COP 18, ICTs, and climate change

Since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created in 1994, the Conference of Parties (COP) has been meeting annually to discuss the implications of climate change. The COP comprises members from 195 countries. This year’s meeting, COP18, was held in the Middle East for the very first time in Doha, Qatar. With the conclusion of COP18, many governments have prioritised the need to adapt and prepare for the effects that climate change will have on humanity.

Perhaps more than any other tool we have, ICTs can help in this process, particularly with regard to social change. Studies indicate that more attention needs to be given what socially and psychologically motivates individuals to mitigate their behaviour in response to climate change. Understanding this is crucial in order to create policy incentives that will trigger the desired response.

A major speed bump, however, is the way that we humans think. We are hard wired to think in the short term, so our priorities are shaped by immediate needs. As a result, we respond best to instant gratification. We also live in a fast paced world dominated by mass production, consumerism, and planned obsolescence where we expect our needs to be met instantaneously and we are fascinated with the newest most advanced technologies. For the sake of our species, it is critical for us to begin conceptualising the long-term impacts that our wasteful actions are having – though such long-term thinking is no new concept. The Iroquois First Nations are firm believers in “seventh generation philosophy,” where one must consider what implications ones actions will have seven generations from now.

So how do we get everyone on board to not only reduce our impact but begin long-term thinking like the Iroquois? The effects of the changes we make will not be felt instantaneously and without this instant gratification, it is difficult for people to fully understand the reason for doing so. For example, a paper by James Hansen and others estimates the time required for 60% of global warming to take place in response to increased emissions to be in the range of 25 to 50 years. Thus we can expect a similar lag when we reduce emissions (i.e. we may not see the effects of the positive changes we make).

This is where ICTs come in. They have proven to have the capacity to mobilise people. For example, as described in Egypt’s GISWatch 2011 country report, Egyptians were able to utilise online platforms to gain legitimacy and support during the 2011 revolution. ICTs facilitated knowledge and information sharing, which translated into collective action. People shared videos and pictures of demonstrations, reports on the status of human rights in the country, and video clips of different torture cases. The internet supported this social movement, as it has with many others. The Occupy movement in North America is another example. Perhaps, given the right circumstances, it could do the same (but bigger and better) for a worldwide paradigm shift towards a more green way of living.

The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 brought together thousands of participants from all walks of life and around the world. One particular notion came up in discussion: much more needs to be done for ICTs to help bridge the gap between “the present we have and the future we want.” Doha negotiations have apparently have yielded inconclusive results, as have many other COP meetings – no political consensus, no single country willing to take leadership at an international level, and the deliberation of tradeoffs between the economy and the environment. When so many governments are accomplishing so little in this regard, what can you and I do to advocate the change we need to see in the world? According to David Sasaki in this year’s GISWatch 2012 preview, we can hold governments accountable using the power of ICTs – and we should do just that!

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