As enablers of an increasingly interconnected world, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) constitute valuable tools in processes of transformation and change. Deeply embedded into the socio-economic fabric of both developed and developing countries, the role of ICTs is gaining momentum as part of sustainable development, environmental and climate change strategies.
Acknowledging their ubiquitous role in our society, from the way in which we communicate, network and interact, to the way in which we learn, play, conduct business or access government services, among others, ICTs are a key part of the ‘present we have’.
But how about of ‘The Future We Want’?
‘The Future We Want’ was the motto of the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development that took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012. While the conference addressed a broad range of issues, including the role of a green economy towards sustainable development and poverty reduction and the improvement of international coordination, the role of ICTs was recognised in a number of ways.
In the Rio+20 outcome document, the role of ICTs is explicitly mentioned in regards to five key areas of action towards the achievement of sustainable development:
a) ICTs and Multi-stakeholder Engagement
- Article 44 of the outcome document recognises the role of ICTs facilitating the flow of information between governments and the public, enabling public engagement in sustainable development. The document calls for governments to “work toward improved access to ICT, especially broad-band network and services, and bridge the digital divide, recognizing the contribution of international cooperation in this regard”.
b) ICTs, Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building
- Article 65 of the outcome document acknowledges the potential of ICTs to promote knowledge exchange, technical cooperation and capacity building for sustainable development. The article emphasizes the role of these tools in fostering experiences and knowledge sharing in different areas of sustainable development in an “open and transparent manner”.
c) ICTs, Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture
- With the aim of improving agricultural productivity and sustainability, Article 114 of the outcome document calls for government action to improve access to “information, technical knowledge and know-how, including through new ICTs that empower farmers, fishers and foresters to choose among diverse methods of achieving sustainable agricultural production”.
d) ICTs and Energy Efficiency
- Article 128 of the outcome document recognizes the need to improve energy efficiency and the role of energy-efficient technologies in addressing sustainable development and climate change goals, including energy efficiency measures in urban planning, buildings, and transportation, and in the production of goods and services. These constitute areas in which ICTs have proven potential to reduce emissions through ‘smart’ applications (e.g. smart motor systems, smart logistics, smart buildings and smart grids).
e) ICTs and Youth Education
- Recognising the importance of youth education and of ensuring that education systems provide the tools to pursue sustainable development, Article 230 of the outcome document calls for a more effective use of ICTs to enhance learning outcomes.
The document also acknowledges the role of ICTs in indirect ways by stressing the need to support initiatives such as the Global Environmental Outlook process led by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Agricultural Market Information System hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as the need to develop comprehensive hazard and risk assessments and reliable geospatial information, among others.
In addition to their inclusion into the final outcome document, several key international stakeholders organized ICT side events during the Rio+20 process, aimed at raising awareness on concrete ICT applications, benefits and challenges to address sustainable development, environmental and climate change goals (*see list of ICT-related side events).
Why is this important?
The increasing diffusion of ICT applications, from interactive Web portals, text messages (SMS), community radio, mobile phone-based monitoring systems, community mapping or social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, among others, is offering new mechanisms for empowerment, engagement and multi-stakeholder participation in the processes of change and transformation that surround us.
Emergent experiences, particularly from developing countries, suggest the potential of ICTs in face of the challenges posed by pervasive poverty, environmental degradation and climate change impacts.
However, for ICTs to be truly transformative, there needs to be a solid basis of awareness and a better understanding of their role in the achievement of sustainable development goals, particularly among policy and decision makers. This includes the potential and risks involved in the use of ICTs within specific development settings, as well as the enabling environment required for the implementation of ICT solutions in the field (e.g. regulations, standards, financial, institutional and human resources etc).
The recognition of ICTs in the Rio+20 process -as the focus of several preparatory meetings, side events and discussions, and as part of ‘The Future We Want’ outcome document- constitutes an important step to raise the awareness of policy makers on the value of including ICTs as part of sustainable development processes and strategies, and to foster multi-stakeholder dialogue and collaboration in this field.
