The rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has been accompanied by an increasing body of research exploring both the potential and challenges associated with the use of these tools, particularly in developing countries. Research in the ICT for Development (ICT4D) field has advanced by often aiming at moving targets, as new technologies are continuously developed, different priorities emerge, traditional technologies merge with newer ones in development practice, and players and agendas at the local, national and international levels constantly transform.

ICT4D research takes place within contexts that are in continuous metamorphosis: social, economic, political, and increasingly, climatic.

Research at the intersection of ICTs, climate change and development constitutes a field of possibilities and challenges that were unimaginable only a few years ago. The role of ICTs towards dematerialisation, transport substitution or climate change governance, which in the past may have seemed far removed from the priorities of the global South, are becoming issues of increasing attention, along with the exploration of new approaches to climate change monitoring and adaptation that are viable and sustainable within contexts affected by poverty and marginalization.

What a few years ago constituted “What if” questions in regards to the role of ICT within the climate change field, are given way to the question “What’s next?” particularly in regards to the needs of developing countries, where the effects of climatic disturbances often exacerbate existing development challenges and vulnerabilities (IPCC, 2007; Moser et. al, 2008).

A recent report titled “Unveiling the Links between ICTs & Climate Change in Developing Countries: A Scoping Study addresses this question by suggesting six emerging research areas at the intersection of these fields [1]:

(a) Mitigation

  • ICTs and community-level mitigation
  • ICTs, climate change and global value and supply chains
  • ICTs, climate change and emerging consumer trends
  • ICTs, climate change and emerging business practices

(b) Monitoring

  • ICTs, climate change monitoring and local empowerment

(c) Adaptation

  • ICTs, climate change and localization
  • ICT and local livelihoods
  • ICTs, local voices and awareness raising
  • ICTs and emerging social aspects of climate change

(d) Strategy

  • ICTs, climate change and inclusion
  • ICTs, climate change and governance challenges
  • ICTs and climate change decision-making processes

(e) Disaster Management and Response

  • ICTs, disaster management and response

(f) Technologies: Impacts and Issues

  • Low-cost and emerging technologies

Although these issues are not meant to constitute an exhaustive list of emerging topics, they do invite reflection by ICT, climate change and development practitioners, researchers and visionaries alike, in order to determine a new agenda of research and action towards the future.

Innovative ‘what if’ approaches have paved the way to new solutions that are increasingly being tested and implemented in the field, as the diffusion of ICTs, particularly mobile phones, continues to permeate the fabrics of developing country societies.

But as the impacts of stronger storms, drier seasons, heavier precipitation or rising sea levels become more visible, so does the importance of identifying What’s next? in terms of research in the ICT, climate change and development field.

Therefore, this entry ends with an open question, an invitation to think about

‘What else is next?’

Which other topics could we identify in terms of the potential of ICTs to help developing countries to effectively adapt, monitor, and ultimately contribute to mitigate the impacts of climate change?

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[1] The areas and issues identified in the report are based on an overview of the trends that literature on ICTs, climate change and development has followed in since the 90’s, the main components of the Overview Model on ICTs, Climate Change and Development, as well as on the analysis of experiences emerging from developing countries as key areas for future research.

References:

IPCC. 2007. Fouth Assessment Report (AR4). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), http://www.ipcc.ch

Moser, C. & Satterthwaite, D. (2008) Towards Pro-Poor Adaptation to Climate Change in the Urban Centres of Low and Middle-Income Countries. International Institute for Environment -and Development (IIED), London http://www.iied.org/pubs/pdfs/10564IIED.pdf

Ospina, A. V. & Heeks, R. (2010) Unveiling the Links between ICTs & Climate Change in Developing Countries: A Scoping Study. Centre for Development Informatics, Institute for development Policy and Planning (IDPM), University of Manchester, http://www.niccd.org/ScopingStudy.pdf

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One thought on “From ‘What If?’ to ‘What’s Next?’: Emergent Research on ICT, Climate Change and Development

  1. The first question- “What if?” is for developing countries to respond to by way of developing their absorptive and adaptive capacity to technology and knowledge. The second question- “What’s next?” is for developed countries to perform extensive research and simulation studies to use as inputs in preparing action plans to minimize the risk from such events.

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