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Archive for January, 2011

ICTs and the Climate Change ‘Unknowns’: Tackling Uncertainty

Determining the repercussions of the changing climate is a field of great unknowns. While the impacts of climatic variations and seasonal changes on the most vulnerable populations are expected to increase and be manifest in more vulnerable ecosystems and natural habitats, the exact magnitude and impact of climate change effects remain, for the most part, open questions.

Such uncertainty is a key contributor to climate change vulnerability, particularly among developing country populations that lack the resources, including access to information and knowledge, to properly prepare for and cope with its impacts.

But, how can vulnerable contexts prepare for the ‘unknowns’ posed by climate change? And should the quest for ‘certainty’ be the focus of our attention?

The rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within developing country environments, the hardest hit by climate change-related manifestations, is starting to shed new light on these issues.

A recent article by Reuters identified 10 climate change adaptation technologies that will become crucial to cope and adapt to the effects of the changing climate over the next century.

The bullet points found bellow link these 10 aspects with the potential of ICTs within the climate change field, highlighting some of the ways in which they can help vulnerable populations to better prepare for and cope with the effects of climatic uncertainty.

  • Innovations around Infectious Diseases: Extreme weather events and changing climatic patterns associated with climate change have been linked to the spread of vector-borne (i.e. malaria and dengue) and water-borne diseases. Within this context, ICTs such as mobile phones, community radio and the Internet have the potential to enable information sharing, awareness raising and capacity building on key health threats, enabling effective prevention and response.
  • Flood Safeguards: Climatic changes such as increased and erratic patterns of precipitation negatively affect the capacity of flood and drainage systems, built environment, energy and transportation, among others. ICT applications such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can facilitate the monitoring and provision of relevant environmental information to relevant stakeholders, including decision-making processes for the adaptation of human habitats.
  • Weather Forecasting Technologies: ICTs play a key role in the implementation of innovative weather forecasting technologies, including the integration of community monitoring. The use of mobile phones and SMS for reporting on locally-relevant indicators (e.g. likelihood of floods) can contribute to greater accuracy and more precise flood warnings to communities. Based on this information, authorities could design and put in action more appropriate strategies, and farmers could better prepare for evacuations, protect their livestock and better plan local irrigation systems, among others.

  • Insurance Tools: Access to new and more diversified sources of information and knowledge through tools such as the Internet or the mobile phone can facilitate the access to insurance mechanisms, and to information about national programs/assistance available to support vulnerable populations.
  • More Resilient Crops: In the face of higher temperatures, more variable crop seasons and decreasing productivity, ICTs have the potential to enhance food security by strengthening agricultural production systems through information about pest and disease control, planting dates, seed varieties, irrigation applications, and early warning systems, as well as improving market access, among others.
  • Supercomputing: According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the use of ICT-equipped sensors (telemetry), aerial photography, satellite imagery, grid technology, global positioning by satellite (GPS) (e.g. for tracking slow, long-term movement of glaciers) and computer modeling of the  earth’s atmosphere, among others, play a key role in climate change monitoring. New technologies continue to be developed, holding great potential for real-time, more accurate information key to strengthen decision-making processes.
  • Water Purification, Water Recycling and Efficient Irrigation Systems: ICTs can contribute to the improvement of water resource management techniques, monitoring of water resources, capacity building and awareness rising. Broadly diffused applications such as mobile phones can serve as tools to disseminate information on low-cost methods for desalination, using gray water and harvesting rainwater for every day uses, as well as for capacity building on new irrigation mechanisms, among others.
  • Sensors: In addition to the role that sensors play in monitoring climate change by helping to capture more accurate data, research indicates that they also constitute promising technologies for improving energy efficiency. Sensors can be used in several environmental applications, such as control of temperature, heating and lighting.

This short identification of areas of potential does not suggest that ICTs can eliminate climatic uncertainty, but it does suggest their potential to help vulnerable populations to strengthen their capacity to withstand and recover from shocks and changing climatic trends.

By contributing to building resilience and strengthening adaptive capacity, ICTs have the potential to tackle climate change uncertainty not only by providing access to information and knowledge, but also by fostering networking, personal empowerment and participation, facilitating self-organisation, access to diverse resources and learning, among others, which ultimately contribute to better preparedness and response, including the possibility of transformation in the face of the unknown.

The need to reduce uncertainty should not substitute efforts to foster creativity and flexibility, which lie at the core of resilient responses to the ongoing challenges posed by climate change.

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*Further examples on the linkages between ICTs, climate change and vulnerability dimensions can be found at: http://www.niccd.org/ScopingStudy.pdf