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It's time to deploy this special weapon on climate change

Christiana Figueres | Luis Neves | December 16, 2014

We are here to tell you a secret that we feel needs to be told: there is a special weapon in the fight against climate change. Information and communications technology (ICT) solutions are transforming the way we do business, run our cities, spend our leisure time, access information and keep in touch with friends and family -- but they also play an increasingly pivotal role in addressing climate change and building more resilient communities.

ICT solutions can help industries across our economies reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16.5%, yield a total of 1.9 trillion USD in energy savings, and create 29.5 million jobs.They can enable both a reduction in consumption and a more efficient use of resources. By definition, this brings savings for both individual consumers and for businesses.

This is why we are coming together at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima -- to showcase shining examples of how ICT solutions can enable increasing climate action.

For example, an ICT solution being deployed in India and Malaysia is being honored in Lima as a transformational way of cutting energy bills and greenhouse gases for industry and commercial building owners.

The initiative, called SmartSense, was developed by the Ahmedabad-based company Ecolibrium to allow its more than 250 industrial clients to access energy use data from their buildings from any internet-enabled device in order to spot inefficient energy use.

The users are already reporting average energy savings of up to 20 percent. Given that the total energy consumption of these industrial users is around 1.5 GW, the greenhouse gas reductions potentially achievable could be just over one million metric tons of CO2 -- equal to nearly all the annual emissions of 215,000 passenger vehicles.

The payback period of the device, a crucial factor in the uptake of such systems, is also attractive at typically a few days to eight months.

The company is now moving into smart grid developments with the Indian government, saving energy and boosting the prospects for faster and more efficient rural electrification for the 200 million Indians currently without access to electricity.

In the Indian Himalayan foothills, communities are facing multiple challenges linked to a changing climate -- not least the buildup of highly unstable lakes due to the melting of glaciers.

Glacial lake outburst floods can trigger walls of water that have been described as vertical tsunamis, ripping through power lines and homes and putting lives and livelihoods at risk.The ability to respond and adapt fast is key in building resilience, and ICT solutions are playing a fundamental role in this fast response. In the case of floods, saving human lives and property can be a matter of seconds.

In a bid to manage the worst of the impacts, 45 communities in the region established a Community-Based Flood Early-Warning System, with assistance from a wide range of organizations including the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, Aranyak and SEE.

This ICT-enabled system uses a flood sensor attached to a transmitter to detect rising water levels. When the water reaches a critical level, a signal is wirelessly transmitted to the receiver. The flood warning is then disseminated via mobile phones to appropriate agencies and vulnerable communities downstream. The system is fundamental to alert local communities and ensure necessary lead-time for them to prepare and respond to floods. 

In 2013, five community-based flood early warning systems were installed in the Singora and Jiadhal rivers and the improved resilience is already bearing fruit, allowing communities to act with speed and successfully avoid the loss of lives and assets.

With real-time data collection and analysis, responses can be based on solid data, which is particularly helpful in situation of distress such as when a natural disaster occurs. ICT-based monitoring provides decision-makers with solid ground to take informed decisions and allows for a better, more efficient response also when the lead-time to act is minimal.

These are just two examples of the many ways that ICT solutions can help to build a low-emission, high resilient future. We hope that here in Lima and on the road to a universal climate agreement in Paris this special weapon is increasingly deployed.

This blog entry can also be found on The Huffingtonpost

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