Big Data Climate Challenge 2014


UN Global Pulse and the Secretary General’s Climate Change Support Team hosted the Big Data Climate Challenge to bring forward data-driven evidence of the economic dimensions of climate change. The Big Data Climate Challenge is an initiative of the Secretary-General’s 2014 Climate Summit at UN Headquarters in New York.


There is a need for fresh evidence that strengthens the economic case for action on climate change to show where such action is feasible, affordable and effective. The 2014 Climate Summit represented a turning point from climate change awareness to action. Therefore the Big Data Climate Challenge called upon the international academic, scientific, technology and policy communities to highlight data-driven evidence to drive climate action.
The Big Data Climate Challenge sourced projects from around the world that use Big Data and analytics to address real world impacts of climate change. The aim of this initiative is help build public understanding of how Big Data can reveal critical insights for strengthening resilience and mitigating emissions.


Multidisciplinary initiatives from all relevant fields were invited apply to the Big Data Climate Challenge in 2014. This includes but is not limited to: energy, smart cities, transportation, natural resource management, agriculture and food systems, ecology, complex systems, green data centers, recycling, material sciences, climate risk management, disaster risk reduction and resilience, architecture and design, behavioral science, climate finance, and economic drivers such as carbon markets and subsidies. We welcome any climate-related project.


Launched by UN Global Pulse in May 2014, the Big Data Climate Challenge called for recently implemented or published projects and initiatives that use Big Data and analytics to show the economic implications of climate impact and opportunities to manage climate risks.


There were submissions from over 40 countries, and 20 topic areas. The winners of the Big Data Climate Challenge were announced in September 2014:

Big Data Climate Challenge Winners:

  • Global Forest Watch (GFW) is a dynamic forest monitoring system from the World Resources Institute and partners: GFW empowers people to manage forests by combining satellite imaging, open data and crowdsourcing for open access to timely information about forests by governments, companies, NGOs and the public.
  • Climate-smart, site-specific agriculture decision-making tool for Colombian rice farmers by the Site-Specific Agriculture Big Data Team at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT): Using harvest monitoring data with climate data and seasonal forecasts, farming recommendations for rice growers are generated as a first step toward a system to support decision-making for farmers. 

“Projects to Watch”:

Researchers from the two winning teams, CIAT and Global Forest Watch, were flown to the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2014, with top projects presented during the Climate Summit in September 2014. Read more about how the winners demonstrated innovative ways big data can drive climate action in this blog post.


The Big Data Climate Challenge benefited from the expert assistance and advice of an Advisory Board and Technical Committee who provided ad-hoc support and evaluated submissions. Members are listed below:





Amy Luers is the Director of Climate at the Skoll Global Threats Fund. Previously, Dr. Luers was the Senior Environment Program Manager at Google and managed the climate program at the Union of Concerned Scientists California office. She co-founded Agua Para La Vida, an NGO which helps people get access to potable water. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Geographical Sciences Committee for the US National Research Council and is a lead author of the National Climate Assessment. She was a 2013 Poptech/Bellagio Fellow. Luers holds a Ph.D. and  M.A. from Stanford University.


Dr. Gunso Kim is Assistant Mayor for Information Technology and CIO (Chief Information Officer) of Seoul Metropolitan City. His expertise is planning big data-based services for city administration and sustainability. Prior to joining Seoul City, Mr. Kim led the Daumsoft Inc., a text mining/big data company, for twelve years as CEO and successfully analyzed customer demands to provide customized marketing and planning strategies to major companies. Dr. Kim is in his second year with Seoul City since February 2013 and has led the e-government policy-making and project implementation. Dr. Kim holds a master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Yonsei University in Korea and studied for PhD. the natural language processing for human-machine interaction.


Carlo Ratti is the Director of MIT Senseable City Lab and Partner at Carlo Ratti Associati. An architect and engineer by training, Carlo Ratti practices in Italy and teaches at the MIT, where he directs the Senseable City Lab. Ratti has co-authored over 250 publications and holds several patents. His work has been exhibited in several venues worldwide, including the Venice Biennale, MoMA in New York City and MAXXI in Rome. At the 2008 World Expo, his ‘Digital Water Pavilion’ was hailed by Time Magazine as one of the ‘Best Inventions of the Year’. He has been included in Blueprint Magazine's ‘25 People who will Change the World of Design’ and in Wired Magazine’s ‘Smart List 2012: 50 people who will change the world’. He is curator for the ‘Future Food District’ at Expo Milano 2015.


Dr. Anthony Nyong is the Manager of the Compliance and Safeguards Division at the African Development Bank. He is responsible for developing and leading the strategic orientation of the African Development Bank’s interventions on environmental and social sustainability and climate change. Before joining the African Development Bank, he was a Senior Specialist on climate change at the International Development Research Centre of Canada. Prior to that, Anthony was a Professor of Climate Change at the University of Jos, Nigeria. He was a Coordinating Lead Author for the chapter on Africa in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, and also served on the Panel’s Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis. Mr. Nyong holds a Ph.D. from McMaster University, Canada, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Global Business from the University of Oxford and is a Senior Executive Fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is a Chartered Geographer, Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


J. Srinivasan is the Chairman of Divecha Centre for Climate Change at Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. He has been a faculty member in the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences since 1982. He was a Senior Resident Research Associate at NASA, Langley from 1993 to 1995. Dr. Srinivasan was a lead author of the 2nd and 4th IPCC reports on Climate change and a review editor of 3rd IPCC report on Climate Change. His main interests are in the areas of monsoon models and solar energy. He was also the principal investigator in the Indo-French satellite mission Megha-Tropiques launched in 2011. Dr. Srinivasan received his PhD from Stanford University in Mechanical Engineering.




