When confronted with the question “What do ICTs have to do with climate change?” many ICT advocates tend to experience a familiar situation: a puzzled look starring into their eyes, a hint of disbelief, followed by a brief moment of silence… and the frantic search for simple words to convey a message that has nothing to do with cables and wires. A message based on the potential of these tools to help people, especially low-income populations, to better cope and adapt to the impacts of the changing climate.
And it is precisely in the field of climate change adaptation where a great part of ICTs’ potential and research needs, currently lie. This topic is particularly relevant for developing regions, where prevailing poverty and resource constraints limit the ability of communities to withstand and recover from the impacts of climate hazards such as floods, droughts, cyclones and hurricanes, among others.
A 2:03 minute video supported by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) provides an excellent example of how images are worth more than a thousand words, particularly when trying to convey the developmental potential of ICTs in the climate change field.
The video portrays the impact that information access has in strengthening local livelihoods and fostering the empowerment of fisherman in rural India.
Thanks to an initiative led by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) to use access to information as the key to holistic rural development, fisherman can access online weather forecast, wave height and location of fish in local knowledge centres.
Content provided is tailored to the information needs of the local community, and is translated into the local language. This information allows fisherman not only to reduce the risk and uncertainty of weather conditions at sea, but also to increase their efficiency by learning the exact location of fish, thus lowering their use of fuel, time and costs.
The emergence of these experiences evidence the fact that new and traditional ICTs, including mobile phones, the Internet, community radio and participatory videos, have the potential to play a critical role in communities whose livelihoods depend on natural resources, and that are the hardest hit by changing weather patters and by the increased frequency and severity of climate-related events.
Given the fact that most of the available literature in the field of ICT and climate change has focused on their potential to reduce CO2 emissions and foster a low-carbon economy, thus reflecting the priorities of developed countries, further research needs to be conducted to better understand their role, potential and challenges within adaptation processes.
Based on this new research, including the documentation and dissemination of practical experiences from the field, responding to questions about the role of ICTs in climate change from a development perspective will be a much easier task.