Empowering Citizens and Cities with Data in the Fight Against Climate Change


Our world is more fragile than we know, and everything that makes up the world—people, nations, religions, economies, ideologies—exists on just a fraction of it. If the earth were the size of a basketball, all that we know would be a paper-thin layer around it. And as climate change progresses, everything we know and love is at a greater risk of destruction.

There are a lot of conversations about climate change, but C40 takes a unique and pragmatic approach. We believe that making changes on a city level is the key to improving people’s lives, and the changes made in cities can reverberate across the rest of the globe.

Changes made in cities can reverberate across the rest of the globe.

Why Cities? Cities are financial, political, and economic hubs of power where diversity and innovation thrive. They are also more nimble and progressive than other societal systems, such as nation-states. In today’s world, cities occupy 2% of the world’s land mass but consume 75% of the world’s energy. And while cities generate more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product, they also create over 70% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a complex relationship with a lot of give and take—and it’s where we will find solutions to the most pressing problem of our time.

Meet C40, a Team for the Future

C40 is a global network of the mayors of nearly 100 cities, uniting in action to confront the climate crisis. These mayors are powerful advocates for a green and just recovery from the pandemic while leading the fight against the climate crisis.

Today, the C40 Cities represent 582 million residents and influence 896 million people. The 96 cities are spread across six continents, producing approximately 20% of the global economy.

One of the biggest goals for each C40 city is to cut its share of emissions in half by 2030. This reduction will happen by building resilient, sustainable, and equitable cities, tackling some of the highest polluting sectors, and integrating climate adaptation measures.

Initiatives driving cities toward this lofty goal include:

  • Facilitating access to finance for climate change mitigation and resilience projects
  • Scaling up climate action and sharing best practices across key high-impact sectors
  • Building a global movement through robust international diplomacy, advocacy, and coalition-building with all sectors of society

These programs and initiatives are driving change across an incredible array of areas, including water and air quality, food systems, transportation, and waste management. C40 mayors are committed to using an inclusive, science-based, and collaborative approach to help the world limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius and build healthy, equitable, and resilient communities.

An Evidence-Based Approach to Sharing Information

One of the strengths of the C40 city network is that every initiative and undertaking is rooted in evidence. And that’s not just about the information-gathering process; it’s also about how that information is shared. Here is where our partnership with Qlik comes into play.

When C40 was just getting off the ground, we signed agreements with each city to provide the necessary consultation and data to launch their climate initiatives. It was relatively easy to gather plenty of information for the different cities, but we didn’t have an effective or efficient way to share it with other cities in the network that wanted to realize the same benefits as their peers. Public data sets were available, but finding the right information required a lot of work and some hefty digging through complicated spreadsheets.

In 2017, C40 created a data analytics and visualisation team, and the first thing they did was search for the right tools and platforms that could help cities understand and take action from big data. We turned to Qlik, which would allow us to combine city data with public data sets and make insights easily accessible with the help of the Qlik Associative Engine. The result, the C40 Knowledge Hub, launched in 2019. Its primary purpose was to allow any city that wanted to take action on climate change to access insights on topics ranging from air quality and waste to transportation and clean energy.

The cities were quick to leverage the new tool and its integrated Qlik dashboards and use the data to inform their activities. In fact, 90% of city survey respondents said they could take action after reviewing the data available on the Qlik dashboards on the Knowledge Hub.

Watching Ease of Use Grow Adoption

I came to C40 in 2022 as the City Intelligence Analyst, Visualisation Developer, and Qlik Administrator. Even though we have a grave task ahead of us, I am motivated to make data analysis easier and more fun. I’ve had a long career in enterprise software, particularly enterprise resource planning, and I entered the Qlikverse 14 years ago as a partner. In the time since, I’ve worked in many areas, including training, sales, implementation, QA, and support. I use every trick in the book to teach people how to make sense of data and use it for a specific purpose—in this case, to build a better future for every human on the planet.

Since implementing Qlik, our use has dramatically expanded. Today, more than 260 of the 370 people who work at C40 use Qlik. We have a server for our internal users and another one for our external users. Our more than 50 apps, which include the C40 Knowledge Hub and private city pages, see over 4,400 external visits monthly.

So what can we track with Qlik? Just about everything. Here are a few metrics we’re currently tracking and visualizing:

  • City emissions modeling
  • City policies and practices
  • Climate action status
  • Race to Zero pledges
  • Events and participation

We can also review private city dashboards and Knowledge Hub article popularity and feedback, which are both critical for making proactive changes and keeping our Knowledge Hub functional and valuable.

We run one Qlik Cloud instance, which allows for new internal app development. By the end of 2023, we’re hoping to fully migrate to the cloud, a process that is being made simpler by the Qlik Migration Center.

Making Climate-Tracking Data Challenges Manageable

Partnering with Qlik allows C40 to share data in ways we couldn’t before, and help cities implement a standard methodology for climate data. Still, some challenges remain.

Different cities often use different methodologies to collect and analyze data, leading to varying results. It can also be difficult to blend data from CDP-ICLEI, the world’s leading climate reporting platform, with more specific data collected from surveys and other methods. Tracking climate data depends largely on each city’s priorities and the mechanisms they have to collect the necessary data.

Qlik helps us make these challenges manageable. We’re using Qlik extensively to parse, clean, and standardize data, minimizing the impact of differing data collection techniques from multiple sources. Qlik’s hassle-free deployment and intuitive interface facilitate a seamless learning experience for all our users.

Delivering a Brighter Climate Future

Using Qlik, we’ve created dashboards for tracking data relevant to several of our initiatives, including greenhouse gas emissions, the impact of coal power plants on air pollution, and the 15-minute city initiatives explorer. Qlik has allowed us to drive action in cities through data and provide scientific evidence. We’ve also been able to provide the know-how to cities through best practice policy dashboards that show how other cities are taking action, driving recommendations on the most impactful actions cities can take for the best results.

Individual citizens are a big part of the solution, so we’ve opened our Knowledge Hub for anyone to access that information. For example, in Boston, commercial property owners are required to report their energy consumption to the city. While some followed through, many didn’t. Individuals can go into the Knowledge Hub, locate those dashboards, and see for themselves if the building where they work or live is compliant. If citizens learn that their building is not compliant, they can become advocates, demanding that building owners do better.

Access to technology and information is driving citizen advocacy, which is critical in the fight against climate change.

We received a Qlik 2023 Global Transformation award for our efforts, a recognition that we’re on the right track. And even though we have come a long way, there are many platform features we plan to leverage, including Qlik Intelligent Data Alerts, Reporting, Qlik Application Automation, and Qlik AutoML, which offers predictive capabilities. We plan to redesign our data strategy using Qlik Data Integration and incorporate even more user-made apps. We’ll help facilitate the evolution of citizen developers, too, with data literacy courses through Qlik Continuous Classroom and best practices training. 

As we make use of these capabilities, we can better consult our member cities, and they can get initiatives off the ground faster. These tools facilitate critical connections and collaborations, and the faster cities can learn from one another, the faster they can move to mitigate the effects of climate change.