Climate Action

6 technologies to help the world adapt to climate change

People using virtual reality.

Can we use virtual reality to help climate adaptation? Image: Unsplash/Lucrezia Carnelos

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Emerging Technologies

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • Six technologies are critical for climate adaptation, according to the World Economic Forum’s new report, Innovation and Adaptation in the Climate Crisis.
  • These are artificial intelligence, drones, Earth observation, advanced computing, the Internet of Things and virtual and augmented reality.
  • For example, early warning systems powered by Earth observation and drones can help save lives in climate disasters.

Adapting to climate change – navigating life in a world where climate and weather conditions are no longer a given – starts with understanding climate risks. And this means measuring and managing them.

In a new report, Innovation and Adaptation in the Climate Crisis: Technology for the New Normal, the World Economic Forum looks at six data-driven and digital technologies that can play a “mission-critical” role in global climate adaptation.

This includes strengthening risk analytics and climate-proofing supply chains, responding to emergencies and powering R&D to discover the next generation of climate technologies.

Here are just a few of the ways today’s tech is driving climate adaptation.

1. AI for climate adaptation

Weather and climate models that are significantly more sophisticated and precise are being developed with artificial intelligence.

For example, AI has added sea surface temperature data into ocean models – something human researchers couldn’t do. This has advanced the science community’s understanding of ocean current speed.

Other climate adaptation advances using AI include smart sewer systems that avert flooding during heavy rainfall and drought-resistant crops.

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2. Drones for climate adaptation

Drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – are unpiloted aircraft that can be equipped with advanced cameras and cover large distances.

They can also carry sophisticated equipment, like sensors to detect anomalies, and geo-positioning systems for highly precise location tracking.

Drones can help organizations adapt to climate change by collecting visual data on climate risk and impacts. For example, a business might use drones to monitor water sources that are critical to its operations.

Drones can also help in search-and-rescue situations after a climate disaster, for example by identifying affected communities in hard-to-reach areas.

Extreme events during the course of the last 50 years
As extreme weather events increase, adapting to climate change is critical. Image: WEF

3. Earth observation for climate adaptation

Earth observation uses satellites and other remote-sensing technology, or location-based techniques like weather stations, to gather information about changes on Earth.

Huge volumes of satellite data are helping scientists develop new ways of managing planetary resources.

For example, European Space Agency satellites have revealed new knowledge about Earth's climate, including ice melt and freshwater resources.

Earth observation is also critical for early warning systems in a climate adaptation scenario, for example by spotting hurricanes before they happen.

The lifesaving impact of early warning systems
Early warning systems powered by technologies including earth observation and drones can help save lives in climate disasters. Image: WEF

4. Advanced computing for climate adaptation

Advanced computing involves using highly powerful computers with enhanced accuracy and speed. These include supercomputers – the world’s biggest and most powerful computers – and quantum computers, which use subatomic particles like photons – particles of light – to perform multiple calculations at once.

Quantum computing is expected to advance climate modelling and climate adaptation because it can predict processes that are essential to weather forecasting, like fluid dynamics. This is difficult for traditional computers.

Supercomputing is also being made more widely available to help with weather and climate modelling.

5. Internet of Things for climate adaptation

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the world of connected devices that talk to each other. These might be sensors or hand-held devices that share data and monitor systems.

IoT technology is being used to gather and share new kinds of data, such as changes in air quality and temperature. For instance, sensors that detect wildfires can send mobile phone alerts to people in the affected area.

California-based company PanoAI uses an IoT-based platform to detect wildfires and pass information to fire professionals and emergency services. The system, which combines powerful cameras with multiple data feeds, monitors more than 5 million acres of land and detects thousands of fires.

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6. Augmented reality and virtual reality for climate adaptation

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are technologies that provide immersive experiences. This includes superimposing digital features on physical environments or using hardware such as headsets to fully immerse users.

AR and VR are increasingly being used to change our behaviour around climate action and adaptation. By simulating the impacts of climate change, for example, VR headsets can show users a world with climate impacts such as changed weather patterns and biodiversity loss.

An immersive experience called the Climate Tipping Points Hub, introduced by the Forum and its partners, uses 3D simulations and VR experiences to show the escalating domino effect of climate change impacts like disappearing arctic sea ice.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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