Friday, 28 June 2013

Feeding the World: The Challenge of Energy for Food Security

This article by Helena Wright, Imperial College London is part of the Wikiprogress Environment Series.
Back in 2008, business leaders at the World Economic Forum raised a call for awareness of the nexus between water, food and energy security, as well as climate change.  They realised that there is a serious water crisis ahead, as many groundwater resources are depleted, while demand for food and energy is increasing.  By 2030, the world’s population and economic growth are expected to lead to a 40% increase in energy and water demand, and a 50% increase in food demand.  Meanwhile, climate change puts additional strain on agriculture.
Energy is crucial for production and transport of food, from the ‘farm to fork’.  The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN estimates the food sector currently accounts for around 30% of the world’s total energy consumption and over 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.
As illustrated in the graph below, the increases in food prices of recent years have been closely linked to rising energy and oil prices, with serious economic implications. The poor are particularly affected by high food prices as they spend a high proportion of income on food. Worryingly, the triple food, fuel and financial crisis of recent years may be a taste of things to come.
Global agriculture is highly dependent on energy from fossil fuel-burning for many processes, from on-farm mechanisation, to fertiliser production, to food processing and transportation. The price of oil is also closely correlated with the price of fertiliser.
The emerging biofuel market increases interdependencies between food and energy prices, since feed and fodder commodities are being used for biofuel, and also because a higher oil price increases demand for biofuel. The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has found that growing bio-fuels from crops is extremely water-intensive, as well as being a practice which puts pressure on food crops.  According to the FAO, it takes 2,500 litres of water to produce one litre of biofuel for transportation. New legislation may be needed to address the impact of biofuel mandates on food and water security.
Energy and water are both absolutely essential for food.  This is especially true because irrigation is used for the production of roughly 40% of global food.  In this way, agriculture accounts for about 70% of all freshwater withdrawal.  Inefficiency in one area can also lead to inefficiency in another. For example, subsidised electricity for irrigation can lead to over-pumping, which contributes to groundwater depletion. Where water is extremely scarce, desalination – which is highly energy-intensive – is used.
As conventional fossil-fuel sources become depleted, we have seen a shift to processes like hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) which are even more water-intensive.  Extraction and processing of oil sands uses about 100-1000 litres of water per gigajoule (GJ), compared to 10-100 litres for conventional oil and gas. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), 79% of new planned power capacity in India will be built in water-stressed areas. Use of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology also increases water consumption.
Renewable energy has brought new challenges.  Hydropower, already the world’s dominant source of renewable energy, is a prime example of a technology that must be carefully managed to avoid negative impacts.   Dams can affect biodiversity, fish migration and have impacts on downstream food security.  It is clear we must start to think about the ‘water productivity’ of energy.  Solar power, for example, hardly uses any water.
In the long-term, it will be necessary for our food to be produced using sustainable energy resources and this is likely to require a transformation in agricultural systems.  At the moment, we are seeing the opposite occur: food crops such as maize and soy are being used to fuel energy-consuming transport. This issue must be tackled. Otherwise, there is a risk food prices will continue to sky-rocket.
Research is only just beginning to explore the complex issues in the food-energy-water nexus. What is clear is that better collaboration is needed between different sectors. Policy-makers must ensure that expansion of certain types of energy does not put a strain on other vital resources.
At the UN climate talks in Doha last month, it was evident that policy-makers often work in silos – for instance, there can be little cooperation between those working on reducing emissions and those on adapting to climate change.  This may have led to the controversial issues created by biofuel expansion.   It is clear a more holistic outlook is needed in tackling these problems and managing increasing demands for energy, water and food.

This article first appeared in the Outreach Magazine 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Launch of the Gender Equality Index

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has released the first Gender Equality Index for the European Union on 13 June 2013 in Brussels.

"The Gender Equality Index shows differences in outcomes between women and men at the individual level in EU Member States (...) This unique measurement tool supports evidence-based policy-making and indicates where political priorities should be shifted to accelerate the process of achieving a gender-equal Europe".

