Another Year in Review: Where is Wikimedia in the Climate Crisis? Seeing the impact of Wikimedia Projects

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As this post is being published, India is in the midst of its hottest summer in 120 years. Temperatures have soared to more than 53°C (127°F), resulting in over 219 deaths and over 25,000 cases of heat stroke. In July, the planet experienced both its hottest day and hottest month ever recorded. Heat waves and other extreme weather events have had tremendous, and at times irreversible, impacts on natural biological systems, with negative consequences for the planet predicted to grow at faster rates over time. 

In the midst of this growing climate crisis, Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects have become a key resource for providing neutral, verifiable information about climate science in hundreds of languages. In 2023, the Wikimedia projects saw nearly 340 million pageviews to content about climate change. Of those pageviews, 60% were of content in languages other than English. Information about the climate crisis is both critical and sought-after across regions and languages, and volunteer Wikimedians are working hard to document the world’s knowledge on the topic. 

Over the past year and a half, Wikimedians and the Wikimedia Foundation have mobilized around the climate crisis. Our joint efforts resulted in campaigns, trainings, partnerships and more, and through these efforts written content, as well as multimedia and data, grew steadily across Wikimedia projects. Read on to learn more about efforts supported by the Foundation to address knowledge gaps about climate related topics, volunteer-led efforts to organize around and expand the volume of climate content, as well as the Foundation’s internal policies around improving environmental sustainability. 

Expanding support for sustainability action 

In 2023, the Wikimedia Foundation continued to invest in campaigns focused on increasing content about climate change on the Wikimedia projects and providing training and tools for volunteer organizers focused on topics for impact like climate change.

The 2023 WikiForHumanRights campaign, organized by Wikimedia Argentina, Wikimedistas de Bolivia, Wikimedia Chile, Wikimedia Colombia, WikiAcción Perú, Wikimedistas de la Universidad de La Plata and Wikimedistas de Uruguay and supported by the Foundation, ran from April to June 2023. It focused on the theme of pollution, which is one of the Triple Planetary Crises themes in focus at the United Nations and a frequent focus area of contributors in past WikiForHumanRights campaigns. 900 people participated in the campaign, creating over 9,000 Wikipedia articles across dozens of languages, 5,000 Wikidata items and 7,000 uploads on Wikimedia Commons. This includes content on pollution translated into languages across a number of different language wikis, such as Arabic, Hausa, Spanish and Bikol. These contributions mean that there is now a greater global diversity of content on pollution and other environmental crises. Communities from North Africa, to the Philippines, to Colombia and beyond are finding unique local ways to document the challenges created by the climate crises, such as adding environment related vocabulary to Wiktionary and arranging for photo hikes to document climate change in the Philippines. 

During 2023, the Foundation also piloted the Organizer Lab—an initiative funded via the Foundation’s internal carbon fee. 2023 marked the graduation of the first cohort of Organizer Lab organizers, with a second round of participants graduating earlier this year. Across the cohorts, we graduated 48 organizers who spent 12 weeks learning from case studies and examples about the UN Sustainable Development goals, climate change, and how content on the Wikimedia projects can increase awareness and education. The training also covered the intersections of knowledge equity and gender perspectives on climate science, and the importance of closing these knowledge gaps on Wikimedia.  Some of these organizers ran projects explicitly focused on sustainability themes, and most are reporting adding new themes, topics and perspectives to their tactics . Projects like the Wiki Climate Campus Tour Nigeria and Wiki Green Conference in Ghana allow these communities to connect local enthusiasm for sustainability issues with the role of digital platforms like Wikipedia.

