Adapting ICT infrastructures to cope with climate change

climate-changeMay2014-blogWe are only now beginning to understand how climate change is impacting our world. It is changing the lives of every one of us, and research suggests that these impacts are likely to accelerate in the future. There are many practical steps we can take to adapt to climate change, and new research points to the fact that information and communication technologies (ICT) will also have to adapt in the face of global climate change.

The recently published report by ITU entitled, “Resilient Pathways: The Adaptation of the ICT Sector to Climate Change,” focuses on the ways in which ICTs will have to be adapted to global climate change. This was produced in conjunction with UNFCCC and UNESCO, supported by Deutsche Telekom, and edited by Keith Dickerson, Vice Chairman of ITU-T Study Group 5, David Faulkner, Co-Chairman of the Joint Coordination Activity on ICT and Climate Change and Angelica Valeria Ospina from the University of Manchester. A key conclusion states that adaptive practices for the ICT sector will become part of the ‘new normal’ as climate change impacts increase.

The report details the global changes that are taking place in temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speeds, lightning patterns and snow and ice cover, and suggests ways we can adapt our ICT infrastructures to cope with these in the future. Critical telecommunications infrastructure is increasingly coming under strain and suffering failures as a result of more extreme weather events. However, the good news is that with a few relatively simple changes our telecommunications infrastructure can be made more resilient to cope with these extremes.

Simple examples to strengthen the resilience of our telecommunications infrastructure include blocking the doors of network sites with sandbags and polythene sheeting in flood prone areas and re-locating backup generators to a higher floor of the telecommunications exchange, rather than locating it in the basement or the car park which is often common practice today. Another example is to use a folded ring topology, with resilience via loop back, rather than the “daisy-chained” infrastructure often used in mobile networks today.

However, some of the changes will require more extensive re-planning of the telecommunications infrastructures, for example, relocating critical infrastructure to higher ground to avoid flood plains. These changes will be more expensive to implement and will have to be phased in over a longer period. Access to adequate funding will also be important to enable operators to make these longer-term changes, especially for developing countries.

Developing appropriate responses to climate change requires the active engagement of stakeholders at all levels, fostering the adoption of innovative measures to better cope with, respond and adjust to climate change. The report’s launch follows the addition of a new ICT Solutions pillar in the UNFCCC Momentum for Change initiative which represents a positive step towards strengthening the transformational potential of ICTs as part of climate change responses.

New business opportunities will also emerge from the need to respond to climate change and it is expected that the report will contribute to further research on novel adaptation strategies. The development of new ICT standards, by ITU-T Study Group 5, will also be an essential part of improving the resilience of our telecommunications infrastructure. As global economies have become dependent on telecommunications networks for day-to-day functioning, we must ask and answer the important question: What more can we do to make our networks more resilient?

For more information, download the full report here.

 By  Angelica Valeria Ospina , Dr Keith Robert Dickerson and Dr. David Faulkner

Angelica Valeria Ospina


Dr. Ospina is a researcher at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, focusing on ICTs and the resilience of vulnerable communities to climate change. Angelica was the Research Coordinator of the “Climate Change, Innovation and ICTs” initiative at the University’s Centre for Development Informatics (CDI) from 2009 to 2012. Her experience includes more than ten years in the management and implementation of applied research projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Dr Keith Robert Dickerson

Keith-DickersonDr Dickerson has played an active role in the ICT industry for over 30 years. He is a Director of Climate Associates Ltd which provides advice to major companies on Energy Efficiency, Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation issues, especially where international standards are an important consideration. Keith is a Vice Chair of ITU-T Study Group 5 developing global standards covering topics such as carbon reduction, energy efficiency and e-waste. Keith has also been a member of the Board of European Telecommunications Standards Institute for over 10 years and leads their Green Agenda and Cross-Sector Strategy work. 

Dr. David Faulkner

Dave_FaulknerDr Faulkner gained his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Essex in Optical Fibre Communications Systems. His research career was in access networks with specialisation in passive optical networks for BritishTelecom. He filed 18 patents as inventor. Between 1995 and 1999 he was visiting lecturer at Essex University. From 2000-2008 he was Rapporteur for ITU-T/SG15/Q2 on “Fibre Systems for Access Networks”. He has chaired the conference on Networks and Optical Communications since its inception in 1995. He chaired the ITU-T Focus Group on ICT and Climate Change in 2008-2009 and is now Co-chairman of the Joint Coordination Activity on ICT and CC. In November 2009 he co-founded Climate Associates Limited to encourage and support environmental initiatives among clients and colleagues.


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