AIMTech Research Group, University of Leeds
This paper, based on a review of literature, outlines the range of new and emergent information and communication technologies (ICTs) (e.g. wireless broadband and wireless sensor networks, geographic information systems, and web-based tools) being applied to climate change issues and investigates their use in developing countries. It also discusses innovative uses of established technologies such as mobile phones and aims to give those working on climate change an understanding of the technologies that will increasingly be used in their field: not just the identity of the technologies but their potential benefits and application areas. This study is a product of the University of Manchester's "Climate Change, Innovation and ICTs" research project, funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre  and managed by the University's Centre for Development Informatics .
"The paper discusses three major application areas: (1) monitoring of climate change and the environment, (2) disaster management, and (3) climate change adaptation. A range of examples of the use of new and emergent ICTs in these areas in developing countries is described in order to demonstrate their utility and importance in assisting vulnerable communities to meet the climate change challenge. The review shows these technologies are predominately being deployed for disaster management and for localised monitoring activities. The technologies are not yet being employed much for adaptation purposes. A series of recommendations for researchers, NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and governments is provided in order to facilitate the widespread and effective application of new ICTs for climate change in developing countries."
Within these application areas, monitoring climate change and impacts, in particular at localised scales, can potentially benefit from the use of wireless broadband technologies, which can be deployed in an inexpensive, decentralised manner, using wireless sensor networks (WSN), consisting of intelligent sensor nodes to monitor particular environmental cues. Examples in use include using WSN systems for rainfall and landslide monitoring and flood monitoring, and fire monitoring using wireless sensors or wireless broadband-supported video surveillance with automatic detection of smoke or heat sources. These examples rely on a high level of automation and new and emergent ICTs. "However, there are a number of localised monitoring techniques that involve a new type of convergence between mobile phones and human involvement, enabling ‘citizen science’, scaling up the monitoring process of climate change. ‘Mobile sensing’, an emergent paradigm, enables data collection from large numbers of people by affixing sensory devices to a mobile phone allowing dynamic information to be collected about environmental trends."
For disaster management, wireless broadband technologies have begun to fill the gap when existing land-based telecommunication infrastructure has been partially or completely destroyed and satellite communications limitations are exceeded. Broadband allows for rapidly deployable and flexible networks that maximise communication between actors in a response situation. Also discussed is the potential of social networking media, which provides direct community involvement for the dissemination of information to both organisations and affected people, and the role of geographic information systems (GIS) and other information systems which provide visualisation and management capabilities. These technologies are among examples of tools being used not only for monitoring or response applications, but also in the development of early warning systems to warn vulnerable communities in the event of a disaster.
According to this document, with respect to climate change adaptation, local populations are the best placed to prepare for and respond. Disseminating information has historically relied on word of mouth and radio, but programmes such as participatory GIS (PGIS), which involve local people during data collection and in the verification of data have shown to have direct community benefits and demonstrate how communities can be integrated with the use of newer ICTs. Additionally, "telecentres have featured heavily in ICT for development programmes and have emerged as important in climate change adaptation and resilience building. Beyond their traditional use as an information and computer access centre, emergent examples of information to be made available through telecentres include digitised hazard maps that track the hazards to which the communities are vulnerable (for instance, propensity for heavy rainfall to cause flooding in a densely inhabited area), digitised resource maps that indicate the locations of the resources available to deal with the risks, and chronological logs of disasters that had previously taken place in the area."
The review offers several recommendations formed in order to facilitate greater understanding of how the technologies discussed in this study may be applied:
- Demonstrate the success and feasibility of new and emergent ICTs in relation to climate change in developing countries.
- Focus more on adaptation activities.
- Invest in wireless infrastructure.
- Build advanced land-based monitoring networks.
- Build upon established and successful technologies.
- Understand information requirements and build cross-platform interoperability.
Email from Richard Heeks to The Communication Initiative on March 25 2011, and Nexus for ICTs, Climate Change and Development - Resources , July 15 2011.