Building shock-resistant communities: Data-driven approach to adapt to climate change


How can we make the next decade count to underpin resilient, adaptable communities? Suna Taymaz, Simon Babes and Steve Gwynne of GHD take a look

Global warming will require closer observation – and forecasting – of severe weather patterns that pose risk. Location intelligence, visualisation and other data-driven predicative analytics and methods will be wielded as part of a sophisticated defence system against the impacts of climate change.

Prolonged droughts, wildfires, flooding and environmental degradation are having a devastating impact on affected communities, in increasing numbers. With growing climate uncertainty, pressure to strengthen infrastructure for climate resistance is at an all-time high. Fast and intuitive access to high quality geographic data and information will become increasingly critical for decision-makers in every industry.

By identifying future climate events and mitigating factors, risks can be better understood. As the decade progresses, we will get even better at using digital tools to create a cohesive, interconnected understanding of the effects of climate change on local environments. With technology such as aerial lidar, photogrammetry and other methods, we can create a digital twin of the Earth to model structures, land, water levels, forests and predict changes. This will enable us to pull the right levers to tailor our climate resiliency responses accordingly.

Keeping tabs on an ever-changing environment

Using predictive analytics based on large volumes and multiple sources of data helps manage the complexity and uncertainty of climate change in a variety of ways. For example, GHD teams have recently mapped wildfire activity encroaching on rail assets, drawing on a mix of network-wide and hyper-local Geographical Information Systems (GIS) data to provide railway operators with comprehensive situational awareness of new or emerging threats.

Our preparedness for climate threats can be vastly improved through quality data. Movement Strategies, a leading people movement and crowd dynamics consultancy and subsidiary of GHD, applies privacy-compliant analytics of movement data to understand pedestrian and traffic dynamics. This provides better understanding of routine traffic conditions and evacuation performance that can impact the effectiveness of emergency planning. Movement Strategies is developing research tools to assess community vulnerability – taking into consideration local wildfire risk, the physical environment, the population and the traffic response that might inform disaster preparedness strategies. Integrating tools, based on contemporary data, can better capture and interpret underlying dynamics, to better support complex, climate emergency planning.

Unlocking data to deliver zero emission solutions

Advanced analytics including Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence can also be leveraged to help assess and reduce carbon emissions, particularly in greenhouse gas-intensive industries such as transportation. Multiple factors must be orchestrated: transportation planning based on future needs, transitioning aging fleets to zero emission vehicles (ZEV), planning optimised routes to adapt to ZEVs and the placement of new charging and fuelling infrastructure. Applying data in this way also shortens traditional planning timeframes to drive carbon savings, quickly.

As part of the ZEV revolution, GHD’s digital teams have developed a tool to helps transform rural and metropolitan bus fleets. It sheds light on transition pathways and the associated financial, environmental, utility, operational and energy criteria for each scenario. With this tool, fleet owners are empowered to pragmatically execute their ZEV strategy, confident that they have the right data-driven roadmap to get them to their end, zero emission goal.

Data in all its forms can be used to bring about important change. In the next decade, as both individuals and organisations seek to operate differently, data can provide the clear and compelling evidence needed to motivate a new climate-conscious mindset. Every decision – from personal consumption choices to multi-million-dollar investments – will need to be based on an accurate understanding of the real environmental cost of that decision. In this way, data analytics and intelligent interpretation will help lift the veil on the climate and carbon impacts of all our choices, large and small.

It’s a complicated path to net zero, but knowledge is power. Building our capacity to model, analyse, interpret and predict will be a welcome development this decade in the fight against climate change.


Suna Taymaz

Marketing development leader – digital services, transportation and energy

Simon Babes

Marketing development leader

Steve Gwynne

Research lead



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