Further work will be required towards the development of policy instruments of governance and management (e.g. legal norms such as laws, decrees and enforcement actions, licensing, planning and funding regulations) that help create an enabling environment where ICTs can effectively contribute to the achievement of sustainable development objectives, including those related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
At the same time, as acknowledged by the ITU in their input to Rio+20, efforts will need to be made towards the identification of concrete targets and a specific ‘roadmap’ for the utilisation of ICTs as part of sustainable development strategies, as well as to mobilise the financial and human resources required to implement ICT strategies towards ‘greener’ and more resilient societies at the international, national and local levels.
While the recognition of ICTs’ role in key areas of sustainable development (i.e. multi-stakeholder engagement, knowledge exchange and capacity building, food security and sustainable agriculture, energy efficiency and education) contributes to awareness raising and future collaboration in this field, many other areas of potential, resources and specific targets of action remain to be defined.
Rio+20 evidenced that much more needs to be done for ICTs to help bridge the gap between the ‘present we have’ and ‘the future we want’, to translate political intentions into ICT practice, and to broaden the understanding of these tools to encompass their informational, productive AND transformative potential.
*ICT Side Events and Preparatory Meetings, Rio+20:
-The United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) organised a side event during Rio+20 titled “ICTs, the Foundation of Our Sustainable Future”. The event was focused on specific ICT applications and services that can assist in the transition towards a green economy, and in discussing the enabling environment needed to facilitate the uptake of ICT applications.
-The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Ministry of Communications of Brazil organized a side event titled “Broadband and ICTs for Smart, Inclusive and Sustainable Societies”. Participants explored the opportunities and benefits offered by broadband and ICTs in the context of sustainable development, as well as the challenges and solutions for the application of broadband-enabled innovation.
-The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) were also involved in the preparatory process of Rio+20, hosting a side event on “The Future We Want with ICT and Innovation”, held during an Intersessional meeting, march 2012) to highlight the role of information communication technologies (ICTs) in achieving a sustainable future.
One of the main challenges faced within international policy processes is that of striking a balance between traditional and novel approaches needed to address development challenges. Decision makers face the daunting task of acknowledging lessons learned (from both success and failure), while at the same time adopting innovative strategies needed to achieve sustainable growth amidst an uncertain future.
While the international landscape has witnessed significant changes since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) that took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, one of the most important global transformations relates to information. The widespread use and rapid development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, radio and the Internet, have added new challenges and opportunities to the way in which information and knowledge are created, managed, disseminated and shared, and thus, their role is gaining momentum within decision-making processes.
During the last decade, the developmental potential of ICTs has been increasingly acknowledged within international policy processes, mainly in regards to ‘traditional’ development issues such as governance and education. More recently, and thanks to the leadership of organisations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), their role has also been acknowledged at high political levels in regards to environmental sustainability, climate change responses and ‘green growth’.
Emerging initiatives, research and advocacy at the intersection of ICTs, environmental sustainability, climate change and development are evidencing the need to acknowledge and integrate the role of these tools as part of international strategies and agreements, such as those that will be discussed at the Rio+20 Conference (20th-22nd June 2012, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).
As a high level forum aimed at achieving ‘renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development’, and most of all, aimed at ‘gathering high-level political commitments towards new ways of addressing new and emerging challenges’ (UNCSD, 2012), Rio+20 will be an important forum to open new opportunities for innovation –including those opportunities supported and enabled by ICTs.
The explicit inclusion of ICTs in the ‘zero draft’ of “The Future We Want” outcome document of Rio+20 constitutes an important step into that direction. The draft document acknowledges the role of these technologies in accessing and sharing information, providing new mechanisms for citizen participation, people empowerment and accountability, and it also calls for greater efforts to achieve universal access to ICTs.
