A COP 27 side event co-organized by TMG and the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) aimed to tackle one of the key gaps in current climate discussions: how to better predict and manage transboundary climate-related disease outbreaks and other threats. Drawing on studies of desert locust outbreaks in the eastern Africa and Horn region, the discussions explored what is needed to “steer and guide” the development of a novel early warning and early action systems to strengthen preparedness for some of the most vulnerable countries and regions of the world.
TMG Research Associates Elena Lazutkaite and Adam Prakash provided an overview of the state of early warning and action systems (EWS), with a focus on recent desert locust outbreaks linked to multiple cyclonic events. Highlighting a conclusion by the 2019 Global Commission on Adaptation, they noted a more than 10-fold return in investment for advanced AI technology and satellite-based applications that can help accurately pinpoint new breeding grounds for preemptive action. In particular, they stressed, this can help prevent much more costly, geographically extensive, and environmentally destructive eradication campaigns that are tantamount to "unleashing chemical warfare."
We need a new global public good to strengthen preparedness and anticipatory early action
In his introductory remarks, TMG Managing Director Alexander Müller explained that a key aim of the session was to increase the visibility of climate-related risks and threats in the context of food security, terming this one of the underrated issues in the climate debate. He further noted that the discussions would zero in on critical governance questions such as: the kind of global public good needed; how to organize it; and how to increase the visibility of early warning and preparedness for new pests and diseases on the climate policy and funding agenda.
Posing the question: why should we care about transboundary early warning? Sebastian Lesch, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) stressed the vulnerability of our agriculture and food systems to climate-related natural hazards, further exacerbated by the lasting effects of Covid-19, and the energy and fertilizer crises linked to the war in Ukraine. He said that investing in digital tools such as remote sensing and AI is a core part of Germany’s response to growing global hunger as it can help speed up an inclusive transformation of the agri-food sector.
Reaching the last mile
Lesch further outlined some governance issues linked to such “game changing” technical solutions, including: how to scale results and apply them to these to multiple crisis situations; how to ensure that data is interoperable; facilitating access to climate data to local authorities and building their capacities to effectively use this information for better preparedness. He concluded by noting that despite investment in regional and global cooperation to tackle desert locusts and other devastating plagues, “the current situation demands that we must act faster” to, among other needs, improve data management and coordination mechanisms, and ensure that data solutions also work for last mile communities and those left behind.
In the ensuing panel discussion, Ahmed Amdihun, Regional Programme Coordinator, IGAD-ICPAC, characterized the horn and Eastern Africa region as “an epitome of crisis" due to the convergence of natural hazard induced disasters, conflict, population displacements and weak institutional capacities, with desert locust invasions further compounding existing risks. He noted some of the devastating consequences for a region witnessing the most prolonged drought in more than four decades, including the displacement of more than one million people, nearly 50 million people experiencing acute food insecurity. For long-term resilience, he stressed, it is critical to find holistic approaches to tackle these multiple risks and hazards and translate global and regional commitments into tangible anticipatory actions at all levels.
Alexandre Latchininsky, FAO, provided insights from insect biology research. Framing the scale of the data challenge, he noted that insect invasions can cover an area of more than 30 million square kilometers, or more than 60 countries. While remote sensing generates terabytes of data each day, he cautioned that effective action requires translating this data into meaningful information and getting it to those who need it most. Wondering “who will pay” for such information, he highlighted a new study collaborative exploring sustainability questions around EWS with the aim of contributing to the governance discourse on how to effectively manage climate-related pests and diseases.
Debating these issues, the panel highlighted, among other critical governance questions:
How to build effective partnerships at global and regional level to tackle transboundary threats;
How to expand data collection and analysis beyond satellite imagery to more contextualized, mobile-driven applications;
How to tackle the close correlation between insect outbreaks and conflict zones;
How to scale up more bio pesticides and other alternatives by exploring viable business models to toxic chemicals.
Concluding that “without a process there is no progress,” Alexander Müller pointed to the diversity of expertise and technological innovations that can be brought together create new holistic responses to these existing and emerging crises.