currently holds the professorship of the Economics of Climate Change at the Technical University of Berlin. He is deputy director and chief economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). From 2008 to 2015 he served as one of the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III "Mitigation of Climate Change".
Some hold the view that climate scientists are conspiring against humanity to bring down capitalism. (Not so sure whether a natural science is the best place to start the biggest, longest, global conspiracy, whether an abstract, slow and distributed environmental problem is the best way to motivate people, whether an economic sector whose business model is political corruption is the easiest one to topple, nor whether using another energy source would change capitalism.)

As evidence they occasionally cherry pick from an article by Ottmar Edenhofer, then the co-chairman of Working Group III on solving climate change (mitigation) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He was describing the political reality and explained why "the owners of coal and oil are not enthusiastic" about fighting climate change when he wrote: "We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate politics."

The quote comes from an interview in the Swiss Newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. So I can use my comparative advantage of knowing a little German. Fortunately people in Switzerland merely speak Swiss German, Schwyzerdütsch, they write standard German, Hochdeutsch, which is hard enough for a poor Dutch natural scientist.

This is the key part of the NZZ interview with Ottmar Edenhofer in 2010:
Grundsätzlich ist es ein grosser Fehler, Klimapolitik abgetrennt von den grossen Themen der Globalisierung zu diskutieren. Der Klimagipfel in Cancún Ende des Monats ist keine Klimakonferenz, sondern eine der grössten Wirtschaftskonferenzen seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Warum? Weil wir noch 11 000 Gigatonnen Kohlenstoff in den Kohlereserven unter unseren Füssen haben – und wir dürfen nur noch 400 Gigatonnen in der Atmosphäre ablagern, wenn wir das 2-Grad-Ziel halten wollen. 11 000 zu 400 – da führt kein Weg daran vorbei, dass ein Grossteil der fossilen Reserven im Boden bleiben muss.

De facto ist das eine Enteignung der Länder mit den Bodenschätzen. Das führt zu einer ganz anderen Entwicklung als der, die bisher mit Entwicklungspolitik angestossen wurde.

Zunächst mal haben wir Industrieländer die Atmosphäre der Weltgemeinschaft quasi enteignet. Aber man muss klar sagen: Wir verteilen durch die Klimapolitik de facto das Weltvermögen um. Dass die Besitzer von Kohle und Öl davon nicht begeistert sind, liegt auf der Hand. Man muss sich von der Illusion freimachen, dass internationale Klimapolitik Umweltpolitik ist. Das hat mit Umweltpolitik, mit Problemen wie Waldsterben oder Ozonloch, fast nichts mehr zu tun.
I would translate that as:
Fundamentally, it is a big mistake to discuss climate politics separately from the big issues of globalization. The climate summit in Cancún at end of the month is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences since the Second World War. Why? Because we have 11,000 gigatons of carbon in the coal reserves under our feet – and we can only add 400 gigatons more to the atmosphere if we want to stay within the 2 °C target. 11,000 to 400 – we have to face the fact that a large part of the fossil reserves must remain in the ground.

De facto, this is the expropriation of the countries with these natural resources. This leads to an entirely different development than the one that has been initiated with development policy.

First of all, we as industrialized countries have quasi expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must explicitly say: We de facto redistribute the world’s wealth due to climate politics. That the owners of coal and oil are not enthusiastic about this is obvious. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate politics is environmental politics. This has almost nothing to do any more with environmental politics, [as is was with] with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.
That is a wordy way of saying that climate policies have large economic implications and that these impact different countries differently. For most governments economics is more important than the environment. That means that the world leaders sit at the table and not the environment ministers. Ironically in the sentence most often quoted by the mitigation sceptics Ottmar Edenhofer is expressing understanding for the owners of coal and oil.

They were used to violating the property rights of others without paying for it, the large-scale equivalent of dumping your trash in your neighbours garden. Then it is annoying if the neighbour finds out what you are doing, wants you to stop and clean up the mess.

Also doing nothing is redistributing wealth: "we as industrialized countries have quasi expropriated the atmosphere of the world community." This is a kind of redistribution social Darwinists may find natural, but it goes against the property rights our capitalism system is based on. That is socialism for the owners of coal and oil.

I guess it is natural for people who are willing to pretend that climate science is wrong to defend their political views to assume that people who accept climate science do so for political reasons. That is [[psychological projection]] and Karl Rove strategy #3: Accuse your opponent of your own weakness. My impression is the opposite: most people prefer to be grounded in reality, not just in my science bubble.

* Photo of Prof. Dr. Ottmar Edenhofer Chefökonom des Potsdam-Instituts für Klimafolgenforschung by Stephan Roehl licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.