Virginija Langbakk, Director of EIGE (read more).

The Gender Equality Index provides a measure of how far or how close a Member State was from achieving gender equality in 2010. The Index scores the EU overall as well as each Member State in six core domains:
  1. work
  2. money
  3. knowledge
  4. time
  5. power
  6. health
and two satellite domains: intersecting inequalities and violence.

The score assigned to each country goes from 1 (no gender equality) to 100 (full gender equality).

The average EU score is 54, indicating that the EU is still about half-way to achieving a gender-equal society. Interestingly, it is the domain of power that highlights the biggest gender gap, with an average score of only 38 at EU level, followed closely by the domain of time with a score of 38.8, which points to wide differences between women and men when it comes to time spent on unpaid caring and domestic activities.

There will be regular updates for this Gender Equality Index, which hopes to offer EU policy makers a reliable tool in assessing the progress and effectiveness of policies aimed at improving gender equality in general and specific policy areas.

More information:
Estelle Loiseau
Wikigender Co-ordinator

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Adolescent Well-Being in Focus

Image taken from HBSC International Study 2011

Last week, Wikichild launched its first online discussion at Health Behavior in School-Aged Children’s 30thAnniversary event in St. Andrews, Scotland. The event, which spread over three days, featured a diverse range of speakers including participants from UNICEF, the OECD and Johns Hopkins University, who each in turn offered their insight into the field of child well-being.

The Wikichild presentation and following discussion were a great success with members of the audience showing enthusiasm for the online consultation platform. At Wikichild, Wikiprogress and Wikigender, it is our hope that these online discussions will allow researchers and policy makers to interact with members of the public and thus garner a more comprehensive perspective on important topics such as child well-being.

An interesting point that was raised during our presentation was that the online discussion references children without specifying what we mean by the word. Do we mean someone younger than 18 years or young people between 10 and 19 years? The consultation is intended to encapsulate opinions on the well-being of very young children and adolescents, however, the audience member who raised the issue, stipulated that the well-being of each group must be measured separately, both now, and in the future.

According to a recent Lancet paper on adolescent health, the health of young people between the age of 10-24 has improved far less than that of younger children over the past 50 years. This is due in part to the inadequate identification by researches and policy makers of adolescents as an individual group. It seems that the term young person not only has a number of different meanings but a range of definitions, which often overlap: a ‘child’ is defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a person younger than 18 years, ‘adolescence’ is categorized by the World Health 0rganization as the period between 10 and 19 years, the UN defines ‘youth’ as people aged between 15 and 24 years and so on (‘Adolescence: a foundation for future health’ – The Lancet). As a  result, governing bodies have struggled to focus investments to address the needs of adolescents.   

‘Building a worldwide agenda for adolescent health needs an escalation in the visibility of young people and an understanding of challenges to their health and development.’ Seizing the opportunities of adolescent health – The Lancet
While child well-being in itself is a fairly new topic of study, adolescent health is a much younger discipline by comparison. Decades of clinical experience and research has generated noticeable improvements in the growth and the integration of child public health, and members of the Lancet team argue that the same process must be applied to the field of adolescent well-being. 

The present generation of young people is the largest in history – with a population of 1.8 million, the majority of which live in low-income countries. In Africa for example, Young people aged between 15 and 25 represent more than 60 per cent of the continent’s total population and account for 45 per cent of the total labour force. Adolescents face notably different challenges from previous generations including rising poverty, inadequate education and mass unemployment and as a result there are increasing calls by experts for adolescent well-being to be high on the agenda for future development frameworks such as Post-2015.

To have your say on what you believe are the most important domains of well-being for young people, and how these areas should be measured, leave a comment on our discussion page. The conversation has already had some excellent input and we want to hear your opinion. Make your voice heard!

