Huadong Guo, a visionary leader in the field of sustainable development and big earth data science, shares his remarkable journey in establishing the International Research Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS). Delve into his insights on breaking down data barriers, fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration, and harnessing the power of big data to drive positive change on a global scale. Explore how CBAS is shaping the future of sustainable development by utilizing the SDGSAT-1 satellite and paving the way for evidence-based policies and transformative solutions.
Which wall does your research break?
With a growing number of sensors and devices that digitize environments, movements, structures, and human interactions, we now have multiple streams of data about our surroundings and the impacts we have, thereby reducing uncertainty about our actions and their consequences. Yet, this wealth of data is walled off from most people due to various barriers in data and information sharing, especially for sustainable development. I have therefore made it my mission to break this wall by establishing big data platforms including satellites, cloud computing infrastructure, and organizational frameworks.
Working as Chief Scientist for the Chinese Academy of Sciences Big Earth Data Science Engineering Program (CASEarth), I developed the concept of Big Earth Data science, advocating for the use of vast Earth observation data to fill in gaps in interdisciplinary data to support sustainable development. To this end, I established an SDG Big Data Platform currently sharing 17 PB of data, accessible worldwide. It is part of 2030 CONNECT, part of the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM). I also initiated the first SDG science satellite (SDGSAT-1), launched in 2021, and the data is open to the world. As platforms for disseminating ideas on big data, I established two scientific journals, Big Earth Data with an impact factor of 4, and International Journal of Digital Earth with an impact factor of 5.1.
However, realizing the need for an international research platform to support SDGs, I took the initiative to establish the International Research Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS), building upon achievements in data analysis and computational infrastructure during the CASEarth Program. A research platform dedicated to open-source solutions and digital resources for global applications in sustainable development holds immense potential to benefit society through information and scientific knowledge. To mark CBAS’ establishment, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ sent congratulatory video remarks, providing encouraging international recognition for this breakthrough initiative.
Through CBAS, I aim to remove barriers in research and collaboration to foster innovation through an international platform for global scientists to contribute to global collective interests under the UN framework. CBAS is playing a pivotal role in enhancing capabilities in developing countries, where a comprehensive understanding of sustainability challenges is crucial. By leveraging the research conducted at CBAS, these countries can gain valuable insights into the complexities of sustainable development and strengthen their policy development. Therefore, the establishment of CBAS represents a significant step forward in utilizing data to tackle pressing global challenges.
What inspired or motivated you to work on your current research or project?
My motivation to establish CBAS has been an evolutionary process and an outcome of my experiences and motivations to work toward science that benefits society.
I strongly believe that, globally, human civilization is in the process of an unprecedented technological transformation providing us with unique opportunities to bring about positive changes in our society, unlike at any point before in history. Emerging technologies have helped to develop innovative solutions for economic, social, and environmental challenges. The interconnectivity brought about through technological advancement has reduced geographical and communication gaps and created new economic and development models, yet intellectual, scientific, and technological gaps remain. Promotion and propagation of technological exchanges between nations is therefore essential to bridge these gaps, and to share economic and social prosperity with those that have remained deprived of its benefits.
Utility and adoption of modern technologies, even though limited in the global South, exhibit tremendous potential for growth and adoption. Transfer of technology and knowledge-driven development has therefore, understandably, remained an important priority of the UN. With a strong belief in this strategy, I believe that promoting investments in infrastructure and human resource development are the key drivers to spearhead technological development in many nations of the world. Strong private and public partnerships hold the potential to realize rapid progress toward the adoption of these technologies and therefore an international research center provides an opportunity to bring together experts and professionals to work towards these goals.
With this desire to support UN efforts to improve global digital technology, I felt the need for an international center for growth in human potential and to develop a framework for future cooperation and engagement in technological development, cooperation, and transfer.
UN General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi said, “Now you’re showing us an example of how to collect data, how to process data, how to use data for evaluating the SDGs and making it available to the whole world.” Recognition such as this strengthens my resolve and continues to fuel my passion to continue my efforts toward global sustainable development.
In what ways does society benefit from your research?
The work being done at CBAS will facilitate societies around the world to adapt, localize and utilize new digital resources for sustainability projects. CBAS has already established an SDG Big Data Platform that provides tailored services for a diverse range of users by integrating over a hundred algorithms and tools on a unified platform. The platform provides the capabilities for data collection, storage, production, and online tools to monitor SDG indicators. We have received 19 million requests from 136 countries.
To support global research, policy development, and decision support, CBAS has established a Data Sharing Platform making petabytes of data easily accessible to users in different parts of the world.
To improve the utility of Earth observation data for SDGs, CBAS launched the SDGSAT-1 satellite equipped with a Thermal Infrared Spectrometer and Glimmer and Multispectral Imaging sensors. These 3 sensors provide the capability to synergistically depict traces of anthropic activities and will support the study of SDG indicators related to human-nature interaction. These data are provided free of charge to UN member states, and to date, 71 countries have used SDGSAT-1 data. CBAS is also working to develop new value-added data products for policy and decision support for SDGs. For example, based on SDGSAT-1, CBAS developed SDG data products presented to the Science Academies of BRICS Countries in 2022. Similarly, global-scale SDG Data Products were presented during the 77th UN General Assembly in 2022 and 7 global water resources data products were presented during the UN Water Conference in March 2023. In addition, SDG products, developed by CBAS, were also presented to Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, by the Chinese Government, which she acknowledged during her visit to CBAS on June 29, 2023. She spoke highly of CBAS for its “truly impressive” big data and innovative research for the SDGs, and emphasized seeing the power behind the data.
To promote knowledge and understanding of the uses of Big Earth Data and Earth observation data, our team has published several reports on Big Earth Data in support of the SDGs since 2019. So far, we have published more than 100 case studies in these reports, highlighting 84 new data products and sharing more than 50 innovative methodologies to provide actionable solutions.
CBAS efforts have not only demonstrated big data for developing SDG products, but also provided key components to create online applications for knowledge discovery and decision-making.
Looking ahead, what are your hopes or aspirations for the future based on your research or project?
I have dedicated significant effort and poured my accumulated experiences into the establishment of CBAS. It is the culmination of my passion for sustainable development and my desire to contribute to society in a meaningful way. CBAS represents my legacy, and my vision for it goes beyond its inception. I envision CBAS as a thriving hub for cross-disciplinary and global research collaboration.
By fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration, CBAS I believe, will break down silos and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and ideas across diverse fields of study. This cross-pollination of expertise and perspectives will spark innovation and lead to breakthrough solutions for the complex sustainability challenges we face. I aspire for CBAS to serve as a catalyst for collaboration, bringing together experts from various disciplines, backgrounds, and regions, united by a shared commitment to global progress.
I firmly believe that CBAS will play a pivotal role in creating a culture of trust among stakeholders. Trust is essential for effective collaboration, knowledge sharing, and joint problem-solving. Through transparent and inclusive practices, CBAS will foster an environment where all stakeholders feel valued and empowered. This culture of trust will motivate and incentivize individuals, organizations, and nations to actively participate in maximizing the utilization of our scientific and social resources.
CBAS’s impact will extend not only to the global level but also to national and individual levels. By providing accessible resources, fostering collaboration, and promoting knowledge exchange, I look forward to the time when CBAS will support countries in developing evidence-based policies and decision-making processes that are informed by the latest scientific research. Through the cooperative and harmonious efforts facilitated by CBAS, we can collectively work towards achieving a global society that values sustainability and inclusivity.