While the document is still in draft form, the acknowledgment of ICTs’ potential as part of Rio+20 outcomes would send a valuable high-level message to leverage and foster the adoption of more holistic and innovative approaches to sustainable growth with the help of these tools. It would serve as an important precedent towards the explicit inclusion of ICTs in future policy processes and agreements at the international and national levels, particularly in regards to the achievement of ‘green growth’ goals and climate change responses (for example, as part of the negotiations of the UN Climate Change Conference COP 18, to be held in Qatar later this year).
Experiences from the ICT for development (ICT4D) field can yield valuable lessons to be considered by policy and decision-makers involved in events such as Rio+20. A study of the failure risks for e-government projects conducted by Heeks in 2003 suggests that the underlying cause of project failure constitutes the oversize gaps between project design and on-the-ground reality. Similar ‘design-reality gaps’ can also be found between ICTs’ acknowledgement in international agreements, and the actual use of ICT tools as part of sustainable or ‘green’ practices in the field.
Thus, ensuring that ICTs’ inclusion in international agreements translates into improved sustainable development practices, including climate change mitigation, adaptation and monitoring responses, requires going well beyond political rhetoric.
Some of the key factors to be considered by decision makers involved in international agreements, in order to avoid or minimise the ‘design-reality gaps’ in regards to ICT implementation include:
- Information Appropriateness: International agreements should to acknowledge the diversity of information needs and capacities that exists within and between developed and developing contexts. ICT-enabled information provision should be based on knowledge resources that are valued nationally and locally, and that can be appropriated and used within specific development contexts (e.g. through the provision of contents that respond to local priorities, delivered in appropriate formats and languages).
- Stakeholder Diversity and Participation: International agreements should acknowledge the variety of stakeholders and institutions involved in national/regional policy design and implementation, as well as the ‘disconnect’ that often exists between them. Agreements should foster the adoption of ICT- based mechanisms aimed at facilitating participative decision-making and multi-stakeholder coordination towards the implementation of climate change responses and ’green’ initiatives.
- Resource Allocation and Monitoring: International agreements should promote the implementation of bottom-up needs assessments aimed at identifying the resources needed to implement ICT initiatives in the field. This includes an assessment of the human, the technological and the physical resources required for ICT tools to be effectively accessed, appropriated and used at the local level, particularly within remote rural contexts. Agreements should include recommendations on the implementation of ICT-based resource monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
- Ensuring ICT Policy Coherence: International agreements should recognise the importance of fostering the role of development in ICT policy, but also the role of ICT in development policy (Heeks et al, 2010). This implies opening new channels of dialogue and discussion between stakeholders from different sectors (e.g. environment, ICTs, agriculture, industry), and supporting the role of local leaders that have a clear and credible vision on the contribution that ICTs can make to sustainable development.
Avoiding or minimising the ‘design-reality gaps’ in this field requires building upon available experience (e.g. from the development, climate change and the ICT for development fields), while at the same time fostering innovation (e.g through new technological approaches to the green economy or to sustainable agricultural practices, or through ICT-enabled mitigation and adaptation responses). It implies finding a balance between current challenges and future threats, between emerging knowledge and traditional practices, between thinking ‘outside the box’ and drawing on lessons learned, and between utilising effectively available resources and identifying new ones. The ICT4D field has a rich body of knowledge and experiences that can serve as a solid basis to innovate and adopt sustainable development practices.
The outcomes of the Rio+20 conference will tell us more about how (and if) international processes are managing to bridge the ‘design-reality gaps’, and will certainly stimulate new discussions on the role that ICTs can play towards a sustainable future.
Climate change impacts are posing the need to redefine the way in which we understand and approach development challenges. Ensuring food security amidst a changing climate is at the top of developing countries agendas. But most importantly and palpably, is a matter of survival for the millions of farmers, fishers, herders and foresters whose livelihoods are highly vulnerable to the occurrence of extreme events, changing temperatures and unpredictable seasonality, among other stressors.
Within resource-dependant contexts affected by more frequent and intense climatic manifestations, redefining the approach to food security involves embracing the notions of change and transformation. This includes the adoption of ‘climate-smart’ practices (1), the use of emerging tools and technologies, and in some cases, the return to ancestral or indigenous customs to better prepare for, withstand and recover from climatic impacts.
