IT in fight against climate change

Dr. Winnie Tang

Climate change is not too distant from us.

People in Hong Kong have experienced the unusual downpours which caused serious road flooding and traffic congestion in last October, after a hot Mid-Autumn Festival with temperature as high as 33 degree Celsius last year. The NASA announced that the global surface temperature in October 2016 was the second warmest October in 136 years of modern record-keeping while the temperatures in August and September were higher than the mean temperature of the two months from 1951-1980.

At the same time, international research firm Gartner estimated that climate change and sustainability would become key performance indicators for half of all the smart cities. Meanwhile, the Paris Agreement signed by 195 nations aims to join forces in addressing the climate change was effective from last November. Like other international cities, Hong Kong needs to reduce carbon emissions in the coming decades.

Climate change is a big topic, how can our students contribute to it? What role can information technology (IT) play in the issue?

Education Bureau’s signature event

Last June, Esri, a US software development company, launched Asia's first electronic learning project Map in Learning Program in Hong Kong. The project enables primary and secondary schools free access to ArcGIS Online software. This Geographic Information System helps the students to organize, compare and analyze different data, so as to develop multi-discipline potential solutions.

Aiming to encourage primary and secondary students in life-wide learning to cope with climate change, while integrating creative thinking with technology to contribute to reducing climate change in real life, the Education Bureau announced in last October a strategic partnership with Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited and Hong Kong Education City. The partnership organized an Inter-school Cross-curricular Project Competition on Climate Change 2016-17 with 17 organizations comprising government departments, local universities, major school councils and non-government organizations serving as supporting groups. The competition is a signature event of the Education Bureau for 2016/17.

IT makes learning vivid

IT can greatly facilitate students’ understanding of climate change.

Nowadays, lots of information is just one click away. However, it may be difficult to master a topic and to identify where to start. Learning will become much more interesting and vivid when we use interactive approaches and methods such as images, videos, games, and e-learning software.

There are many technologies which can be applied to learning, such as mobile applications, video games, and Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), as well as Geographic Information System (GIS). The recent popular mobile game Pokemon Go is a good example which used a simplified version of electronic map. I believe many students have gained much fun and knowledge about the names of local places or streets after playing the game.

To understand the impact of climate change, including various phenomena, causes and impact on human beings, one can use ArcGIS Online, a cloud-based mapping platform, which contains tools like cloud computing, big data, real time data and Story Map. The data can be presented on computer or mobile phone through image, video and map, it is easier for students to comprehend the changes and facilitate their investigative study. If students want to demonstrate their creativity, they could design a mobile game like Pokemon Go to drive people to walk around the territory to capture the Big Waster. This will surely make learning more interesting, and also be easier for students to remember the information.

At the same time, students can correlate the topic of climate change with their everyday lives. For example, they can compare the environmental benefits of various modes of public transport, understand the slope management work, compare the air quality in various urban areas, search the waste recycling facilities, explore the beautiful trees worthy of appreciation, etc. They can use electronic map in accomplishing all of them.

As the Chairman of Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited, I am very excited about the students’ participation in the competition. I hope that through the use of electronic map and related GIS technology, students will be able to conduct thematic study from micro, meso to macro level. This could enhance their conceptual thinking, allow them to connect with the real world, broaden their horizons, thus, moving a step forward to cope with climate change.

Map in Learning

The free e-learning Map in Learning Program helps local students to develop diversified potential solutions. (Picture: Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited)

Esri, the US software development company, allows primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong and the US free access to a Geographic Information System which helps the students to improve problem solving skills. (Picture: Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited)

The Inter-school Cross-curricular Project Competition on Climate Change 2016-17

Chairman of Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited (second from right) and the guests looked forward to students using Geographic Information System tools to enhance their thinking abilities, it would be an important step towards coping with climate change. (Photo credit: Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited)

The Inter-school Cross-curricular Project Competition on Climate Change 2016-17 launched in last October encourages students to discuss topics related to climate change in their daily lives and suggest innovative solutions. (Photo credit: Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited)

Students from Lok Sin Tong Leung Wong Wai-fong Memorial School demonstrated the water saving invention at the Launching Ceremony of the Inter-school Cross-curricular Project Competition on Climate Change 2016-17 cum Seminar on Climate Change & Technology. (Photo credit: Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited)

Representative from HKSKH Bishop Hall Secondary School shared with the guests an analysis of distribution of air pollutants at the Launching Ceremony of Inter-school Cross-curricular Project Competition on Climate Change 2016-17 cum Seminar on Climate Change & Technology. (Photo credit: Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited)

About author

Dr. Winnie Tang, JP, is an Honorary Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Hong Kong. She is a locally-bred IT entrepreneur of Hong Kong.