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New accessible mapping tool helps identify hotspots of climate, conflict stresses

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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has developed an online, easy-to-use mapping tool that allows practitioners and policymakers working in the fields of adaptation to the climate crisis, natural resource management, and peace and security in crisis-affected regions to identify and track environmental and climate-related security risks.

Strata delivers custom data analytics and visualizations of hotspots where climate and environmental stresses converge with conflict events and socio-economic risks, potentially driving maladaptation, displacement and insecurity. Its pilot was launched on 1 February 2022 at the Second International Conference on Environmental Peacebuilding and regional expansion is planned for the Horn of Africa.

Built on near real-time geospatial data streams with continuous updates at a subnational and lower granularity, Strata is the only data platform about climate security that allows users to customize data analytics and visualization to their specific context without prior technical or data skills or background. It relies heavily on co-design with national and local stakeholders to ensure it is fit for purpose.

"By mapping such hotspot areas, our conflict analysis evaluation can focus on and relay the importance of integrating climate-related risks in peacebuilding and peacekeeping efforts," said Daisy Nakasi, Evaluation Officer of the UN Secretariat.

Need for Strata

Across the globe, the impacts of the climate crisis, environmental degradation and mismanagement of natural resources are undermining livelihoods and damaging essential infrastructure. In already fragile or crisis-affected contexts, these impacts can exacerbate existing socio-economic risks and lead to increased competition over scarce resources, displacement and conflict. At the same time, violent conflict and political instability can undermine climate crisis adaptation efforts, leaving vulnerable communities poorer, less resilient and ill-equipped to cope with the effects of the climate crisis.

The UN Security Council, African Union, G7 and other organizations have called for improved analyses of interlinked climate crisis and security risks to inform policy and programmes in crisis-affected countries and communities. With a large amount of data to assess, the challenge is bringing all this data together and moving from statistical distributions to spatially explicit risks and actionable insights.

Up to now, however, the capacity for data-driven assessments of converging environmental and security risks has remained in the hands of a limited set of experts. Strata fills an urgent need to democratize environmental and climate security intelligence by making analytical capacity available to practitioners and policymakers that don't have prior technical know-how.

How does Strata work?

Strata's main outputs are climate security stress maps visualised as hotspots, together with diagrams and tables to support interpretation of climate-related security risks. Using such climate security data products can strengthen:

  • environmental, climate, conflict, and/or political baseline analyses;
  • design, monitoring, progress reporting and evaluations of climate and environmental programmes, and of conflict prevention and peacebuilding initiatives;
  • awareness-raising and training;
  • in-depth assessments, e.g. for climate-related strategies and environmental policies;
  • advice and prioritization for decision makers.

In addition to climate security hotspots maps, users can disaggregate for environmental and climate stresses, conflict events, exposure to such stresses, or socio-economic vulnerability maps and graphs.

"Strata uses different indicators -- environmental and climate indicators, socio-economic indicators, and indicators related to conflict and crisis on the ground," said Hannah Young, a post-doctoral researcher on climate impacts at the University of Edinburgh. "With a simple method called convergence of evidence, different data sets are overlayed. Consequently, hotspots where climate and security exceed thresholds and overlap with socio-economic risks can easily be identified."

Strata is designed to indicate locations where different stressors are occurring simultaneously, given the available time periods of each of the indicators. It is not designed as a forecasting tool to predict where certain impacts will be highest, nor does it indicate whether there is any connection, correlation, or causal pathway between those indicators. Many of the stresses shown in Strata, whether climatic, environmental or security related, may be causes of other stresses, and there are complex pathways between different stresses, vulnerabilities and impacts on people. The quantitative data alone cannot fully explain these pathways and should be combined with local, in-depth, contextual, qualitative knowledge to correctly interpret the visualised hotspots.

Strata geographical scope and co-design

To ensure a strong user-centric co-design approach and develop Strata as a relevant tool for decision support from local to regional scale, its prototype was developed for Somalia, which is particularly vulnerable to the converging impacts of the climate crisis and socio-economic risks. The insights and metrics provided on hotspots in Somalia are expected to support on-the-ground engagement of UN agencies, grassroot organizations and other international agencies in the country.

Strata's regional expansion is planned in support of the offices of the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa and the different UN initiatives and agencies active in the region. Additionally, Strata aims to support regional entities, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Strata will develop additional regional platforms starting 2022, with the aim of consolidating these into a global platform in 2023.

Partnerships with these organizations enable co-design of the platform. From March to April 2021, the Strata co-design process included an initial survey and follow-up semi-structured interviews identifying what a data platform needs and what types of decisions are typically made that could use the support of spatial data. This was followed by five co-design workshops to collect input and feedback on the design and content of the platform, the choice of method and the user interface between May and June 2021. Workshops in October 2021 provided a demonstration and hands-on testing of the platform to collect feedback on technical, ethical and functionality aspects to inform further development.

The participants found Strata useful for providing data-driven insights towards a holistic understanding of climate security. Participants were also generally satisfied with the ease of use of Strata's first prototype, even without specialized geospatial data skills. End users reported that the platform was intuitive with an easy learning curve, which allowed them to conduct their own analysis in less than five minutes. Users were eager to learn more about the datasets and methodology used behind Strata, along with the types of analyses it can perform.

Practitioners also expressed the need for more transparency and guidance. They recommended clear guidelines and use-cases, as well as information on data sources and methods throughout the web platform and accompanying materials.

"Strata has had a huge development in one year. I would like to compliment the diversity of its indicators, of which I particularly appreciate the vulnerability indicators," said Adrien Morrice, Peace and Development Advisor of the UN Development Programme Nepal.

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Strata is led by UNEP in partnership with the European Union and the Government of Norway. Strata has been developed through a collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, EarthBlox, Google Earth Engine and the Group on Earth Observations.

To access Strata or to keep informed about its development, please visit the Strata website page. There you can also find additional resources such as a quick starter guide, a guidebook, a glossary, and an overview of indicators and data sources.