Above all, it involves identifying new ways of solving problems, of making decisions, of accessing and processing information, and of applying knowledge to agricultural practices in order to achieve more resilient production systems.
Emerging experiences from the field suggest that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are playing an increasing role as enablers of change and transformation within vulnerable contexts. Mobile phones, radio, Internet-based applications and social media are being integrated as part of strategies to adapt to, mitigate, and monitor climate change, especially within agricultural communities.
How can we ‘connect the dots’ between ICTs, food security and resilience?
These connections are illustrated through examples in the following table:
Expected Impact on
The realisation of ICTs’ potential towards enhanced food security and resilience is linked to a series of factors that include:
- acknowledging the role of ‘knowledge infomediaries’ or facilitators (e.g. extension workers, local trained professionals and youth) who can bridge the divide between scientific knowledge and technical climate change data, and their practical application in the field,
- building capacity of local stakeholders to benefit from the full potential of ICT tools (e.g. identifying and interpreting relevant information, establishing contact with broader agricultural networks and experts, exchanging technical information with local and external peers),
- raising awareness among policy makers on the importance of integrating ICT tools into climate change strategies, as well as into broader poverty reduction programmes that tackle the multiple stressors that threaten food and nutrition security at the local level,
- tackling issues of access and connectivity in remote rural areas, in order to ensure that developing country farmers, fishers, herders and foresters have access to a diverse range of ICTs services.
There is an important body of traditional knowledge and emerging adaptation and mitigation experiences that developing country communities can share and disseminate with the help of ICT tools. But making information available is not enough.
The main challenge for ICTs in regards to food security goes beyond the provision of information. It lays in ensuring that the knowledge and information that are made available actually reach the appropriate stakeholders, that they are appropriated by local audiences, and most importantly, that agricultural producers are able to apply it or act upon it in order to strengthen their livelihoods.
Ultimately, ICT-enabled information and knowledge should contribute to inform the decision-making processes of local actors, to strengthen their capacity to deal with uncertainty, and to build new bridges of collaboration and exchange towards more resilient, food-secure agricultural systems.
(1) FAO (2011) defines climate-smart agriculture as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals”. http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i1881e/i1881e00.pdf
Institutions play a crucial role in the ability of vulnerable systems to cope with and adjust to change and uncertainty. They can either enable or constrain access to resources, markets, regulations, information, finance, and technologies, among others, which are key to overcome the challenges and benefit from the potential opportunities posed by climate change.
Thus, institutions are key determinants of the way in which adaptation processes take place.
Within vulnerable communities, the role of institutions such as local government agencies, farming associations and cooperatives, research organisations, schools and NGOs, contributes to shape adaptive capacities and actions. But in addition to the increasing impacts of climate change, developing country institutions are facing a rapidly changing communication landscape, where the widespread diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, Internet, radio and social media, is redefining the way in which information and knowledge are created, managed, disseminated and exchanged.
How can ICTs help to strengthen the role of institutions within climate change adaptation processes?
The National Adaptive Capacity Framework (NAC) developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) provides a useful basis to explore this question. The framework identifies a set of key institutional functions (i.e. assessment, prioritisation, coordination, information management, and climate risk reduction) that countries will need to perform in order to adapt effectively to the impacts of climate change. While other frameworks focus mainly on the availability of assets as indicators of adaptive capacity, NAC’s main contribution resides in identifying concrete institutional functions to be undertaken and assessed throughout the adaptation process.
The set of functions proposed by the NAC can be used to identify ICT’s potential to strengthen the role of institutions towards the achievement of adaptation goals, as illustrated in Table 1.
