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Empowering climate adaptation through health-focused environmental data

Climate change is a serious threat that is already affecting people’s health in many ways. In fact, the health of about 3.3 to 3.6 billion people is highly vulnerable to climate change thanks to more frequent and intensifying weather and climate events such as dust storms and wildfires, which contribute to air pollution.

Shockingly, 7 million people die prematurely each year due to exposure to air pollution, making it one of the greatest environmental risks to health. Despite its severe consequences, especially concerning respiratory and cardiovascular issues, air pollution often fails to garner the attention it urgently requires.

Air pollutants recognize no borders, traveling across nations and affecting air quality and ecosystems beyond their origin. While the problem is global, it disproportionately afflicts areas with fragile health infrastructures, primarily in developing countries, as highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The first-ever COP28 Health Day puts a spotlight on the pressing climate-health crisis, underscoring the necessity for adaptation solutions through both individual and collective actions. At Google Cloud, we believe that technology such as the Environment APIs from Google Maps Platform can play a crucial role. Public health decision-makers, governments and municipalities, and companies, can use it to create awareness and provide guidance, tools, and advice concerning health issues linked to air pollution. Read on for some recent examples.

Harnessing environmental data to raise awareness

Public involvement is crucial in influencing governments to adopt policies promoting climate resilience and sustainability, particularly in urban areas facing severe challenges regarding transportation, waste, and pollution. As cities grow, addressing these issues becomes more complex, making municipal decision makers key players in driving change through awareness and sustainable behavior promotion.

To get the public involved, you need to raise awareness about the serious threat of air pollution, which is not always visible to the naked eye. ‘Toxic Toby’, a London roadside memorial highlighting deaths from air pollution, is a great example of how air quality data was used in a public health campaign to raise awareness about its harmful effects. A robotic teddy bear placed on London’s streets collected real-time, location-based air quality data. Whenever pollution levels rose to dangerous levels, Toby would cough and broadcast warnings to local policymakers’ social media accounts, prompting legislative action and educational initiatives.

Similarly, seeing air pollution as a key public health issue, officials in Paris sought to establish new pollution-free open spaces and travel routes for pedestrians, bikers, and cyclists. The campaign measured the impact of road traffic, stop lights, and bus and metro stations on dynamic pollution throughout the day to inform city planning efforts and optimize traffic movement. Using air quality data integration and AI-driven analysis, the campaign provided Parisians with real-time actionable health-focused recommendations, as well as access to pollution exposure information with a personal health risk score.

By having access to environmental data and insights, governments obtain a better understanding of the health hazards affecting their communities. They can then use this information to inform policies and monitor their effectiveness. This data can also be used in educational campaigns aimed at protecting peoples’ health and well-being.

Helping citizens make healthier decisions

By becoming a dependable source of key environmental insights, governments, municipalities, and health organizations can positively impact citizens’ lives by helping them make healthier daily decisions. With air quality data, they can provide heatmaps, share in-depth pollutant details, and make recommendations to assist people in minimizing exposure to air pollution — even when it comes to hyperlocal questions such as which park to go to, whether or not to exercise outside, when to open windows, and when to activate air purifiers and stay indoors.

For example, the Google.org funded AirQo hopes to assist African citizens to take effective action to limit exposure and reduce air pollution. To do this they place low-cost air quality monitors throughout city infrastructure and use Google Cloud-based AI software to analyze air quality and predict local pollution in the next few days — providing locally-led solutions to Africa’s air pollution challenges.

Supporting innovations to increase resilience to climate change

Google is focused on empowering individuals with better information when they’re looking to make decisions that can drive positive action for people and our planet. We strive to empower everyone with technology and innovations that support adaptation solutions to address the climate change health crisis with environmental products like our Air Quality API and Pollen API from Google Maps Platform.

To learn more about Google’s work to improve public health in light of the climate crisis, visit google.sustainability. We’ll be blogging throughout COP28; follow along here.

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