Ralf has been working with the United Nations for more than 20 years. He is now heading the Industrial and Energy Statistics Section of the UN Statistics Division and is in this function responsible for the development of international standards, data collection and technical assistance activities in these areas. He has also been responsible for international classifications for the last 15 years and continues to work on the coordination of international efforts to revise and harmonize international standards, and provide technical support to countries for their implementation. He holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Leipzig, Germany.



Richard Choularton is the Chief of WFP’s Climate Resilience for Food Security Unit. He leads WFP’s engagement on climate change is responsible for developing innovative risk management solutions targeting the most vulnerable and food insecure populations. He established the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative with Oxfam America which breaks new ground integrating safety nets, community disaster risk reduction, microcredit, savings and insurance. He has also served as a Senior Policy Officer, Contingency Planning Officer, Emergency Coordinator and Head of Programme with WFP. Richard has also worked as the Director of Humanitarian Assistance at a top-10 US non-profit organization and led early warning and decision support operations at the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). He has an MSc in Risk Crisis and Disaster Management.



Prof. Hubert Gijzen holds a PhD in Environmental Biotechnology. He has a long and established career in both academics and in international cooperation. He has worked in Academic institutions, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in International Institutes and the United Nations (UNESCO). Throughout his career of over 30 years, he has lived and worked in various countries and regions, in a range of senior functions as Full Professor and Chair in Universities, as a diplomat, Regional Representative, Teamleader, and since 2006 he serves as UNESCO Regional Director and Representative. He also serves as a member of the UN Regional Directors team (UNDG – Asia Pacific), and the UN Regional Coordination Mechanism (ESCAP). Besides his work for UNESCO, he continues to hold positions as full Professor at UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and at Wageningen University (since 1995). Hubert Gijzen has published about 400 articles and books in a range of fields, such as water, environment and international cooperation. He also serves in various international advisory functions and on Boards of prestigious S&T Institutes and programmes.



Dr Koko Warner is the Head of the Environmental Migration, Social Vulnerability and Adaptation Section at United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany. She directs three research tracks at UNU related to adaptation: the use of risk management and risk transfer measures like insurance, social resilience and environmental change, and environmentally induced migration. Koko researches works with telecommunications, insurance, innovation labs, and research using big data to understand climate change impacts on society, and ways to foster climate resilient development. Koko is a Lead Author for IPCC's 5th Assessment Report, Working Group 2 on Adaptation (chapter 20).



Daniel Schensul focuses on population and development, climate change, urbanization and data analysis and dissemination with the United Nations Population Fund. He has worked extensively on climate change adaptation, with a particular focus on the data foundations of vulnerability assessment and the spatial distribution of vulnerability and resilience, in a wide range of settings, including Malawi, Indonesia and the Maldives. Mr Schensul is a co-editor of the books Population Dynamics and Climate Change and The Demography of Adaptation to Climate Change. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Brown University with a focus on urban development and spatial analysis.



Tracy Raczek is a climate policy advisor in the UN Secretary General’s Climate Change Support Team. As focal point for climate change within UN Women, previously UNIFEM, her work was critical in the establishment of UNIFEM's and UN Women’s first efforts to address the gender dimensions of climate change and later sustainable development. Tracy has contributed to dozens of UN publications on these issues, including the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel for Global Sustainability report of 2012; provided technical support to delegations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations from 2008-2011 and Rio+20 process; and has over ten years’ experience previous to joining the UN in the environmental field, specifically forestry and environmental conservation.


David J. Wrathall PhD is an associate academic officer at United Nations University - Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS). David holds a doctorate in geography from King’s College London. His research focus is the changing habitability of environmentally disturbed areas and human migration away from those spaces; he also studies narco-trafficking and deforestation in Central America. David is currently using massive sets of anonymised mobile phone data to investigate the impact of tropical cyclones on human mobility in the extreme south of Bangladesh. His research partners are Flowminder, Telenor Research and Grameenphone R&D. Previously, David was a research fellow at the University of California Santa Cruz, Department of Environmental Studies, studying glacier recession and the effect of shifting water resources on migration in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru, where he also piloted the use of mobile phone data. His doctoral research focused on catastrophic flooding and migration from Garifuna villages along the North Coast of Honduras. His work and research on these topics began in Honduras with Peace Corps and Habitat for Humanity in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch.



Elena Manaenkova has been Assistant Secretary-General of WMO since 18 June 2010. Prior to this, she was Director of Cabinet of the Secretary-General and External Relations Department from March 2006. She joined WMO in January 2003 as Director of Atmospheric Research and Environment Department. Ms Manaenkova is a geographer with specialization in hydrology and meteorology graduated from the Moscow State University (1986). She holds Doctor’s degree (PhD) in physics and mathematics from Doctorate of Hydrometeorological Centre of Russia (1993) with specialization in meteorology, climatology, satellite meteorology and remote sensing from satellites. Before joining WMO, Ms Manaenkova devoted her career to the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring starting as scientific officer in the Hydrometeorological Centre of Russia - WMO World Meteorological Centre, and then worked in the Scientific Research Centre on Space Hydrometeorology “Planeta” on increasingly responsible positions up to the Scientific Secretary and Director of Department of Science and International Cooperation. Ms Manaenkova was born in 1964 in Moscow, Russia. She is married and is mother of two children.