Institutional Functions Towards Climate Change Adaptation
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) Potential
1. Assessments to Inform Decision-Making
|ICTs can support institutions in the process of assessing available information (e.g. regarding vulnerability, climatic impacts, adaptive practices) in order to inform decision-making processes. Tools such as Internet-based platforms, mobile phones, radio and e-mail can enable open consultation processes to assess vulnerabilities, identify priorities and adaptation practices, and systematise information gathered at the local level. ICT-enabled models and projections can help institutions to identify and assess current and future climatic risks.|
2. Prioritisation of Adaptation Actions
|ICTs such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing and aerial photography can help institutions to identify key issues, areas, sectors or populations that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, in order to prioritise adaptation actions. The use of the Internet, Web 2.0 and social media tools (e.g. blogs, Facebook, Twitter) can support institutional efforts to engage a wide set of stakeholders in the identification of climate change related priorities, and to make the process more transparent.|
3. Coordination of Efforts at Multiple Levels
|ICTs can play a key role in the articulation of adaptation efforts among institutions at various levels. The use of e-mail, mobile phones, online forums, discussion lists, wikis, and videoconferences, among others, can facilitate information and knowledge sharing, fostering horizontal coordination (e.g. among government agencies), vertical coordination (e.g. among Ministries and local institutions) and inter-sectoral coordination (e.g. among markets and local associations).|
4. Information Management
|ICT tools can support institutions in the process of gathering, systematizing, analysing and disseminating climate change information. The Internet and online training programs can contribute to build institutional capacities and to access relevant information in the adaptation field, strengthening institutional decision-making processes. Widely spread mobile telephony can help institutions to collect and monitor data on local resources (e.g. water levels, deforestation, pests and crop quality problems), while tools such as radio and participative videos can contribute to the delivery of non-technical information in user-friendly formats and local languages. Web 2.0 tools, including blogs and social media sites, provide new channels for the creation and dissemination of information and experiences among a broader set of users.|
5. Climate Risk Reduction
|ICTs such as remote sensing and GPS can support institutions in the identification of risks and development priorities within vulnerable areas (including at-risk infrastructure and natural resources). ICT-enabled climate change models and projections can help institutions to identify current and future risks, and engage a wide range of stakeholders in the participatory assessment of adaptation options (e.g. through online consultation processes, online surveys, synchronic and asynchronous interactions). Institutions can also use Internet based applications and participatory videos to document and draw upon traditional knowledge, integrating indigenous practices in the design of climate risk reduction strategies.|
Table 1. Linkages between ICTs and Institutional Functions Towards Climate Change Adaptation.*Adapted from WRI (2009), ‘The National Adaptive Capacity Framework’, World Resources Institute, Washington DC.
The role of institutions is one of the most critical components of adaptation processes, particularly within developing contexts. As this (non-exhaustive) table of examples suggests, ICTs have the potential to strengthen the role of institutions towards climate change adaptation through interventions focused on institutional assessments, prioritisation of actions, coordination of efforts, information management and risk reduction. The realisation of these institutional functions -or their absence- (e.g. the lack of vulnerability assessments or the lack of institutional coordination) can either enable or constraint the implementation of adaptation actions at the national, the sectoral or the community level.
As experiences at the intersection of the climate change, ICTs and development fields continue to emerge, further research will be required on the use of these tools to strengthen the capacity of institutions in the adaptation field, particularly within vulnerable contexts.
One of the most pressing challenges posed by climate change is that of ‘reaching out’ to those that are most vulnerable to its effects. There are many misconceptions about what ‘reaching out’ implies, as in practice it requires much more than making climate change information and knowledge publicly available through Internet-based tools such as Web portals and online databases.
While the proliferation of these tools suggests an increasing awareness of the need to narrow the information and knowledge gaps that exist in the field, it also evidences two important aspects that need to be considered in the planning and implementation of climate change initiatives:
First, the need for a more holistic understanding of the information cycle, including the creation, acquisition, assimilation, management, dissemination and ultimately the USE of climate change information, particularly within vulnerable contexts. Beyond the provision of climate change information, its necessary to consider if/how the information is being integrated -or not- into decision-making processes at the local, regional or national levels.
