Photo: Dr. Angel Hsu and Data-Driven Yale’s winning team, John Brandt, Matthew Moroney, and Sophie Janaskie, accept their award from Robert Kirkpatrick, Director at United Nations Global Pulse, and Dave Tang, Senior Vice President at Western Digital. Photo courtesy of Data for Climate Action.

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Press Release: Data-Driven Yale team wins the UN Data for Climate Action Challenge’s award for the project that best links climate change and sustainable development

A team of Data-Driven Yale researchers received  an award in the inaugural UN Data for Climate Action Challenge, for the project that best connects climate change to other sustainable development goals. The contest, hosted by UN Global Pulse and sponsored by Western Digital, invited teams to leverage big data and data science to generate research papers, tools, and visualizations that could inform local responses to climate change.

The team’s winning analysis explored air pollution’s impact on consumer spending, visualizing its results in a series of interactive maps and case studies.

Team members John Brandt, Matthew Moroney, and Sophie Janaskie, masters of environmental management candidates at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, joined Angel Hsu, Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS College and Director of Data-Driven Yale, in accepting this award at a November 12th ceremony held at the United Nations COP-23 conference.

“Air pollution affects 90 percent of the global pollution and causes 7 million premature deaths. While studies exist to quantify these health impacts and the public health costs of air pollution, little data exist to estimate short-term impacts on people’s daily activities and behavior – what I call ‘micro-migrations,’” said Dr. Hsu.

The Data-Driven Yale team combined data tracking daily spending habits, air pollution and climate data for 12 Spanish provinces, to understand how poor air quality, exacerbated by climate change, might drive consumer spending. “We wanted to see if poor air quality makes people more likely to stay indoors, avoiding restaurants, shops and recreational spaces,” said Sophie Janaskie, a first-year MEM student. “Using data science and statistical tools like R, Python, and ArcGIS, we were able to hack together some novel datasets to reveal some impactful trends between air pollution and consumer spending.”

In total, the analysis found that Spanish consumers spend €25 to €41 million ($29 to $48 million USD) less on days when ozone pollution is 10 percent worse than usual, and that spending falls by €20 to €30 million ($23 to $35 million USD) on days when particulate matter pollution is 10 percent worse than usual. Just a ten percent reduction in ozone and particulate matter 2.5 in Spain could increase consumer spending between €16 and 26 billion ($19 to 30 billion USD) annually. Worsened air pollution risks lowering spending further.

“Our results show that urban citizens’ spending habits are four times more affected by air pollution than rural citizens’,” said John Brandt, a first-year MEM student. “This result affirms the economic need for cities to further incentivize air pollution reduction.”

The contest connected the researchers with retail financial group BBVA and weather data network EarthNetworks, who provided the large data sets that underpin the team’s analysis. UN Global Pulse and Western Digital, which launched the contest, aim to foster collaboration between governments, innovators, data scientists and climate experts, to generate data innovations that can help the world meet Sustainable Development Goal 13’s climate action targets.

In total, 97 semi-finalist teams developed projects using donated datasets from 11 companies. Six teams received recognition for topics ranging from the use of  real-time traffic data to determine ideal electromobility routes in Mexico City to the application of cell phone data to understand displacement from floods in Senegal at Sunday’s event.

“Data philanthropy is a crucial component to combating climate change and creating a just world. Society wins when businesses leverage their expertise by allowing access to their data for open-sourced innovation,” said Matthew Moroney, a second-year MEM student.