Tech Transfer And Digital Public Goods Needed For Climate Action


By Rosie McDonald, E-waste Data Associate Officer, ITU

As African countries brace for a warmer, drier future, researchers around the word are exploring ways the latest digital technologies could help with climate mitigation and adaptation.

Student researchers based in Geneva, Switzerland, for instance, have looked at how information and communication technologies (ICTs) can boost climate action in Africa’s energy and agriculture sectors.

The environment team from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has collaborated with four researchers from Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies on an applied capstone project.

The Pilot Research Agenda is part of ITU’s Generation Connect youth engagement initiative, such collaborative research projects enable young researchers to engage in key tech studies that produce innovative digital solutions addressing real-world challenges. The engagement also expands the knowledge base of ITU.

The Geneva-based ‘ICTs for Climate Action’ project considered how frontier technologies, particularly the Internet of Things (IoT), conducted country-level case studies to highlight how knowledge and technology transfer strategies have advanced climate action in Angola, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mauritius.

IoT supports sustainable energy and agriculture

Local capacity building and skills training are likely to be crucial aspects in developing and scaling IoT projects to drive sustainable energy uptake in Africa, the students in Geneva found.

“Even though energy was highlighted as a priority sector for climate change mitigation in Africa, we found IoT applications in the energy sector to be more demanding compared to those in the agriculture sector in terms of cost, infrastructure, and technological complexity,” explained researcher Aravind Ganapathi.

“There are many great opportunities for IoT applications in the energy sector of Mauritius and Ethiopia, for example, such identifying appropriate sites for renewable energy projects and facilitating their integration into the energy grid.”

A wider range of IoT-based solutions already exists in the agriculture sector. Examples include early warning and disaster management, precision farming to increase crop yields, and managing water resources for irrigation.

“By leveraging internal capabilities and building technology transfer collaborations within the region, African countries can achieve their long-term vision for the African digital agriculture blueprint,” said another member of the project team, Jiae Yang.

“IoT demand is projected to grow exponentially in the coming years, and appropriate policy reform and action in this region can bring about impact at scale.”

With the need for collaborative and interdisciplinary climate research growing, early-career researchers can contribute significantly. Another ITU-backed project, currently ongoing with US-based students at the American University in Washington D.C., focuses on digital inclusion.

How digital public goods can help

Interoperable IoT architecture, remote network and device management, and open data will be key to scale IoT applications for energy and agriculture.

A January 2022 report from the Digital Public Goods Alliance and two United Nations specialized agencies – ITU and the World Meteorological Organization – calls for weather, climate and hydrological information datasets to be made open and freely available as digital public goods.

Relevant datasets are urgently needed to avert setbacks in climate action, often caused by a lack of data. Access to data is imperative for scientists and policymakers working to understand the severity of, adapt to, and predict changes in global weather and climate. Open data can equip countries and regions with the information and tools needed to identify and prioritize climate action.

The report outlines tangible steps that can be taken to help improve data access worldwide, arguing that universal data will be crucial to help understand risks and enable effective action. These recommendations include developing standards and best practices; increasing public sector support and funding; encouraging inclusive private and public sharing of data; and encouraging organizations to commit to opening access to data.

As countries strive to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, growing numbers of authorities, activists, investors, and companies need high-quality data. The report encourages companies and governments to open more of their datasets and assist in identifying open datasets.

“Any data that is collected through IoT should be open and accessible,” said Geneva-based researcher Li Zhang.

Classmate Prachi Jha added: “Access to high-quality and reliable open-source data is vital for countries to create and maintain digital solutions for climate change adaptation. Without open data to inform decision making, efforts to respond to climate change will fall short of their full potential.”

ITU, The Digital Public Goods Alliance and the World Meteorological Organization call for weather, climate and hydrological information datasets to be made open and freely available as digital public goods.

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