Looking at a city’s Google Maps data, in combination with other data, a new tool from Google can estimate the carbon footprint of all of its buildings–and the carbon footprint of all the car trips, bus and subway rides, and other transportation used by the people living there.This tool can be found on the google environmental insights explorer and is in continual expansion. At the time of writing there is only limited coverage in Europe (mostly within the UK), but google are keen to expand rapidly and invite you (particularly if you work for a city administration) to request a city to be included in their programme.
What is the Environmental Insights Explorer?
Well google provide a detailed description of what it is and what they intend to achieve with this sophisticated tool.“Climate change’s many environmental, social and economic impacts will continue to escalate unless significant action is taken, according to the IPPC.Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer (“EIE”) is founded on the idea that data and technologies can help accelerate the actions required to enable the world’s transition to a low-carbon future. The Environmental Insights Explorer’s goal is to make the process of setting an emissions baseline and identifying reduction opportunities, simple, straightforward, and actionable, which sets the foundation for effective action.EIE uses unique Google data sources and modeling capabilities to produce estimates of activity, emissions, and reduction opportunities, and makes them freely available. By surfacing environmental information in a robust platform, we aim to serve decision makers, solution providers, and researchers working on the issues and solutions for cities globally.The insights are a modeled estimate based on actual measurements of activity and infrastructure (the same underlying information that is made available in Google Maps). We use advanced machine learning techniques to understand how people are moving around the world, and then apply scaling factors, efficiency and emissions factors. In generating these estimates, EIE has worked with experts to make methodology choices, acknowledging that cities may make different methodology choices that generate very different results. Please see the sections below for more detail on where the differences may stem from.The information in EIE is in use by cities around the world for climate action planning and endorsed by leading organizations. Taking action on climate change can’t wait; the Environmental Insights Explorer provides insights to help accelerate action.”The explorer has a number of limitations in terms of the data that it is able to provide (currently no historic data for cities is available) and there is as yet no assessment of the waste sector, however this appears to be a work in progress.The Environmental Insights Explorer is one of a suite of tools prepared by google as part of their sustainability initiativeAs is to be expected from Google they are focused on identifying artificial intelligence led solutions (AI) in their efforts to solve environmental problems across the world.The scale of the initiative means that it is difficult to comprehend what it is. In order to help resolve this I have pasted below a summary in googles own words:
“Relying on huge carbon data sets as a measuring stick, cities as diverse as New York, Berlin, Oslo, and Rio de Janeiro have committed to reducing their carbon footprint by 80% within the next 30 years. But many small and midsize cities lack the resources to gather data such as building emissions, making it hard to set firm carbon commitments of their own.The Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE), a new online tool created by Google in collaboration with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM), is designed to help level the playing field for smaller cities, amplify the emissions insights of big cities, and ultimately accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future.
EIE’s intuitive interface (based on the traditional google maps format) displays data in five categories, including building emissions, transportation emissions, and rooftop solar potential.
Developed by the Google Earth Outreach team, EIEanalyzes Google Maps data to provide rich insights into our surroundings. EIE pairs this information with third-party data and standard greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions factors, deriving carbon estimates and reduction potential for cities around the world. With EIE, data sets that once required on-site measurements can now be assessed virtually, reducing the barriers that prevent cities from taking action.“Some cities—big, major cities—have easy access to emissions data to develop inventories,” says Amanda Eichel, the executive director for the global secretariat at GCoM, an international alliance of nearly 10,000 cities and local governments committed to fighting climate change. “But the vast majority don’t or aren’t in the position to finance a process that will take time and might be cost prohibitive, like the small to medium cities and developing areas of the world. And that’s where most of the action will take place in relation to the Paris Agreement on climate change. That’s why the information in the Environmental Insights Explorer is a huge opportunity.”Current city inventories illustrate the point. To date, 9,500 cities have committed to complying with the Paris Agreement, which presents a formal plan and timeline to phase out reliance on fossil fuels. But only 65% of those cities have inventories that include information such as building and transportation emissions. Far fewer have complete inventories. EIE will supply much of this missing data, starting with building and transportation emissions—essential to helping cities establish baselines—and branching out from there.Data packaged to prompt actionFor the past decade, we’ve been making Google satellite mapping tools and data analysis available to researchers and governments that are tackling issues like climate change, resource conservation, and air quality. With this science-backed data, decision-makers are empowered to take informed action.With EIE, we’re applying these same principles to understanding regional emissions impacts.EIE is designed to simplify data gathering, helping cities supplement their current data inventories with a few clicks. With more complete inventories, cities have more accurate baselines from which to build policy and measure progress. Even cities with advanced data inventories will find EIE data valuable in augmenting or confirming their latest carbon footprint analyses.To start, we’re surfacing data across four areas: building emissions, transportation emissions, solar energy potential, and 20-year climate projections. Clicking on “Building emissions,” for example, brings up colorful maps visualizing the emissions impact for both homes and non-residential buildings.Statistics from the general to the specific are available, including the percentage of various emissions types, the time period from which the data was culled, and key assumptions. The site also links to other critical information, such as ways to reduce emissions. Users can modify or customize emissions factors to play out specific scenarios.
Emissions data gets more specific the deeper you explore the site. Using google maps and environmental data to deepen insights.
Potential uses are vast. In addition to giving policymakers, planners, and researchers insights to inform [city-wide emissions policies[(http://www.sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/75035), the data can influence specific projects. A city with a new transportation line, for example, can access information to estimate the line’s impact on the city’s emissions profile before deciding whether to move forward and scale the project or shift gears entirely.
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