Robbie Lawrence
Wikichild Coordinator 

Monday, 24 June 2013

Renewable Energy : Why the Definition Needs to be Revised

This article by Almuth Ernsting, European Focal Point of the Global Forest Coalition and Co-director of Biofuelwatch is part of the Wikiprogress Environment Series.

Climate change mitigation and sustainability are the key rationales for increasing the share of renewable energy.  Yet definitions of renewable energy used by policy-makers are so broad that subsidy regimes and other policies to promote renewable energy are able to result in highly negative climate, environmental and human impacts. 
According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy is “derived from natural processes…that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed”.  In reality, North America’s and Europe’s renewable energy policies are heavily focused on large-scale wood combustion for electricity and heat – which depends on increased logging and the expansion of monoculture tree plantations – and on greater use of transport biofuels. 
The fact that soils, freshwater, and ecosystems are being destroyed rather than replenished in this process is ignored. Also overlooked is the growing volume of evidence that industrial bioenergy – both biomass combustion and transport biofuels – commonly cause more greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they might replace. A growing volume of peer-reviewed studies documents the scale of those emissions, which result from indirect land-use change, increased fertiliser use and other causes.
In the US, bioenergy accounts for 44% of all energy classed as renewable – more than any other technology.  The US Energy Information Administration expects its share to grow much faster than that of the renewables sector overall until 2040.  In Canada, the share of bioenergy amongst ‘renewables’ is surpassed only by that of large-scale hydropower.
In the EU, according to Member States’ 2010 renewable energy plans, bioenergy would have a 54.5% share of the 2020 renewable energy target. Most of this would come from burning 80-100 million tonnes of wood a year.  This is likely to be an underestimate:  in the UK alone, companies have announced power station plans which would require around 90 million tonnes of wood annually – nine times as much as the country produces.
The result of these ‘renewable energy policies’ is a massively increased demand for wood, vegetable oil, cereals and, crucially, for land.  Biofuels still only account for 3% of global transport fuel, yet, according to a report by the International Land Coalition, they were responsible for 59% of all land-grabs between 2000 and 2010.  By pushing up the price of cereals and vegetable oils, they have led both to greater hunger and malnutrition, and to the increased destruction of forests and other ecosystems – including peatlands – for palm oil, soy and other plantations. 
Those impacts are being intensified with the rush towards industrial wood-based bioenergy. In the longer term, industry and governments expect much of the wood for EU power stations to come from new tree plantations in South America and Africa, threatening yet more land-grabs and ecosystem destruction. The demand for land for tree monocultures also exacerbates shortages of land for food production and causes rural depopulation further compromising national food sovereignty (see: Women, Indigenous Peoples, pastoralists and small farmers – particularly those without formal land titles – suffer most from these land grabs and from the resulting food shortages, as well as from associated water depletion and ‘water grabs’.
In response to growing awareness of the harms resulting from bioenergy, industry and governments are developing ‘sustainability standards’.  However, these ignore the fact that deforestation and forest degradation, as well as other impacts, are primarily driven by excessive demand for wood and agricultural products.  A study published in Science projected that climate change mitigation policies, which tackle only fossil fuels and ignore the wider land-impacts of bioenergy, could lead to the destruction of all remaining forests, grasslands and most other ecosystems worldwide by 2065. Another study has shown that, even if bioenergy sustainability standards were enforced worldwide and bioenergy expansion relied on agricultural intensification, sub-Saharan Africa would lose 38% of its forests and wooded savannah and large amounts of grassland, while Latin America would lose 20% of its forests and savannah.
Given the volume of evidence of the serious negative impacts that industrial biofuels and large-scale biomass have on climate, forests, biodiversity, soil, water, and people, including them in the ‘renewable energy’ definition can no longer be justified.
Almuth Ernsting,
Almuth Ernsting is European Focal Point of the Global Forest Coalition and Co-director of Biofuelwatch.

This article first appeared in the Outreach Magazine 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Let’s Talk about Child Well-being

Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Wikigender and Wikichild invite you to participate in this online discussion.


