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Climate change and weather events: the Weighted Climate Dataset is the new online tool for a precise evaluation of climate variables impacting socio-economic activities

Nature Scientific Data has published a study describing the methodology developed by a team of Italian scientists working at the Scuola Sant'Anna, the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), and Carnegie Mellon University (USA)
Publication date: 06.06.2024
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Climate change and weather events negatively impact a wide spectrum of natural and socioeconomic activities. However, analyzing climate data without considering their geographical distribution can introduce bias in the assessment of the impacts of climate change. “In summer, average temperatures in the Mojave Desert in California are usually way higher than in Los Angeles, but the size of economic activities in the two locations is not even comparable”, emphasizes Francesco Lamperti, Associate Professor of Economics at Sant’Anna School. “Therefore, it is essential to consider the different exposure of social and economic activities in an administrative region for a correct assessment of the impacts of climate change in that area”. To overcome this bias, a study describing the methodology behind the Weighted Climate Dataset has just been published on Nature Scientific Data. The tool was developed by a team of Italian researchers, including Giorgio Fagiolo and Francesco Lamperti from the Institute of Economics of Sant’Anna School and members of the Department of Excellence L’EMbeDS, as well as the two former Sant’Anna students Marco Gortan, now at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), and Lorenzo Testa from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, USA) and junior affiliate of L’EMbeDS.

The weather data are typically available at a much finer spatiotemporal resolution than socioeconomic variables. Hence, weather-related variables need to be aggregated to match lower temporal frequencies and the geographical boundaries of administrative units (e.g., provinces, regions, states, and countries). This process is however not straightforward, as it often requires the use of weights proxying the geographical distribution of economic activities, possibly resulting in non-negligible biases for the analysis. In fact, accounting for the different exposure of socioeconomic activities within an administrative region is fundamental for the right assessment of the impacts of climate change in that region.

The dataset provides a free, open-access, and unified repository that pipelines the preprocessing and weighting procedures of gridded climate data into a documented and intuitive interface. “This platform”, adds Francesco Lamperti, “aims to standardize the way climate data are utilized and understood, fostering advancements in climate science and informed decision-making. The dataset provides different weighting schemes, including population count, night-time lights, and cropland area”.

Unlike traditional data repositories, the Weighted Climate Dataset stands out as a powerful tool that consolidates an extensive range of climate data sets, offering users an intuitive dashboard to explore and download information at various spatial and temporal resolutions. “This feature”, says Marco Gortan, Research Assistant at the School of Finance at the University of St. Gallen, “allows for a more nuanced understanding of climate patterns, enabling researchers to pinpoint trends and changes with unprecedented accuracy”. Moreover, by pipelining all the aggregation and weighting steps in a unified and standardized format, “the Weighted Climate Dataset – highlights Lorenzo Testa - reduces the influence on analyses and findings of the researchers’ degrees of freedom, the set of arbitrary decisions that arise when processing data and do not perfectly fit established statistical methods”.

“We believe that access to comprehensive and well-curated climate data is essential for advancing our understanding of climate change and making informed decisions for a sustainable future”, says Giorgio Fagiolo, Professor of Economics at Sant’Anna School. “The Weighted Climate Dataset is a perfect example of our commitment to empowering researchers and decision-makers with the tools they need to address the complex challenges posed by climate change”.

  • The Weighted Climate Dataset is live and accessible to the public here.
  • The full paper that documents its features is available here.