Volunteer led efforts to expand climate content 

While the Foundation funds specific, targeted interventions related to closing knowledge gaps, most of the work related to climate, sustainability and environmental issues is led by Wikimedia volunteers. Here are just a few examples of the work led by volunteers to expand climate content in 2023:

Through campaigns and other initiatives, Wikimedia volunteers create knowledge which, in turn, enables other knowledge communities to strengthen their own work about climate change and related topics: 

  • Biodiversity Heritage Library: In 2023, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)–the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives– released a white paper in which “Wikimedia’s core projects, particularly Wikidata, take center stage”. In its research, the BHL leveraged Wikidata as the place to integrate its biodiversity and climate change related data to be able to gather insights more quickly and effectively. The researchers write, “Wikidata helps with the problem of opening data silos. There is a lot of knowledge out there, we know a lot about our surroundings, but it is hidden behind paywalls in silos. Wikidata bursts these silos open for the greater public to be used.” They state furthermore that “[Wikidata] is the missing ‘technical infrastructure’ sought after by climate policymakers, national governments, and intergovernmental organizations.”

Documenting the Foundation’s internal practices around sustainability

In addition to providing grants and financial support to Wikimedia communities to improve the content on the Wikimedia projects about sustainability, the Wikimedia Foundation endeavors to document and improve our internal sustainability practices over time. 

Every year, we publish an inventory of our annual Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Scope 1 refers to our direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources owned or controlled by the Foundation like natural gas consumption at our San Francisco office. Scope 2 refers to indirect emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat and cooling, such as electricity and heating for the San Francisco office. Scope 3 refers to indirect emissions generated indirectly by our operations, such as energy related to remote work, emission from Foundation-sponsored travel for staff and volunteers, and energy used by our data center vendors. 

We are continually exploring ways to understand and reduce the impact of our activities on the environment. Since 2021, we have imposed a US$50/ton internal carbon fee on our Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, with the revenue being reinvested in movement-led climate initiatives. We put this fee in place in 2021 and are continuing to explore a long term strategy for its use. 

In 2023, our scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions totaled 3,946 metric tons of CO2-equivalent. Year-over-year, our scope 1 and 2 emissions remained static, while our scope 3 emissions increased by 1ktCO2, or 35%. This change was driven by increased travel to community convenings compared to 2022. In 2023, we saw the return of an in-person Wikimania and Wikimedia Hackathon, events for which the Foundation sponsors, and thus tracks emissions for, travel for both staff attendees and volunteer scholarship recipients. In 2023, Wikimania was held in the East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific (ESEAP) region for the first time in ten years, which significantly increased our overall air mileage. Staff travel to internal offsites and business meetings remained more or less the same year-over-year, as we continue to incorporate learnings from the pandemic and act more intentionally when deciding to meet in person. Our data center emissions, the second largest source of emissions next to business travel, increased slightly in 2023, in line with expected annual data center growth. 

In the coming fiscal year, the Foundation will be moving into a much smaller office in San Francisco as we support a more globally distributed workforce and fewer in-person staff office needs. This is expected to result in a small reduction in both Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Also next fiscal year, the Wikimedia Foundation’s travel team will begin directly managing flight and hotel bookings for major volunteer-led conferences like WikiConference North America and WikiIndaba, which will allow us to quantify the environmental impact of our conference grant portfolio for the first time ever.

Moreover, our team responsible for selecting new data center locations, is getting better at identifying future sites that balance our server needs with the carbon intensity of the local grid. In 2023, we conducted a search for our ninth data center server site in South America, to reduce latency and improve resiliency for users in that region. More information about this will be shared soon.

You can learn more about our emissions and sustainability initiatives on Meta.

Looking ahead: we’re in this together

As public understanding of the climate crisis grows, the Wikimedia movement has a crucial role to play in highlighting overlooked perspectives about the impact of climate change around the world and expanding our knowledge. An equitable approach to solving the climate crises starts with global perspectives that include content on languages and regions often neglected by academic and international institutions. This is not work that we can do alone! We encourage everyone to get involved. You can learn more about the initiatives and tactics happening around the movement – and how to get involved – in the regular newsletter published by the Wikimedians for Sustainable Development.

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