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Why Cities Are Turning to Climate Change Dashboards

As the world gets hotter, technology offers governments a fresh way to track emissions and the progress of officials in meeting climate goals. What benefits do these dashboards offer, and how are cities using them?

Emissions, electric vehicles and waste management: Those are among the areas offering metrics that residents of West Hollywood, Calif., can now access via a digital dashboard to check how local officials are making progress toward climate change initiatives.

Such climate dashboards are popping up across the U.S.

That reflects not only the larger trend of using tools to help residents and officials keep track of projects, public safety and other municipal tasks, but a growing effort to direct local resources to ease the harms of a world getting hotter.

The idea is to not only offer insights into climate-related data — for instance, how much waste was diverted from landfills since 2018 in West Hollywood, or local emissions of greenhouse gases — but to motivate residents into doing more when it comes to recycling and related activities.

“We have a community with a lot of vulnerable people,” including senior citizens, people with disabilities and citizens who don’t own vehicles, Francisco Contreras, the city’s long range planning manager, told Government Technology.

The dashboard isn't meant to help during disaster relief. But it can implant longer-term climate-related thinking into the minds of West Hollywood residents — and keep officials on track with their environmental projects, which consist of some 200 pages of plans.

Indeed, the dashboard, updated quarterly for now, shows progress toward meeting the city’s goal of achieving net-zero emission by 2035.

Will such local actions actually serve to significantly slow the rate of the Earth’s warming, given that many of those harmful emissions come from industry and electrical production, along with transportation? That’s hard to say.

But climate dashboards do provide real benefits, according to Elizabeth Steward, vice president of marketing and research at Envisio, the performance management software firm used by West Hollywood and other cities.

“We know that cities are uniquely placed to address climate change — to be bridge builders across different community groups, sectors and levels of government in tackling this crisis at the local level,” she told Government Technology via email, adding that the past year has brought a “sharp uptick” in the number of cities with climate action plans and related dashboards.

That growth reflects how important climate change has become to residents, she said, with the dashboards helping to strengthen ties between constituents and officials via their transparency.

“Not only do public dashboards help to build hope and trust with residents, but they have another benefit,” Steward said. “They give local governments more opportunities to learn from each other as we explore how to best navigate perhaps the most pressing existential issue of our times.”

A 2023 post from media and data consulting firm infogr8, which has also helped to build climate dashboards, paints a similar picture of the government technology tool.

The dashboards can provide via one easy-to-access online or mobile source the data that can help guide future environmental efforts, for instance. They can promote climate-related collaboration among various municipal departments. Dashboards also can get the private sector more involved in public climate efforts, in part by providing them with the latest forecasts and real-time project tracking, metrics useful for their own businesses.

Indeed, the climate dashboard for Raleigh, N.C., offers data about installations of solar and other renewable energy outsources, the energy efficiency of buildings and details about the energy efficiency of differing housing types.

As that dashboard states, “taking action to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions has benefits that go beyond climate. Making progress on climate metrics also will improve community health, provide cleaner air, improve walkability and housing choice and create a more social and connected city.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.