While some countries in the Asia-Pacific region are adapting to climate change, countries with special needs such as India with fewer resources and capacities face significant challenges implementing adaptation projects. Yet, these are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, and most in need of adaptation interventions.
Despite this urgency to adapt to the changing climate and the promising solutions that digital technologies offer, the interlinkages between the two sectors at the policy level are not clear. In fact, while significant contributions of digital technologies to mitigate climate change have been widely applied across the region, fewer examples can be found for climate adaptation. Comprehensive evaluations of key enablers for using digital technologies to adapt to climate change remain scarce.
A working paper ESCAP titled Digital technologies for climate change adaptation in Asia and the Pacific addresses this gap by assessing the key enablers and commonalities between different case studies worldwide in the use of digital technologies for climate adaptation. Based on the assessment results, policy recommendations for the advancement of climate adaptation in Asia-Pacific countries are provided.
Case study: Use of technology in floods in India and Bangladesh
The paper presents a case study of the use of satellites for flood forecasting in Bangladesh and India since 2018. Satellites, together with the use of other complementary technologies such as stream gauging stations, electronic sensors, GIS and GPS technologies, computers, and smartphones have saved many lives with earlier warnings of imminent flooding.
Moreover, the information from high-resolution elevation maps developed with data from digital technologies enables decision-makers to make informed planning decisions, based on full details of the flood risks.
The Google Flood Forecasting Initiative is a Google.org-funded initiative that aims to improve flood forecasting by providing unprecedented lead time, accuracy and clarity worldwide. This has been possible with automated river gauges that report water levels in real-time; satellites providing images that contribute to flood mapping and modelling for location-specific warnings; smartphones for the dissemination of early warnings; and AI such as machine learning to make more accurate predictions.
Starting with Bangladesh and India, the most flood-prone areas in the world, Google.org’s initiative is providing people with information about flood depth – when, where and how much floodwaters are likely to rise. In areas where it is possible to produce depth maps throughout the floodplain, they are sharing information about depth in the user’s village or area.
The recent improvement to the forecasting model has doubled the lead time of many of their alerts – providing more notice to governments and giving tens of millions of people an extra day or so to prepare.
Although this initiative is led and funded by Google.org, it required the collaboration of government agencies, such as the Indian Central Water Commission and the Bangladesh Water Development Board, in order to expand warnings and improve services.
This initiative also collaborated with Yale University to better understand what information people need, how they use it to protect themselves, and what to do to make that information more accessible; and with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to build local networks that can get disaster alert information to people who would not otherwise receive smartphone alerts directly. The initiative’s satellite partners include Airbus, Maxar and Planet.
Google.org aims to expand this initiative globally, increasing the potential benefits of such an initiative. Even though it is a global initiative from the private sector, Google.org still needs support from governments.
In India, there is the National Policy on Information Technology (2012-2020) and Digital India, the national flagship programme to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. They both support this initiative, leveraging GIS for decision-support systems and development.
The capital needed for the implementation of this initiative is not known, but Google.org has granted USD200 million for social initiatives and non-governmental organizations worldwide. An initiative like this one requires huge investments for the development of forecasting models and machine learning.
In addition to financial capital, machine learning expertise (human capital), computational resources, access to global data and the scalability of the project are determinants of its success. Collaboration is also a key component for this initiative, as well as government support.
Another recurrent point in the case studies is the importance of collaboration between different entities – governments, private sector and research institutions (also known as the Triple Helix model of innovation). Through these collaborations, entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth are fostered. This enables the pooling of human and financial resources and the overcoming of some of the barriers that are usually present when implementing technically complex and costly projects.
There has also been collaboration with humanitarian organizations, such as with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the case of Bangladesh and India. This has proven to be an effective way to overcome digital gaps when implementing ICT projects for climate adaptation in more vulnerable and remote areas.
In light of the assessment in this working paper, five key policy recommendations are put forward to accelerate the use of digital technologies for climate adaptation, especially from the Asia-Pacific region.
Build capacity to bridge climate change data gaps
Reliable, real-time access to observational data is critical for high-quality weather forecasts and climate analyses. Some areas of the world significantly lack the infrastructure and financial and human capacity to provide a good and robust supply of surface-based observations. These countries fail to meet the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Basic Observing Network (GBON) requirements, which allow network integration and partnership outreach for global space- and surface-based observations and predictions. This adversely impacts the accuracy of weather and climate products, both locally and in areas far from the missing data.
As a way forward, capacity building training should be offered to countries in Asia-Pacific that do not have the relevant skills and competencies to collect, understand and process climate-related data, prepare metadata, and establish mechanisms for collaboration with data providers, among others.
Explore financial alternatives to fund digital climate adaptation projects:
Global funds cannot always finance the projects. Financial alternatives or other forms of collaboration, such as the one presented by Triple Helix, provide effective ways to overcome financial constraints. Other forms of financing that governments could consider include incentivizing the private sector to invest in climate adaptation and mitigation options, through tax incentives, for example.
Crowdsourcing mechanisms to collect weather data, and the ability to collate user-provided weather/ climate data at the local/national levels to help in the development of risk maps and early warning systems are also effective.
Strengthen governance and institutional capacity to mainstream climate adaptation into ICT policies
Regulatory barriers, such as bureaucratic delay, the slow pace of the legal process and existing corruption in the ecosystem are present in some countries and further challenge the implementation of ICT policies and strategies, as well as undermine adaptation processes.
As a way forward, developing national overarching vision documents that clearly outline the linkages between ICT policies and climate adaptation can advance climate adaptation mainstreaming into ICT policies.
Accelerate the development and implementation of digital climate adaptation projects
The collaboration of multiple stakeholders in projects that require technical knowledge and substantial investment, such as the Triple Helix model of innovation, has proven to be effective to overcome financial, human and economic constraints. This, however, may require some changes to the structure of institutions and regulatory policies to accelerate the development and deployment of projects.
Include climate adaptation projects in regional cooperation platforms that advance digital development
The Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) provides a unique platform for stakeholders in the region to work together, share lessons learned and strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration with the aim to advance digital development at the regional level.
The inclusion of climate adaptation projects to the AP-IS would not only increase policy knowledge based on practical case studies from countries here but would also strengthen the current understanding of and preparedness to climate change, as knowledge gaps would be filled with the implementation of more digital climate adaptation projects in the most vulnerable areas from the region, particularly in countries that do not have digital adaptation projects.
The full report can be downloaded here