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Linking ICTs and climate change adaptation

a conceptual framework for e-resilience and e-adaptation

Angelica Valeria Ospina
Richard Heeks


Climate change constitutes a dynamic, interconnected, yet often uncertain field of study, where the magnitude of environmental impacts is closely related to the various development stressors that underlie vulnerability generally. Literature in the field suggests that challenges faced by developing countries in areas such as livelihoods and finance, sociopolitical conditions, health, habitat and migrations, food security and water, are intensified by the effects of climate changerelated hazards, variability and trends (Hardy, 2003; IPCC, 2007; Parry et al., 2007). At the same time, the exacerbation of these existing vulnerabilities constrains the ability of developing contexts to cope with climate change; that is, to withstand and recover from climaterelated shocks and disturbances, as well as to adapt, in the longer term, to changing climatic conditions. The coping abilities to withstand, recover from, and adapt toclimate change – what can, overall, be termed ‘resilience’ – thus emerge as key factors for the achievement of development outcomes.

Despite the uncertainty and unpredictability associated with climate change, the best current indication is that climatic occurrences will increase in both magnitude and frequency, posing serious development challenges (IPCC, 2007; UNDP, 2007). The potential impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident through bothacute and chronic manifestations. Acute impacts are the extreme hazards of ‘shocks’, which usually occur over a geographically limited area and require rapid response and relief (CISHDGC, 2010). They can include events such as heavy rainstorms or cyclones, which may produce effects such as landslides, flooding, disruption of transportation systems and the erosion of agricultural land, among others. Climate change threatens to augment the acute stress in vulnerable regions, typically as more and greater storms or more frequent high temperature episodes take place (Wilkinson and Buddemeier, 1994).

The chronic manifestations of climate change refer to subtler shifts in conditions (such as sea level rise, melting glaciers or changing oceanic acidity due to atmospheric CO2 uptake), which happen over long periods of time and are, therefore, harder to identify. Chronic changes include climate trends (changes in expected conditions), as well as changes in the variability and intensity of weather cycles  events (e.g. changes in seasonality, temperature and precipitation, which can negatively affect productive sectors, particularly agriculture) (Cannon, 2010). Changes in trends and variability could have the largest and most significant aggregate impacts, particularly in lowincome, resourcedependent populations. With limited resources and capacities to respond and adapt to both acute and chronic climate changes, developing contexts are particularly vulnerable to the uncertainty of their effects.It is also within these contexts that the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is rapidly spreading (UNCTAD, 2009; ITU, 2010), creating new opportunities and challenges for developing countries that are at the forefront of climate change impacts. Defined as electronic means of capturing, processing, storing, and communicating information (Heeks, 1999), these tools offer an important development potential particularly in the lowincomepopulations whose existing vulnerabilities are magnified by the effects of climaterelated disturbances (IPCC, 2007; Moser and Satterthwaite, 2008). Yet, a review of available literature in the field of ICTs, climate change and development (Ospina and Heeks, 2010) suggests that adaptation remains one of the least explored areas for analysis of ICTs’ potential in  the global South.

Recognising the close links that exist between climate change vulnerability and the achievement of development outcomes, alongside the increasing use of ICTs within developing contexts, the aim of this paper is to set out a conceptual foundation that links climate change, livelihoods vulnerability, and the potential of ICTs in supporting systemic resilience. ICTs will be introduced as a system component that has the potential of contributing towards resilience and, therefore, helping to enable livelihood strategies that allow adaptation; that is recovery and adjustment in the face of climate change.

Publication Type(s)

Conference Paper

Ten Years of War Against Poverty Conference Papers

Conference: Ten Years of War Against Poverty


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