Open from Wednesday 19 June until Tuesday 2 July 2013.

The discussion will be officially launched at the HBSC 30th Anniversary Meeting and aims to spark discussion on the most effective means of measuring child well-being and how these measures should be applied to upcoming development frameworks.

This discussion seeks to explore a variety of questions including:

  1. What is the actual state of child well-being today?
  2. What are the most important domains of well-being – specifically for children?
  3. What policies have had the most impact on children in the past? 
  4. Should there be a child development goal in the Post 2015 framework?

We would like to hear your views, lessons learned and best practices or policies on measuring child well-being.

Measuring child well-being has traditionally rested on economic measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP); however, it is now widely accepted that the well-being of the nation is influenced by a broad range of factors including economic performance, quality of life, the state of the environment, sustainability, equality, as well as individual well-being.

Over the last decade, organisations around the world have been developing new indicators of progress that look beyond GDP and economic growth when measuring child well-being.
The well-being of children is high on the agenda for policy makers and this online consultation, hosted by Wikichild, seeks to engage discussion on the most effective means of measuring child well-being and how these measures should be applied to upcoming development frameworks such as the Post-2015 agenda.

You can post a comment in a few clicks by going to the “Contribute!” section of the online discussion page. Here is the shortened link to the discussion page:  and the hashtag for Twitter is #childwellbeing .

To find out more about the questions asked and how to participate, please click here.

Make sure your voice heard!

Robbie Lawrence,
Wikichild Coordinator 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Climate Change and Health Beyond 2015: The Sustainable Development Agenda

This blog is part of the Wikiprogress Environment Series
Global Health Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Outcome Document from the recent Rio+20 Summit, “The Future We Want”, recognises that health is both a precondition for, and an outcome of, sustainable development. Climate change affects health through a myriad of exposure pathways, each presenting simultaneously both challenges and opportunities for sustainable health and development.
Interventions targeting either adaptation or mitigation of climate change, therefore, can have multiple health and societal benefits – the key is to find root points of leverage where a single policy might have numerous beneficiaries.
The relationship between health and all three original (1992) Rio Conventions – on Climate Change, Biological Diversity, and Desertification was recently documented in “Our Planet, Our Health, Our Future”, a collaborative effort between the World Health Organization (WHO) and all three Rio Conventions. In particular, the report revealed both risks and interdependencies. Climate change will directly lead to net negative health impacts, including through extreme weather events, spread of vector-borne disease, diarrhoeal disease, food security and malnutrition. Natural capital, such as biodiversity, underpins ecosystem services – upon which health and societal wellbeing depend – but are threatened by climate and land use change. Just a few measurable benefits that ecosystems provide mankind include flood protection, disease regulation, and water purification. Desertification leaves populations vulnerable to water quality degradation, water scarcity and droughts, decreases agro-ecosystem productivity and increases food scarcity/malnutrition.
If human society could advance from a carbon-intensive economy to a green economy, human health opportunities would abound. For example, reducing fossil fuel combustion might not only reduce the extent of climate change, but more immediately such intervention would improve air quality, and if done in the transportation sector, could potentially increase ‘active’ transport that subsequently would lower the risk of obesity and associated chronic diseases. This is just one policy example of how addressing climate change can both enhance sustainable development and save lives.
Sustainable development remains the central context of the post-2015 development agenda. Yet, at this juncture it is critical to acknowledge how health is inextricably linked to ecosystems and our earth’s climate; this awareness is especially salient in the UNFCCC process toward developing a set of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the centrality of health as both an input and outcome, and climate change as a cross-cutting issue, a new level of inter-sector awareness and collaboration is warranted, especially as revised targets and indicators are being drafted for the SDGs.
Furthermore, establishment of appropriate indicators will help ensure that interventions in any sector will lessen, rather than add to, the disease burden. WHO, in fact, is now strongly advocating a holistic “Health in All Policies” approach which accepts that population-wide health is determined by many sectors beyond solely health. The role of weather variability and health is obvious for thematic areas such as water and sanitation, food security and nutrition, and disaster management, as well as climate change specifically. Outcome indicators might include: annual mortality rates from climate-sensitive diseases (i.e. the sum of all vector-borne disease, diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition, and weather-related disasters etc.); household dietary diversity scores as an output indicator for food security; and percentage population with access to weather/climate-resilient infrastructure (such as water sources and hygienic sanitation facilities for example).
Health should also be a key consideration for other areas. Representative outcome indicators in the area of energy, for example, might include the percentage of households using only modern, low-emissions heating, cooking and lighting technologies that meet emission and safety standards; or measuring the burden of disease attributable to household air pollution could be another outcome indicator. Indicators for the reliability of energy supply to health facilities are also important. In jobs, healthy workforces are a precondition for sustainable development, and indicators such as the proportion of workplaces that comply with national occupational health and safety standards (an output indicator), or measuring occupational disease and injury rates (an outcome indicator) merit consideration.
Clearly the health of our human population depends on the healthy conditions across all societal sectors and natural systems. Climate change, now solidly tied to our  carbon-intensive economy, challenges all communities working on core elements of sustainable development. Human health has been relatively sidelined in the UN Framework Conventions, but now needs to be better interwoven into the process of defining the next set of global development goals.
Professor Jonathan Patz
This article first appeared on Outreach Magazine 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Putting green growth at the heart of development

