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How ICTs Enhance Environmental Sustainability Projects

By Guest Writer on March 3, 2014

Andris Bjornson – Inveneo

In December, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) hosted its CEO Forum on Innovation Partnership, focusing on the use of ICTs to address global environmental challenges including deforestation, over fishing, climate change, food security and sustainable cities. Participants from the private and public sectors shared opinions on technologies, interventions and partnerships, and similar themes found within ICT4D conversations emerged.

One partnership, the Global Forest Watch, brings together a wide range of private and public sector organizations in collaboration on a real-time online platform that maps global forest cover and land use. Alerts on forest clearing identify where threats to protected areas are, in fact, occurring, and they link directly to specific companies that may be responsible.

Others shared technology platforms that monitor climate change and the use of analytics in environmental research. And sensors and embedded devices (components of the ‘Internet of Things’) can help city governments increase quality of life and economic development, while balancing environmental sustainability.

A few key points that share similarities with the ICT4D space include:

  1. Low and high tech: It is important to remember that the phrase “ICT” spans a wide spectrum of technologies, from more widespread and “low tech” technologies, such as radio and television, to more “high tech” ICTs, such as wireless sensors, LTE connected devices, and big data crunching algorithms. More importantly, “low tech” may be more appropriate and impactful in many situations.
  2. Segmentation and appropriateness: ICTs can be applied to a wide range of projects, so it is useful to segment possible interventions based on a logical framework, such as data collection, information dissemination and data analysis. And within each context or sectoral application, other factors (such as urban vs. rural) will dictate the more relevant ICTs to consider.
  3. Enabling environment for ICTs: The use of ICTs in project delivery does not necessarily lead to tangible benefits. ICTs are not a silver bullet. In many cases, the binding constraint to measurable impact may be other infrastructure issues, such as lack of consistent electrical supply or lack of basic support services for the technologies being considered. Digital literacy and basic ICT skills are perquisites – and project designs need to account for other human elements such as incentive structures for stakeholders.

ICTs can play a significant role in environmental projects. Perhaps public-private partnerships are more possible in environmental monitoring than in other development-related spaces. Technological improvements and the adoption of ICTs can have an outsized impact on global environmental issues, such as in climate change. As the UN Broadband Commission’s 2012, “Broadband Bridge,” report notes, while the ICT sector has been estimated to contribute 2 to 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, “ICT has the capacity to deliver carbon savings five times greater than the sector’s own total emissions.”

What do you think: Are there specific ways you see ICTs impacting (positively or negatively) environmental issues? What other issues do we need to consider when applying ICTs to environmental projects? Are there distinct differences between interventions in ICT4D versus ICT4Environment?


John Garrity is the Global Technology Policy Advisor for Cisco. 

Filed Under: Government, Solutions, Technology
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