Climate resilience advisor Liesl Keam believes we need more digital innovation and user-friendly tools to guide decision making and meaningful action in climate vulnerable countries.
The global average temperature has already risen one degree above pre-industrial levels and the urgent need to respond to climate change challenges is well-enough known. We have seen a rapid shift toward action – the how, rather than simply the why. How can governments make climate resilient planning and investment decisions that will have a positive impact on their people, economy and biodiversity? How do decision makers turn information into meaningful interventions?
Prioritising interventions that mitigate the impacts is often the first hurdle for cities and countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. Data from complex GIS and satellite imagery might show the full scale of the threat, without revealing the path to a practical solution that empowers communities. With funds often limited, where is best to invest?
International partners that offer technical assistance to governments need to present data in an accessible way that supports action at a practical level. Mott MacDonald has a long history of providing technical solutions to our climate challenges. Now we are using digital innovation to add greater value by collecting and interpreting data that drives climate investment and policy decisions.
Evidence-based decision making
In Nepal, we are using localised hazard mapping and an information management system to allow end users to identify climate risk and vulnerability. Nepal is currently the fourth most vulnerable country to climate change in the world , and experiencing a rise in extreme climate events such as flash flooding, landslides, droughts and forest fires. The hazard maps provide details on downscaled, municipal level, fluctuations in weather, temperature and risk, such as landslide. These visuals help municipalities design their Local Adaptation Plans of Action (or LAPAs) that enable decentralised planning and public finance investment for climate change adaptation and resilience.
With an atlas of climate maps, the municipal decision makers can gauge rainfall patterns, as well as current risks from drought, flood and landslide. Equipping decision makers with this level of downscaled modelling is rare in the climate sector. The mapping tool is complemented by a management information system that allows the programme to oversee over 100 interventions to date, across Nepal’s remote communities. The mobile data collection and analysis tool has proved extremely valuable for monitoring the designs, budgets and progress updates, while assessing the risk levels per location. Highly visual dashboards (instead of wordy reports) make it easier for all stakeholders to keep sight of change.
Accessible, useable information
In Rwanda, our initiative used a visual application to support decision making in the restoration and protection of natural features in damaged watercourses. As with many countries in Africa and beyond, Rwanda’s rural economy is being undermined by soil erosion. Heavier seasonal rainfall, combined with unsustainable farming practices, are causing the fertile topsoil to drain away.
Maps produced by the application help the district restoration teams to identify priority sites for soil erosion and landslide mitigation – and then guides their response. This digital intervention changes the game by linking scientific research findings directly to participatory decision making. Information feeds into detailed local consultation processes that guide the development of a restoration map at district, catchment, or micro-catchment level.
The government has made the tool obligatory to support decision making, as well as monitoring and reporting, for the national soil erosion strategy. Catchment plans are now in place for 30% of the country’s surface area, including detailed water allocation plans that are mapped out across different lengths of time up to 2050. The government now knows exactly how much water can be allocated to irrigation, industry, livestock, domestic water supplies and to the environment.
In Bangkok, we are helping the city government to better predict and quicker respond to heavy rainfall that causes flash flooding. Constructing a brand-new flood protection system is unfeasible, both in terms of cost and practicality. Instead, a digital twin of the existing infrastructure is fed by sensors that collect real-time information on flow rates, water levels and pressures. At the same time, Bangkok’s existing rainfall radars are being upgraded using sophisticated algorithms to provide improved forecasts of how much and where rain will fall across the city. This combination of real-time data will power a decision support platform that enables the authorities to improve their operational response by deploying staff to where they will be needed most in response to intense rainfall.
Tailored digital solutions can provide all stakeholders with valuable evidence and information to support the response to climate change. Understanding the scope of key challenges and technical solutions allows a targeted response, so governments and private sector can take decisions that quickly lead to better outcomes for people and nature.
Action is needed now. Digital and data innovation is a good place to start.