Jan Corfee-Morlot, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, shares her insights on the OECD's recent publication "Putting Green Growth at the Heard of Development" . This blog is part of the Wikiprogress Environment Series.

The rapid pace of development in many developing countries raises the stakes for investments in development, but also begs reflection on the patterns or types of growth that are appropriate for a particular country context. Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Development is a new OECD publication. It explains why green growth is vital to secure a more sustainable future for developing countries and outlines how national and international action can help achieve this.
Green growth does not replace sustainable development, but is a key means to achieving it. Developing economies are highly dependent on natural resources and also highly vulnerable to resource scarcity and environmental risk. By integrating the value of natural assets into the growth model, green growth policies can deliver a range of developmental and environmental benefits. If policies are designed to respond to the needs of the poorest, green growth also can contribute to poverty reduction and social equity.
Based on in-depth consultations and engagement with a range of developing countries, this book brings to light 74 policies and measures from 37 countries as well as 5 regional initiatives that target green growth. Examples range from Cambodia to Ethiopia’s efforts to integrate green growth in national development plans, to China and Cameroon’s use of taxation policies to sustain the use of natural resources, or Indonesia and Ghana’s efforts to  boost government resources for priority issues and improve the incentives for clean energy investment through reform of fossil fuel subsidies. The large number of examples demonstrate growing interest and experience in developing countries with green growth policies. 
The report responds to many of the concerns and questions we often hear about green growth, for instance:  How do we manage the costs of implementing green growth? How do we make green growth and trade work together?
I’m sure that choosing a greener pathway for economic growth will generate up-front costs for some developing economies in the short term, whether to build better infrastructure or to put in place a system to limit over-harvesting of forests or fisheries. Balancing difficult short-term trade-offs with longer-term benefits will be challenging as countries make choices to deliver a more stable and sustainable future. Despite these challenges, the many examples described in the report present a clear and hopeful message: green growth can generate both wealth and well-being for citizens of current and future generations.
Developing countries will need leadership to integrate environmental concerns into development plans and to take bold actions to reform policies. It will be important to secure and publicise some immediate gains, but also to educate and inform people about the risks of non-green development pathways and the need to manage these. Lasting institutional reforms will need to build engagement, be step-wise and emphasise the need to learn and adjust to achieve green growth over time.
Beyond the national policy agenda, international cooperation can provide essential support to developing countries in managing a transition to green growth. Financing green infrastructure, strengthening access to international markets, boosting trade in green products and services, and promoting technological transfer and cooperation are key.
Highlighting both the opportunities and challenges, the OECD Secretary General Gurría said: “Putting green growth at the heart of the development agenda requires real political leadership to instil change at international, national and local levels. Our report shows that green growth can offer new opportunities for developing countries. We are looking forward to working with governments and the development co-operation community to reap the benefits of a greener growth path for the well-being of the people in our partner countries.”
Green growth can help countries to benefit from greater efficiency and productivity in natural resource use, and from innovation and new markets. More importantly, if we do not green our act today, the development achieved so far could be significantly eroded and future growth potential seriously compromised. Green growth is not an option – it is a must-do for delivering sustainable development and global security for all.
Jan Corfee-Morlot
Senior Policy Analyst and Environment and Development Team Leader, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

