How entrepreneurs can help developing countries hard hit by climate change – Georgina Campbell Flatter

Georgina Campbell Flatter, Executive Director at MIT Legatum Center, Senior Lecturer in Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management

From Entrepreneur

Discussions around climate change solutions regained steam last November when a federal report indicated the negative impacts on public safety and the economy are now being felt across the United States. Even if governments are able to implement policies that reduce carbon emissions and mitigate this trend over the long term, countries must build resilience now for increasingly extreme weather events, shifting energy demands and new challenges for industries like insurance, tourism and agriculture.

In terms of both economic losses and human casualties, climate change affects developing countries most acutely because they lack the infrastructure and resources that help richer countries endure. Consider, for instance, that from 1997 to 2016, extreme weather events like flash floods killed more than half a million people, and of the 10 countries hit hardest, nine were in the developing world. Technologies like radar, satellites and weather stations are expensive to implement, so large swaths of the world still lack access to modern weather data. The result is that the world’s most weather-sensitive communities also have the lowest quality weather information, a disparity which climate change will only exacerbate.

There are entrepreneurs who approach this disparity not merely as a humanitarian imperative but as a challenge that demands innovative, market-driven solutions which are sustainable and scalable. For examples of how high-impact startups can help developing countries build climate resilience, let’s look at public safety and agriculture.

Since launching in 2015, the “microweather” venture ClimaCell has raised $70 million in funding and attracted major customers from industries dependent on minute-to-minute forecasting like air travel, professional sports and construction. Recently, the company announced a 40-country rollout that includes India, where the company plans to, among other things, revolutionize the country’s early warning system for floods.

The three founders of ClimaCell — Shimon Elkabetz, Itai Zlotnik and Rei Goffer — learned the critical limitations of traditional forecasting while serving in the Israeli military. Afterward, they explored ways to extract data from untapped sources. According to Goffer, “We developed a technology that could ‘see’ all sorts of weather phenomena by analyzing subtle changes in cellular and satellite signals.” They found they could significantly improve forecasting capabilities by integrating traditional radar and satellite data with their own, but also surmised their tech would make the greatest impact in developing countries, where weather infrastructure was minimal but wireless networks were widespread. Supported by Legatum Center fellowships, both Goffer and Zlotnik attended MIT Sloan School of Management to explore emerging market applications.

ClimaCell chose India as their beachhead into the developing world, a country which has lagged decades behind developed countries in terms of weather data and, partly as a result, has historically accounted for one-fifth of flooding deaths in the world. Floods this summer killed more than 400 people in Karachi alone. By partnering with some of India’s largest companies, ClimaCell turned their networks into millions of virtual sensors, bringing granular weather data to solutions ranging from mobility to agriculture — and of course, to public safety. According to ClimaCell’s Chief Scientist Daniel Rothenberg, “By using these virtual sensors to more finely capture real-time changes in precipitation, we can greatly enhance communities’ resilience to extreme weather from floods and beyond.”

Now let’s look at agriculture, which provides livelihoods for 40 percent of the world’s population and is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households. As climate change leads to increasingly unpredictable weather, smallholders find they can no longer rely on farming practices based on generations of experience.

Read the full post at Entrepreneur.

Georgina Campbell Flatter, MEng (Oxon) SM, is a Senior Lecturer in Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Executive Director of the MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship.

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