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ICTs: Enablers of Change within a Changing Climate

While the need to adapt is undeniable given the challenges posed by climate change and variability, the way in which we understand, approach and enable adaptive change should be given careful consideration, particularly within developing contexts.

Within vulnerable livelihood systems, adjusting and changing in the face of more frequent and intense climatic events is a process that requires much more than economic resources.

Adaptation involves the identification of innovative tools and approaches that foster social learning and flexibility, as well as strengthened institutions, broader participation and networking, heightened environmental awareness, processes of self-organisation and multi-stakeholder collaboration, and political will, among others. (*in the picture, a coffee producer using his mobile phone).

Thus, the design and implementation of climate change adaptation strategies provide an opportunity for developing countries to embrace change from a novel perspective; one that builds on the resourcefulness, the ingenuity and the wealth of traditional knowledge available within these contexts.

The increasing diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within developing environments can help to enable those novel perspectives towards enhanced adaptive capacities.

The availability of information and knowledge is one of the most important conditions for the adaptation of vulnerable systems to the impacts of climate change. But not just any information and knowledge, but those that (a) respond to the local needs and priorities, (b) acknowledge and strengthen local knowledge and capacities, and (c) contribute to the empowerment of stakeholders -at the micro, meso and macro levels- to make informed decisions amidst multiple vulnerabilities and climatic stressors.

Within vulnerable contexts, the growing adoption of ICT tools such as mobile phones and the Internet, in combination with more traditional ones such as radio and printed media, could support more effective, transparent and inclusive processes of adaptive change.

What types of changes can ICTs enable, to contribute to climate change adaptation?

The following table reflects some areas in which the role of ICTs can contribute towards adaptive change:

Changes in Attitudes (perceptions and beliefs) towards Climate Change

A variety of Web 2.0 tools (e.g. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, among others) are being increasingly used to disseminate information and give visibility to local climate change experiences and issues, fostering discussions and debate among stakeholders from different sectors and regions, thus influencing attitudes and perceptions.

Changes in Knowledge about Climate Change

The use of ICTs in models and projections has contributed to improve the understanding of climate change trends, and has provided new tools for planning and preparedness. Applications using remote sensing, GIS, earth browsers such as Google Earth and Visual Earth, as well as Web-based clearing houses for disseminating information and foster broader communities of interest for environmental analysis, also contribute to an increasing body of knowledge in this field.

Changes in Public Awareness about Climate Change

USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network provides an agro-climatic monitoring system of real-time weather hazards (flooding, dryness and extreme hit) and food security for a number of developing countries, helping to increase public awareness on a variety of climate-related issues. At the same time, ICTs have helped to increase the visibility of political processes such as the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP17), which uses the Web, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blogs to disseminate information and updates about the process and outcomes.

Changes in Skills & Capacities required in Climate Change Responses

Vietnamese villagers have been trained in the use of mobile phones to report the likelihood of localised flooding to the regional Hydro-Meteorological Center in Ho Chi Minh City. This training fostered local involvement in forecasting and early warning in vulnerable flood plains. The information that is fed back to locals via billboards and loudspeakers contributes to strengthen local preparedness. Radio broadcasts on relevant local issues –such as training on irrigation planning and crop diversification strategies- can also contribute to strengthen local skills and capacities.

Changes in Vulnerable Livelihoods’ Productivity to Cope with Climate  Impacts

Mobile phones are used in India as part of agro-advisory system called mKRISHI, allowing farmers to send queries to agricultural experts in their local languages and receive personalized advice, as well as to access information on market prices, harvesting times in relation to weather and fertilizers’ use, among others, allowing them to make informed decisions to improve their livelihood.

Changes in Partnerships & Collaboration to tackle Climate Change

The use of ICTs to capture, process and disseminate information has helped to highlight the transversal and multi-dimensional nature of climate change impacts (e.g. on ecosystems and natural habitats, scarce water resources, food security, new health threats and risks to human infrastructure and habitats, among others). The use of ICTs has facilitated the creation of partnerships and collaboration among different stakeholders through e-conferences, virtual meetings, online chats, e-mail exchange and other online mechanisms.

Changes in the Public’s Disposition to engage in Climate Change Actions

The emergence of online networks and communities of interest has played a key role in  the response to extreme events. Efforts of volunteer and technology communities such as Crisismappers and Ushahidi have allowed to connect SMS information with situational maps in times of crisis, enabling humanitarian response. High-resolution satellite imagery, Wikis, Google docs and other collaborative platforms used by growing communities of volunteers and technical experts have enabled new ways of collecting, analysing and visualizing data within vulnerable contexts (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, 2011).

Changes in the Allocation of Adaptation Funds and Resources

The use of ICT applications, including those used as part of e-Government programs, can help to provide transparency in the identification of climate change priorities and the allocation and monitoring of funds. ICTs can facilitate information sharing through digital platforms where citizens can report incidents anonymously, trace the distribution and progress of adaptation funding, and learn about local environmental regulations and rights (SPIDER ICT4D, 2010).

While these examples of emerging experiences and research suggest a significant role of ICTs towards adaptation, the complexity of developing environments, where marginalization and inequality still prevail, pose the need to maintain a critical stand in regards to their role.

Experiences in the ICT for development field (ICT4D) have drawn important lessons about the potential and the risks involved in ICT interventions (e.g. low information quality and reliability, security issues, resource diversion, deepening of power differentials, among others), which constitute valuable inputs to future analysis of ICTs’ role within climate change adaptation processes.

Ultimately, adaptation thinking is opening an important window of opportunity for developing countries to design and implement novel approaches to change, and to overcome the challenges posed by climatic uncertainty with the help of ICT tools.

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