Sunday, 6 December 2009

Copenhagen and green ICT

image The meeting

The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) starts today and runs until December 18th.  Around 10,000 people representing almost 200 countries will descend on Copenhagen with the intention of thrashing out an agreement that will take over when the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end in 2012.

Kyoto, you may recall, set binding GHG reduction targets for 37 countries (and the European Community) equivalent to an average of a 5% cut on 1990 levels.  The protocol came into force in February 2005 and has been ratified by 184 countries.  Some countries, including the USA, signed the treaty but refused to ratify it, i.e. never adopted it as a national policy.

The issues

The fundamental issues being addressed at Copenhagen are:

• the extent to which the developed/industrialised world will reduce emissions, bearing in mind that these are the countries that created the problem

• the extent to which the developing world will reduce emissions, given that these countries understandably want to get to where the developed countries are now

• the extent to which the developed world will give financial support to the developing world to achieve their emissions reduction targets.

The driving force is the urgent need to reach agreement now so that national targets, and consequent legislation to enact them, can be in place as soon as possible.  International agreement is also an essential factor in managing such things as carbon trading and carbon offsets on a global scale. 

The relationship between the developed and developing world, primarily in the form of the US and China, is at the heart of the discussions.  However, expectations have been given a boost in recent weeks, with China making its first public announcement of a carbon reduction target, whilst President Obama has also promised to attend the conference to help bring an agreement.  However, the US has failed to enact any national climate legislation to bring to the conference, so the President has limited room to manoeuvre.

There is a lot of ground to cover in Copenhagen, but many believe that the situation is now so urgent that an agreement is essential.  The counter view is that the rush to get an agreement may result in so much compromise as to do more harm than good.

Why is it important?

Setting aside, for the moment, the view that we’re running out of time to save the planet, the uncertainty factor about what we are trying to achieve and when is holding back much of the effort to go green.  Businesses need to know what is expected of them, green technology vendors need to know how their markets will develop and investors need to see a more certain future.

A comprehensive international agreement will facilitate moves already underway to address climate change.  Companies around the world will have some confidence that becoming more environmentally friendly will not give away a competitive advantage, businesses will have a clearer view of the targets they will have to achieve and more investment will go into clean technologies and renewable energy if the potential market is more certain.  Failure at Copenhagen will not stop the move to a greener economy, but agreement should speed things up significantly.

What does it mean for ICT?

Well anyone who reads The Green IT Review regularly will know that ICT has a huge part to play in helping achieve a low-carbon economy.  Whilst ICT is a significant source of emissions, and much needs to be done to manage its inevitable growth, ICT also has a very significant part to play in reducing the 98% of emissions that it does not cause.  A number of studies, including the Smart 2020 report have made the point.

The ICT sector has done a lot to get its own house in order, but inroads into the market have been limited.  In a world where businesses are uncertain about future legislation they are reluctant to invest in green solutions.  With limited customer interest, ICT companies have also been slow in investing in the sorts of solutions that a green economy needs.  The situation is compounded for international businesses and their suppliers.

However, the importance of ICT has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be.  We reported back in October that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN agency for information and communications technology, will be at Copenhagen pressing for the greater recognition of ICT as a cross-sectoral tool to combat climate change. 

ICT companies have also been lobbying, including the 700 members of The Copenhagen Communiqué on Climate Change, which, when we reported on it in September, already included  the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, BT, Cable and Wireless, Cisco, CSC, eBay, HP, Infosys, Ricoh, RM, SAP, Siemens, Sony Ericsson, SunGard, Symantec, Telefonica and Yahoo!

The reason for this effort is clearly not entirely altruistic.  A concrete agreement in Copenhagen will give direction and reassurance to businesses around the world to start investing in the ICT products and solutions required to reach the targets that the international agreement sets.  It will generate considerable ICT business opportunities for those companies that are in the right place with the right solutions.  Those opportunities include carbon counting, management and trading solutions, new infrastructure/transport projects such as road charging systems, enterprise solutions around facilities management, logistics/transport, etc. and renewable energy generation and distribution requirements, including smart grids.

The ICT sector is in the enviable position of being able to generate significant business in helping the transition to a low-carbon economy.  A successful conference in Copenhagen can only speed up the process.

© The Green IT Review

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