The World Bank is partnering with the African Development Bank on a flagship study of how ICTs are transforming the African continent. The report, entitled “Transformation-Ready: The Strategic Application of Information and Communication Technologies in Africa” is based upon a series of sectoral studies commissioned in 2011.
Click on the image to download the report (PDF)
The latest of these reports, on using ICTs for Climate Change Adaptation, has just been released on the project website, www.etransformafrica.org.
The reports shed light on the ways in which public and private actors can deploy ICTs to advance key sectors of Africa’s economy. Other sectors and themes covered by eTransform Africa include agriculture, education, financial services, health, the local ICT sector, public services, and trade and regional integration.
The new Climate Change Adaptation report, prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, draws from contributions of experts on climate change and its impact on the African continent.
The report makes a compelling case why it is critical for the development community and policymakers to deal with adaptation to climate change in Africa; it also outlines how these stakeholders can and should use ICTs and details key challenges and opportunities.
The document represents an exhaustive, up-to-date account of what has been done, what can be done, and what should be done to leverage ICT to tackle the dimensions of climate change in Africa in a sustainable way.
The report raises important calls for action and change:
1) The negative consequences of climate change need to be countered at their roots. Namely, people’s vulnerability to climate change is intertwined with economic factors, health, geography, and human development in general.
2) Our understanding of climate change processes needs to be improved and analyzed at the local level. More precise monitoring of changes and sharing of information among multiple different stakeholders are crucial.
3) Climate change is contextual. Local circumstances need to be taken into account, and high-level policy must also work to facilitate and coordinate more fine-grained and community-specific interventions.
4) Policies and programs need to change their outlook from short- to long-term. Any commitment to ICT interventions needs to be permanent and backed by lasting financial and human resources.
The report underscores an important distinction: It focuses on adaptation (adjustments to the consequences of climate change), as opposed to mitigation (decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere). Evidence is presented suggesting that, even if excessive greenhouse gas emissions were to end immediately, global warming would continue for decades to come. Therefore, a discussion focusing on greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation only addresses part of the problem of climate change.
The report also stresses Africa’s singular susceptibility to climate change: temperatures on the continent are likely to increase at a faster pace compared to the global average, the dominant economic sectors (such as agriculture) are more sensitive to climate change, and by and large human development is relatively low, so that many communities lack the resources to adapt.
In the first chapter of the report, the authors develop a useful analytical framework that helps understand current and future ICT interventions in climate change adaptation. According to this scheme, adaptation interventions can be vulnerability-oriented (for example, providing immunizations before floods and epidemics) or impact-oriented (for example, building dykes against rising sea levels).
ICT implementations of these solutions can either be high-tech and large scale (for example, geographical information systems) or low-tech and small scale (for example, mobile phones with GPRS). The framework (see image) shows a wide variety of ways in which ICT can support such solutions.
Applying this analytical scheme, the report then outlines a swath of examples of how ICT has been used for climate change adaptation. For policymakers, scholars, and the development community focusing on climate change, this represents a rich set of descriptions and analyses of specific programs and policies that were implemented either for the whole continent, in certain nations, or in distinct economic sectors. The report also discusses three country case studies (Uganda, Senegal, and Malawi) in special detail.
The report identifies crucial gaps in current approaches to climate change adaptation:
1) Active implementation of adaptation interventions is lagging behind intentions formulated in policy agreements (such as the widely ratified UN Framework Convention on Climate Change).
2) ICT adaptation interventions have not yet found their way into policymakers’ thinking.
3) There is a lack of initiatives at the meso-level, that is, at the intersection of large-scale and small-scale initiatives.
4) Interventions tend to focus too narrowly on a specific sector and do not consider intertwinements with other areas.
On the other hand, the report also discusses fields of application in which ICT can be particularly useful:
1) Monitoring of climate change, especially through integration of large-scale approaches, such as geographical information systems, with small-scale technologies, such as measurements through GPRS-enabled mobile phones.
2) Knowledge sharing, especially through automation and sharing of elaborate data with local stakeholders.
3) Leverage of locally available media, especially through a multitude of mobile applications and integration of local radio into warning systems.
Based on this analysis, the report goes on to specify a range of concrete interventions that can be taken. These measures cover the full spectrum of the analytical framework that was outlined before. Examples include policy approaches that enable information sharing, like Kenya’s open data policy, or crowdsourcing of climate data through mobile phones. Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers all find valuable insights on the most critical items on the African climate change adaptation agenda.
Much of the contribution of this report lies in its specificity and concreteness, so we recommend accessing the whole document here. However, the executive summary explains the main points regarding the analytical framework, the lessons learned from the available evidence, and the recommendations that the authors make.
By Nicolas Friederici. Published January 2012.