This post first appeared on the Green Growth.Knowledge Platform, here
For more information on OECD work on green growth and development, see: 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Could Big Data provide alternative measures of poverty and welfare?

This is the fifth in a series of ODI Development Progress blogs that debate how a post-2015 framework ought to measure poverty - find out more.

’Google knows more, or is in a position to know more, about France thanINSEE [National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies], two French scientists wrote in an op-ed published in Le Monde in January. In the context of developing countries, the question raised by this bold claim is: could Big Data help us know more about poverty and welfare, including, or perhaps especially, in places where the dearth of traditional data is often turning poverty monitoring and forecasting into an exercise in guesstimation? Could the Big Data revolution contribute to fixing part of the ‘statistical tragedy’?
The underlying argument is that these new kinds of data, stemming from individuals and communities as they go about their daily lives, contain insights into their experiences that we can mine to help them in return. This idea can be traced back to a much-cited 2009 paper, which found that light emissions picked up by satellites could track GDP growth.
Since then, widely cited evidence that Internet-based data could be used to monitor inflation in real-time and allow digital disease detection, as well as construct economic indicators to forecast the present, and build a’real-time growth index’, among many other applications, have given weight to the promise. Cell-phone Call Detail Records (CDRs), which capture the time, location, recipients’ location etc. of each call, have also helped model malaria spread, unveil reciprocity giving in the aftermath of disasters, and study internal migration.
So it seems only logical, and very appealing, to claim that the same data and tools could be deployed tomonitor poverty, and may even be conducive to leap-frogging of statistical systems. Although the term Big Data is absent from the report of the High-Level Panel on the post-2015 framework, it is hard not to read it between the lines of the development data revolution it sketches.
But conceptual clarity, practical guidance, ethical considerations and innovative foresight have too often been lacking, leaving an open field for sceptics who have long stressed the risks and challenges of Big Dataor insisted that the real revolution is small data (or long data). Findings that Google got flu wrong this year in the US have cast additional doubt on Internet-based data’s reliability, representativeness, and thus relevance, to inform policy decisions, while the revelations about PRISM have raised concerns over privacy to a whole new level. But recent publications and debates have shed direct light on some of the specific promise, challenges and requirements of leveraging Big Data to improve current, and perhaps develop alternative, measures of poverty and welfare.
In particular, a paper showed that cell-phone records from a major city in Latin America could help predict socioeconomic levels, poverty’s first cousins. This was done by matching CDR-inferred behavioural data and official statistics on socio-economic levels, using supervised machine learning techniques to unveil how differences in socioeconomic levels typically ‘showed’ in cell-phone data, and back. This example illustrates a key and seemingly purpose-defeating requirement for developing models and algorithms able to translate digital data into indicators of the social world: the availability of ‘ground truth’ indicators of the social world (such as survey data) used to build and validate the models.
But this does not mean that Big Data is useless, or rather superfluous, in such contexts: indeed, assuming a sufficiently high and time-resistant level of accuracy (internal validity), CDR data would then provide some sense of changes in socio-economic levels that would not get captured until the next official survey.
The problem is evidently more acute in places where no such data exist, ie precisely where alternative indicators are most needed. One avenue would be to apply ‘matching’ rules developed elsewhere to local CDRs. But the resulting ‘alternative’ indicators will be highly conjectural because the underlying algorithm may not pass the test of external validity: applying a model matching CDRs and socio-economic levels developed using CDRs and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data from Côte d’Ivoire to a neighbouring country, may yield misleading values because of cross-country differences. In such a case, the question is: is any data better than no data at all? 
