Using smartphones to combat climate change

Digital solution - internet of trees

Mobile App -internet of the trees. Photo: GIZ

Guadalajara wants to become a greener city: Some 500,000 urban trees already line the streets of the city in western Mexico. Citizens care about the trees, and in 2017 they voted for the city administration to invest in the maintenance and expansion of the city’s green spaces.

This is not just about the urban landscape or a shady spot on a sunny summer’s day, but also about visionary urban development, because trees help to mitigate the consequences of climate change in cities. City trees can cool the air by two to eight degrees and thus make life in the city more bearable when temperatures rise. They also regulate the water balance, thereby reduce the risk of flooding.

Using digital solutions to support municipal decisions

This is where an IKI project comes in to support urban tree management in Guadalajara: “Together with the city administration and the citizens, we have developed a digital solution to collect data on urban trees,” explains Teresa Kerber, the manager of the GIZ project. “This data helps the administration to make sustainable and climate-relevant decisions for urban planning and development.”

“Internet of Trees”: Involving the citizens in climate action

The digital solution is called “Árbol IoT,” which means “Internet of Trees” in English. It’s a platform consisting of three elements: a mobile app, a web application, and sensors to capture environmental data that can be used as indicators. The citizens of Guadalajara were not only involved in the development of the platform, but they also play a decisive role as “users.” “Via smartphones, users record data on urban trees, for example, the species, the diameter of the trunk, diseases, and damage or illegal logging,” says Kerber.

Per Smartphone sammeln Bürger Daten zu Stadtäumen.

“With environmental sensors, people can also collect data on temperature, humidity, or pollutants.” This information supplements the data obtained by the city administration through professional surveys such as radar measurements of the number and location of trees. The smartphone data contributed by the citizens complete the tree inventory that is the basis for Guadalajara’s urban tree and green space management.

Playing, learning, and commitment

Around 1,000 inhabitants already use “Árbol IoT.” In this way, they not only actively support sustainable urban development but also expand their knowledge about climate change and the benefits of trees in coping with the immediate consequences of climate change. “Participation is a key concept in the development of digital solutions for adapting to climate change,” emphasizes   Teresa Kerber. “In this way, citizens can voice their concerns and needs and contribute new ideas from the very beginning of the process.”

However, this also means everyone should have the possibility to participate, including people who live offline. In line with the Agenda 2030 principle, “leave no one behind,” the digital solution also includes mobile interactive access to the Internet of Trees. This mobile access can be made available in changing public spaces.

Finally, the mobile app uses playful elements to motivate users to collect data on urban trees, because they collect green points and can earn a virtual award though the collection of data. In the future, the awards will have real value, for example, in the form of parking tickets or vouchers for cultural events and activities.

From pilot project to broad application

What works in Guadalajara can also works nationwide and beyond the borders. “When developing digital solutions, we find it important that they don’t just work for one use case. Rather, we want to achieve that idea, and the technology spread widely,” explains Kerber. Therefore, the project relies exclusively on open source technologies that can be used and enhanced by interested parties. To this end, the GIZ has developed the platform Climate Digital Cities Hub.

The Mexican “Internet of Trees” (Árbol IoT) is an excellent example of how digital solutions can be used to achieve broad citizen participation. In this way, the small digital contributions of everyone are pooled to form an important resource that will advance the adaptation of cities to climate change.