Editorial: Communication - the key to coping with climate change

Editor

Today, we are bombarded by alarming scenarios of the severe effects of climate change. Already, some 150,000 people die every year as a direct result of global warming. Developing countries suffer far more from the impacts of global warming than the big polluters in Europe and North America. Soil erosion and desertification will affect ACP countries far more than Europe and North America. Some small island states in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean could be entirely engulfed by the seas.

Such dire threats seem overwhelming and tackling them impossible. The scale of the big-picture hazards can sometimes obscure practical strategies of mitigating and adapting that local communities, NGOs and research projects in the South are developing. In this issue of ICT Update, we look at a few of such pioneering activities in ACP countries. This month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the scientific authority for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – issued its Fourth Assessment Report. The report is the IPCC’s most critical yet, saying that the reality of global warming is ‘unequivocal’ and its effects will continue to haunt us for over 1,000 years. The common thread that runs through these projects is the need for the circulation of information about both global warming and methods of adaptation. A report from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) published in January of this year suggests that it is not all ‘doom and gloom’, highlighting the use of climate information in practical settings in Africa. Further, the report argues that up-to-date meteorological information needs to be needs to be communicated in a timely fashion and farmers must be informed of strategies that can help them adapt to climate change, such as choosing different crops or changing planting dates according to rainfall predictions.
However, to provide such advice, the gathering of weather information from the grassroots needs to be improved. In the Q&A of this issue , Dr Mannava Suvakumar, the head of agricultural meteorology at the World Meteorological Organisation, argues for increasing the number of automatic weather units in Africa’s most vulnerable regions. It is not therefore merely a matter of the ‘centre’ delivering information to the grassroots or ‘periphery’ but of the periphery delivering information back to the centre.
In our own lead story on the use of GIS to monitor rising sea-levels and the resultant retreat of mangrove swamps inland, we learn how island nations are particularly endangered by rising tides. The information gathered here on retreating or deteriorating mangroves allows local planners to make decisions that will minimise the damage of this phenomenon to their communities. In Niger, Telecoms Sans Frontières has introduced a satellite communications network that enables agricultural information to be delivered from isolated areas to decision makers instantly, in time to prevent the food security crises that are the product of decreased rainfall, soil erosion and degradation, and desertification. Previously this information took weeks to arrive, often far too late. In the Caribbean, with its growing number of hurricanes, ham radio operators help to mitigate their damage, again, primarily by passing on information from weather stations to local communities and emergency services and back again.
The IRI report also points to the importance of the role that the media - radio, television, the internet and print - play in delivering crucial information on climate change to the communities that need it. Thus in this issue, Ochieng’ Ogoodo, a Nairobi-based science journalist, shows us how the lack of coverage of climate change in the media of the developing world limits its ability to adapt to the problem.
The examples in this issue are a few of the many grassroots activities of those who are dealing with the effects of climate change. Perhaps these initiatives can inspire us all to make the difficult, structural changes that we have to make to cope with climate change.

For the IRI report, visit: http://iri.columbia.edu

15 February 2007

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