Second, the need to identify, adapt and adopt innovative approaches for the effective delivery and the local appropriation of climate change messages, and most importantly, for the translation of information and knowledge -both new and traditional- into climate change practice.
Within vulnerable communities, one of the most effective mechanisms to disseminate climate-related information among broader audiences is based on the role of knowledge brokers or human infomediaries (e.g. local agents such as agricultural extension officers, trained youth, or local leaders, among others).
Their brokerage or knowledge intermediation role involves bringing people together, identifying local needs and transferring information and knowledge more effectively. It is an active process that involves exchanges between people. Thus, knowledge brokers play a crucial role in the development of climate change strategies, in the adoption of adaptation and mitigation practices, and in fostering processes of local change and innovation.
The increasing availability of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) (such as mobile phones, community radios and Internet based tools) is posing new opportunities to strengthen the role of knowledge brokers in the climate change field, while enabling ‘hybrid’ approaches to the creation, delivery, appropriation and use of information and knowledge within vulnerable communities that are at the forefront of climate change impacts.
ICTs can support the role of climate change knowledge brokers in many ways, including:
- By helping knowledge brokers to raise awareness on both generic and context-specific climate change issues (e.g. through radio programmes, Internet portals, community videos that illustrate local climatic impacts, or helping to access and analyse experiences from other communities that are available in the Internet).
- By helping knowledge brokers to engage diverse stakeholders in the design of climate change strategies and local adaptation actions (e.g. using mobile phones, SMS, social media, or community radio messages to disseminate local initiatives, announce and invite remote communities to participate in training sessions or meetings).
- By supporting knowledge brokers in the identification of local priorities, climate change vulnerabilities and viable responses (e.g. using remote sensing and GIS technologies to map local risks and analyse future climate change projections in order to undertake appropriate adaptation measures).
- By widening the set of informational and human resources that knowledge brokers can access in order to research or verify information, and solve queries from local actors (e.g. using telecentres to contact researchers, experts, or other knowledge brokers that can help to solve questions or share best practices in regards to the effects of climate change on local livelihoods, or using Internet or mobile-based tools to solve questions related to the impacts of climate change on local crops, fertilization practices or water management).
- By helping knowledge brokers to share and discuss lessons learned (e.g. complementing field visits and practical demonstrations with online training modules, radio talks and participatory videos, in order to illustrate and reinforce the points made through user-friendly image and sound based resources- particularly relevant among populations with low-literacy rates).
- By complementing the efforts of knowledge brokers towards local empowerment and capacity building through training in the use of ICT tools (e.g. Internet and e-mail use to access relevant information, or to participate in online training programmes).
Experiences from the climate change field suggest that hybrid approaches that combine traditional knowledge brokering and the use of ICT tools can help to reach more effectively communities that are at the forefront of climate change impacts.
The effectiveness of such ‘hybrid’ approaches requires the consideration of several key factors:
- Providing content that is locally appropriate and relevant (e.g. based on local needs and vulnerabilities), presented in user-friendly formats and non-technical language.
- Fostering the creation and sharing of information that is not limited to climate change projections and forecasts, but that includes mechanisms to take action or guidance on how to use the information provided (e.g. availability of credit programs, local stakeholders groups, associations and other support mechanisms for climate change actions).
- Going beyond the provision of access to new resources (e.g. through online portals or databases), to building local capacities to interpret, analyse and use those resources within local climate change strategies.
- Promoting inclusiveness in the delivery of climate change information, by considering ways in which both new and traditional knowledge can be accessed and used by the most marginalised, and often excluded members of the community (e.g. women, elders, children).
- Building trust and credibility on a continuous basis, including the local analysis and discussion of climate change information –i.e. of its local repercussions, challenges and opportunities- among a varied set of stakeholders.
- Ensuring the presence of two-way information flows, considering that ‘reaching out’ is about providing new information and knowledge as much as it is about receiving and learning from locally-based, traditional information sources.
