Innovative ICTs for Communicating Climate Risk

Communicating climate risk

Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT). Rice farmer, SE Punjab, India

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“Information Communication Technologies” (ICTs) encapsulates a growing number of applications that are made available through an enlarging number of devices and mediums (Balaji, 2007). As a broad definition, they are simply electronic means of capturing, processing, storing and communicating information, and the 21st century has seen a proliferation in their availability and use (Heeks, 1999). This is increasingly the case in development and climate change adaptation contexts where more projects are being funded that leverage ICTs to alleviate poverty, empower communities through communication, and even to prepare for, and help when, natural disasters strike (Ospina and Heeks, 2010).

The mobile phone is the most well-known artefact of this trend. Ownership of the device transcends not only geography, but also socio-economic boundaries (to an extent), and has transformed social relations, business and trade. In large swathes of Africa, mobile phones are frequently used to keep users updated on market prices for goods, to allow them to pay bills, and to keep in touch with family and friends (Aker and Mbiti, 2010). The adoption of these devices has been staggering: in 2000, 16 million people in Africa had mobile phones, in 2011, that figure had risen to 500 million, and by 2016, that figure is expected to double to 1 billion (USAID, 2014).

Generally technological advances in ICTs have been hailed as a virtue, especially economically: despite contributing around 2-2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the ICT industry has a net abating influence, facilitating large carbon savings by removing the need for physical travel through web-conferencing and telephony. ICTs also offer less tangible benefits to mitigation and adaptation activities by enabling the progression of knowledge, not least through monitoring and communication (ITU, 2008).

However, as with many other facets of modernisation, ICTs come with a warning. Particularly in developing countries, many are left marginalised and disenfranchised by technology [un]availability (see ‘digital-divide’). And even with the mobile phone, inequality is evident: in the West, where power outlets are often easy to source, an iPhone, charged fully every day will cost the inconsequential amount of between $0.25 and $1 per year, yet for the vast majority (~80%) of people living in sub-Saharan Africa, these outlets are not available, and the norm is for people to charge their phones in public kiosks, costing $0.25 per charge, or $91 per year (Scientific American, 2013). This comparatively high cost means that renting or sharing mobile phones is commonplace, skewing data and complicating analysis.

Such complexities are being explored in development discourses, where a critical lens is maturing (see ICT4D), but for adaptation, knowledge production and reporting on the usefulness of ICT-projects is more disjointed. Thus, this theme is designed to aggregate knowledge and promote discussion and learning through the sharing of adaptation projects that have utilised ICTs in interesting and beneficial ways. As with all weADAPT themes, we encourage contributors to emphasise the lessons that they learnt from their experiences so that others can integrate this knowledge into their future work.

Highlighted projects

Crowd-sourced technologies

Further resources


Aker, J., Mbiti, I., 2010. Mobile phones and economic development in Africa. Center for Global Development Working Paper.

Balaji, V., Meera, S.N., Dixit, S., 2007. ICT-enabled knowledge sharing in support of extension: addressing the agrarian challenges of the developing world threatened by climate change, with a case study from India. SAT ejournal 4, 18.

Heeks, R., n.d. ICT4D 2016: New Priorities for ICT4D Policy, Practice and WSIS in a Post-2015 World.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)., 2008. ICTs and Climate Change. Presentation at C7 eEnvironment, WSIS action line facilitation meeting, Geneva, 21 May 2008. Available at []

Ospina, A.V., Heeks, R., 2010. Linking ICTs and Climate Change Adaptation. Manchester: University of Manchester.

USAID., 2014. Mobile Phones Tackling Poverty. Infographic available at [

Wogan, D., 2013. Charging a mobile phone in rural Africa is insanely expensive. Scientific American Blog post. Available at []



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