The thirteenth chapter of the UN 2020 Water and Climate Change report highlights the importance of advancing technological innovation and citizen knowledge to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The report points to six aspects of science, technology, and innovation that are rapidly evolving: “i) overall assessment and monitoring of water resources and hydrological processes; ii) conservation, recovery and reuse of water resources; iii) adaptation of infrastructures; iv) cost reduction in treatment and distribution processes; v) efficiency of water supply delivery and use; and vi) access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”
Some of these innovations include earth observation, advanced sensor technologies, and information and communication technologies. Earth observation from satellite-based space technologies are able to collect data on weather, climate, and the evolution of water resources around the world. Remote sensing conducted through these satellites can track larger evolutions such as land use change that traditional technology cannot observe. Advanced sensor technologies provide online and real-time monitoring of water availability and quality, which can inform smart water management. This technology can, for example, detect chemical leakages and inform adequate responses. Information and communication technologies include storing data on a shared cloud, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and the internet of things, which are every-day objects connected to the internet (e.g. a water meter with sensors to detect water consumption). Such technologies improve the analysis and interpretation of existing data. The report states that the internet of things can be particularly useful in rural areas, who otherwise have limited means to collect data.
These technological innovations are notable, but they need to be better integrated in decision-making practices. Currently, there is a science-policy gap due to the limited political will and financial and human resources to process, analyze, and present how data can be understood and used by decision makers.
While decision makers take their time to fill the science-policy gap, the public have options to empower themselves in Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and voluntary action. In countries where accessing such innovative technology is costly, FOSS is a cheap and increasingly popular technology. FOSS allows for users to crowdsource and share relevant data, which can, for example, contribute to early warning systems and validate flood forecasting models. Access to FOSS can empower even the most marginalized populations, including youth, women, the poor, and those in rural areas. Additionally, voluntary action that increases awareness also increases citizen action. There are, for example, climate change guidebooks that promote citizen participation and citizen science projects. An example of this is EarthWatch’s ‘FreshWater Watch,’ which engages the communities it serves to gather samples of freshwater for those samples to be analyzed for quality, pollution, and wildlife.
The chapter concludes by stressing the importance of science, decision-making, and public participation in creating the most effective and informed mitigation and adaptation measures.