Local knowledge brokers are key enablers of transformation and change within vulnerable contexts. They help to ensure a ‘last mile’ approach in the delivery of climate change information and knowledge, and contribute to develop local capacities to use and adapt new and traditional resources. Their role is particularly relevant within developing country communities given the complexity of climatic impacts, the importance of trust, personal interaction and oral traditions, the diversity of climate change audiences, as well as the prevalence of multiple constraints to access and analyse climate related information.
While the rapid diffusion of ICT tools is enabling new approaches to the delivery, appropriation and use of climate change information and knowledge, the role of human infomediaries or knowledge brokers is irreplaceable, and it should be considered as a key component of holistic approaches in the climate change field.
More information about ICTs and the role of knowledge infomediaries is available at: http://www.niccd.org/ICTs_and_Climate_Change_in_Rural_Agric_Communities_Strategy_Brief.pdf
Having a choice plays a critical role within processes of adjustment and change. It involves the assessment and judgement of different options, and the skills necessary to make a decision among alternatives that have a positive value. Thus, ‘having a choice’ has profound implications in the ability of individuals, communities and even nations to cope with and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
This notion is particularly relevant within developing contexts affected by more intense and frequent climatic events and uncertainty, and where ‘choices’ are limited by deeply rooted development challenges, resource and assets constraints.
Poverty, social and political marginalisation, geographical remoteness, high information costs, and even the loss of cultural memory and of the sense of ‘belonging’ to a given territory, are among the factors that shape people’s behavior, and that limit their ability to assess, judge and decide between different courses of action.
But the widespread diffusion and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones, radio and Internet-based applications could be changing the way in which choices emerge and are implemented within vulnerable contexts affected by climate change.
Experiences from the field suggest that ICTs are facilitating access to new information and ways to share and create knowledge, thus broadening the resources (e.g. informational, economic and human) available within vulnerable environments, and helping to strengthen decision-making processes.
In Nepal, a mobile phone-based system is enabling farmers to communicate with agricultural traders and service providers in nearby markets, helping them to be better informed about current market prices, to compare prices, and to decide where to sell their products before undertaking long and often costly journeys.
Participatory videos are being used in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa to enable communities to record local climatic impacts and adaptive practices. These videos have allowed marginalised communities to recuperate traditional knowledge, to actively engage in climate-related responses, to interact with different stakeholders, and to discuss and assess collectively different adaptive options relevant to their local priorities.
Other applications such as e-mail and Web 2.0 tools like Skype, Facebook or Wikis are helping to consolidate broad networks and communities of practice where adaptation lessons and options are shared and discussed among a wide variety of actors, including developing country communities that share similar climatic challenges.
Ultimately, these and other emerging experiences suggest that ICT tools can play an important role in the ability of vulnerable systems –at the individual, community or national level- to ‘have a choice’, and to strengthen their capacity to adjust and adapt to change.
While the dynamics of decision-making and choice are very complex, particularly within developing contexts affected by climate change, the potential of ICTs can be linked to three main roles:
- Enabling Choices, through a strengthened ‘informatics ecosystem’ of data, information knowledge, technology, and social processes. ICTs can enable choices by making actors aware of alternative courses of action (e.g. through information exchange in broader social networks), by supporting informed decision-making (e.g. considering the lessons learned by different communities shared through videos or social networking sites), and helping to improve local adaptation capacities.
- Exploring and Evaluating Choices, through increased access to information and knowledge resources with the help of both traditional (e.g. radio, television) and emerging technologies (e.g. mobile phones, Internet-based applications). This involves the role of ICTs facilitating access to information that is appropriate and relevant for the local audience/context, and that helps them to prioritize options and assess their implications.
- Enacting Choices, through access to a wider set of resources that contribute to strengthen local livelihoods (e.g. facilitating access to markets, commercialization opportunities, income diversification, online training, technical skills and expert’s advice to improve productivity), thus increasing the local capacity to implement change or to act upon the choices made. The role of ICTs towards enacting choices is also linked to enhanced access to adaptation resources (e.g. dissemination of available credit programs, government or donor adaptation initiatives, or opportunities for local partnerships).