Another recent paper studying the impact of biases in mobile-phone ownership on estimates of human mobility inferred from CDRs is also worth mentioning for two reasons. One is its key finding: that CDR-based estimates of mobility appeared to be surprisingly robust to substantial biases in phone ownership, which may turn out to be equally true for measures of welfare. The other is its research question and method: asking how accurate a picture of the social world some Big Data streams may paint, given, or in spite of, their inherent biases, drawing (again) on survey data as ’ground truth data’.
Noteworthy investment and progress are also visible in the critical strand of research (and advocacy) on privacy-preserving analysis. In particular, researchers, using CDRs for mobility analysis too, have developed an algorithm that uses an emerging technique known as ‘differential privacy’ that injects ‘noise’ into the model at points in order to reduce the likelihood of individual re-identification.
Although not directly concerned with poverty these papers are important because they point specifically to the methodological avenues and leads that need to be explored to develop privacy-preserving Big Data capacities that may, in time, help monitor poverty.
It is also crucial to note that Big Data is not only about data production (and analysis), but also about data consumption (and exchange). If we care about adequately monitoring human welfare, we should account for the consumption of free data. Think of the hours spent on social media in cyber-cafés, and increasingly on cellphones, around the world, that provide a ‘consumer surplus’ not captured in any official statistics. The caveat may not apply to the poorest of the poor, but there is no reason to consider that a problem receiving increasing attention in developed countries is irrelevant to developing countries where Internet penetration is growing much faster. In other words: Big Data do not stand apart from the quantities and phenomena to be measured but add to the measurement problem.
The related, and perhaps even more critical, point here is that the rise of data-driven activities is deemed to render GDP (and GDP per capita) less and less relevant over time as the measure of human welfare it was never intended to be. The argument that monetary poverty and GDP per capita are very crude indicators of human progress is not new, but Big Data may prove instrumental in devising true alternative measures.
In particular, the growing availability of such rich individual data about people’s behaviors and desires will offer new options for communities to capture, monitor and improve their own welfare in ways that mayincrease local empowerment through Big Data—very far from the misleading notion that Big Data is about offering a 30,000 foot view of the world.
A few take-away messages emerge. First, for the purposes of poverty monitoring or development more broadly, “Big Data” is not about size, but about the qualitative nature of these data trails—what some refer to as “digital breadcrumbs”. Second, Big Data is not even primarily about the data but about the carefulness of their analysis, which requires even more, not less, contextual and ethnographic grounding. Third, Big Data is also about data consumption, not just production. Lastly, much more conceptual, empirical and methodological work is needed before Big Data can be leveraged concretely and safely for poverty monitoring; but Big Data may in time fundamentally change how we measure, and perhaps even fight, poverty.

Other contributions to the ODI Development Progress debate on measuing poverty come from Martin Ravallion on two goals for fighting poverty, Lant Pritchett on the case for a high global poverty line, Stephan Klasen's argument for internationally coordinated national poverty measurement, Sabina Alkire's proposal for a multidimensional poverty index post-2015 and Amanda Lenhardt on the need for disaggregated poverty measurement.

Emmanuel Letouzé is a PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley and a regular consultant for the UN and the OECD, currently serving as a Non-Resident Adviser at the International Peace Institute and an adviser on Big Data for the OECD-Paris 21 initiative. He previously worked as senior development economist on the UN Global Pulse team where he wrote 'Big Data for Development: Challenges and Opportunities'