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A Greener Future: Navigating the Digital Frontier for Climate Action

Last year’s deadly floods in Pakistan were a grim example of the escalating climate disasters around the world. The floods forced 33 million people to flee their homes, claimed 1,600 lives, destroyed over 2 million houses, and left hundreds of villages uninhabitable.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, more than 40% of the global population is highly vulnerable to climate change-related disasters based on their location or the circumstances in which they live. And people living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that are considered “climate hotspots” are particularly vulnerable due to poverty, poor infrastructure, and low capacity for response.

As wildfires, droughts, storms, and heatwaves increase in intensity and frequency across the planet, countries need to take urgent action. However, despite the urgency, the world is falling short of meeting the Paris Agreement goals of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The IPCC has warned that even if effective actions are put in place to meet this goal, there is a locked-in level of planetary degradation that is now irreversible. The resulting harm from a warmer planet will disproportionately impact vulnerable populations in LMICs. In Pakistan’s example, it ranks eighth in countries most susceptible to long-term climate risk, despite being responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Loss and damage refers to the irreversible consequences of climate change that humans cannot mitigate against or adapt to, such as coastal degradation and melting glaciers. Future projections of loss and damage depend on the extent of global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Some estimates suggest that costs could be anywhere between $290 billion and $580 billion by 2030, and more than $1 trillion by 2050. At the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), country delegates agreed to direct loss and damage funding to those countries most affected by climate disasters. However, the global community still needs to determine the mechanisms to mobilize this funding.

COP28 later this year will mark the conclusion of the first global stocktake to adopt policies that support climate action, including formal channels for loss and damage funding. These efforts reflect the growing recognition of the urgent need to address the disproportionate impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable communities, particularly those LMICs that are least responsible for causing climate change but are the most affected by it.

Given the urgency of the climate crisis and the narrowing window of opportunity for action, what role does digital technology need to play to maximize progress on climate goals? This paper examines the implications, both the opportunities and the risks, of leveraging climate funding for digital public infrastructure (DPI) and offers commentary on important variables that need to be considered.