Having a choice is a pivotal, yet often underrated component of climate change adaptation processes, particularly within vulnerable contexts. While the choices available within these contexts are often scarce and conditioned by a number of factors, the severity of climate change impacts is posing the need to re-think the way in which alternative courses of action can be created, fostered and implemented in order to reduce vulnerability.
The role of ICTs in the creation, management and dissemination of knowledge and information is shedding new light on their potential to influence people’s behaviour and ways of thinking, of learning, of making decisions, and of interacting with each other. Field experiences indicate that ICTs can be valuable tools to enable ‘choices’ amidst increasing climate change impacts and uncertainty, particularly for the most vulnerable populations.
As delegates from around the world are gathered in Durban, South Africa, for a new round of climate change negotiations (COP17), a growing community of researchers and practitioners working at the intersection of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), climate change and development, is strengthening its efforts to raise awareness on the potential of these tools and foster the engagement of decision makers in this field.
But positioning the role of ICTs within international climate change negotiations is a challenging task. Amidst an overwhelming range of climate change topics, pressing financial issues and a mounting list of urgent, immediate and long-term needs, the role of ICTs towards mitigation, adaptation and monitoring is often overlooked.
Despite the fact that information and knowledge are recognized as key components of mitigation and adaptation actions, discussions are still nascent on the role of widespread ICT tools (such as mobile phones, community radios, the Internet and social media, among others) within climate change strategies.
As previous international negotiations have demonstrated, environmental decision-makers remain unaware of the potential of these technologies, including the informational, productive and transformative role that they may play towards the achievement of mitigation, adaptation and monitoring goals, particularly within developing countries.
As COP17 unfolds, a newly formed Coalition on ICTs and Climate Change (1) is working actively to change this situation by raising awareness, showcasing innovative initiatives, mobilizing political will, and encouraging governments to include ICTs within their climate change policies. Thus, unlike previous events of this nature, COP17 has given more visibility to the role and potential of ICTs, and to the need for innovative strategies in the climate change field.
Two side meetings focused on ICTs, mitigation and adaptation, an ‘ICT Day’, a Digital Media Lounge showcasing experts and practitioners via tele-presence, and the launch of a ‘PoliWiki’, are among the events that members of the coalition on ICTs and climate change are implementing during COP17. While the official negotiations take place, ICT enthusiasts are blogging, tweeting, and engaging in face-to-face discussions on the role that these tools could play in response to the multiple vulnerabilities that climate change is contributing to exacerbate across the globe, particularly within developing environments (in the picture, participants interact remotely with experts at the Digital Media Lounge).
(In the picture, young delegates share their opinions at the Bloggers’ Loft during COP17). These constitute important efforts to change the perception of climate change actors and decision-makers about the role of ICTs towards climate change goals. One of the main challenges in this regard is to demonstrate that the potential of ICTs goes beyond the provision of relevant and timely climatic information (e.g. through Internet portals, platforms and databases, or early warning systems). ICTs can also play a role towards the implementation of national adaptation and mitigation strategies, towards the achievement of specific sectoral priorities, and towards the capacity of vulnerable communities to withstand, recover and potentially transform in the face of change and uncertainty (e-resilience).
A recent Strategy Brief on ICTs and Adaptation provides useful examples of the contribution of ICTs at the national, sectoral and community level, arguing that their potential must be harnessed and designed with a holistic, integrated view of climate change responses and vulnerabilities.
While the goal of positioning ICTs within climate change negotiations is a process that will require time and perseverance, the actions taken by the Coalition on ICTs and Climate Change at COP17 constitute positive steps towards a new international dialogue, renewed multi-stakeholder collaboration, and informed policy decisions that acknowledge the crucial role of these tools in the climate change field.
(1) Organizations in the coalition include the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the UNFCCC Secretariat, the UN Global Compact, TechAmerica, as well as high-level representatives from the governments of Ghana, South Africa and Egypt.