Technology Salon

Washington DC

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a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

How Digital Solutions Can Reduce Climate Change Impacts

climate change technology salon

As the United States withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement, we are inundated daily with news of how the climate crisis is escalating.

It can be argued that climate change cuts across multiple sectors in the ICT4D community. Our work in areas such as health, agriculture, and emergency response, may mitigate the impacts of climate change but does little to address climate-related causes.

During our recent Technology Salon on Can Digital Solutions Reduce Climate Change Impacts?, we had a lively discussion on the intersection of digital technology and climate change. Our session was informed by three lead discussants who covered the elements of earth, wind, and fire (pun intended):

  • Christa Hasenkopf, Co-founder, OpenAQ
  • Dow Maneerattana, Strategy Manager, Global Restoration Initiative, World Resources Institute
  • Kip Patrick, Senior Director of Global Partnerships and Communications, Clean Cooking Alliance

Eco-anxiety is Real

During our session, we heard some startling facts on the serious damage to our natural resources, including:

  • 30 percent of global forest cover has been completely cleared and a further 20 percent has been degraded.
  • 3 million people die prematurely from illnesses attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels every year.
  • Air pollution is the 4th largest risk factor to human health on the planet.

The current political atmosphere coupled with climate change (or apocalypse) fatigue, has made eco-anxiety real. The challenges feel daunting, yet technology offers a chance to create massive collective action across the world. The right information in the right hands, paired with agency, can foster change.

Data, Data, Everywhere

First, was the topic of open data. A clear step before tackling the issue of data use, is ensuring that the right data exists. Despite an overabundance of data, there is a need for more relevant, granular, and verified data. Trusted data that enables everyday individuals, civil society, and governments to make informed decisions is key.

But access to data is more than just making it available. It’s about meeting the user where they are and ensuring a format that is digestible.

For instance, spatial literacy is taken for granted, such as in the case of empowering local farmers. Meeting the user where they are with actionable information through familiar modes, such as SMS or voice, can make a difference.

One great example were bangles women could wear in India to communicate audio messages regarding air pollution, particularly around cookstoves.

Maximizing the Power of the Collective

Collective knowledge and action are powerful. The ability to leverage open data across geographies enables leapfrogging and a reduction in re-creating the wheel. Workshops and community-building events or networks can break down silos and lead to increased action. Social network analyses can map various key actors across a sector, often unearthing unknown barriers that need to be addressed.

The power of the collective can also result in a fear of missing out, or more commonly known as FOMO. Climate change challenges or initiatives, especially set on the global stage, can incentivize countries to address issues or act.

Of course, incentives for broader engagement must also be carefully tailored. As in one example, a government provided subsidies to individuals who planted trees. What they did not account for was the purposeful removal of existing healthy trees in the process.

And lastly, don’t forget the youth! For instance, 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25 years. Empowering and engaging the younger generation should not be forgotten – especially since they will inherit our climate change crisis.

Apps, Maps, and Emojis

But how do we get people to care? Not just on a personal level but when governments are facing looming challenges such as disease outbreaks or massive poverty – planting trees is not top of mind. A few solutions emerged through our conversation.

Data visualization in the forms of maps can help guide decision making and resource planning for local governments. In addition, providing information on the positive impact of programs and initiatives, with which politicians can easily communicate, will increase political will.

On an individual level, coupling information with emojis, just makes climate change information more fun and engaging.

Funding Gap

Lastly, funding for climate change initiatives is still sorely insufficient. For instance, US foundations spent $35 billion in international aid from 2011-15, but only 2% of these funds were spent on directly on climate change.

But using the topics covered above – data, the power of the collective, and presenting information in an engaging way – can help to further gain interest and action in combatting our current climate crisis.

By Cathryn Meurn, Director, Client Services at Vital Wave

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