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.