The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has published a report called ‘Using ICTs to tackle climate change’, you can download it here.
Given that it was produced with the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), co-producer of the Smart 2020 report, it’s no surprise that the report concludes that ICT is of fundamental importance in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as in helping adapt to climate change and deal with its impact.
The report describes how ICT can achieve these goals in three main ways:
By driving down emissions in the ICT sector itself
By cutting emissions and raising energy efficiency in other sectors
By using ICT-based systems to monitor weather and the environment worldwide, as well as transmitting data, analysis and alerts.
The report finds that the environmental impact of ICT itself is being addressed through more efficient equipment and networks as well as better waste management. It points out that with a billion end users of ICT, for every watt of energy saved a whole power plant is made redundant.
At the same time, all sectors of the economy can reduce their energy needs and GHG emissions through ICT, for instance using smart grids to reduce emissions, promoting smart industries, smart logistics and using ICT to reduce or replace travel.
The report also highlights the crucial importance of ICT in monitoring and managing the impact of climate change. ICT has a role in monitoring the global environment/ecosystem, monitoring deforestation and forest degradation, addressing food security, water supply and transportation and waste management, increasing energy supply efficiency and in education and to raise awareness of climate change.
Much of this already relies on monitoring systems that use data from satellites as well as sensors on land and sea, which is where the ITU’s role comes in. The report also notes that broadband internet access is playing an increasing role in services that help to create a sustainable future.
ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré said; “I call on the international community to recognise that ICTs must be a key component of efforts to mitigate climate change, and that ICTs support what climate change threatens most: sustainable development,”.
This is all part of the COP-16 negotiations in Cancun. Under the 2007 Bali Action Plan (COP-13), ICT is included in actions to promote technology-based sustainable development, including mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. This report calls for the inclusion of ICTs in national mitigation plans. It concludes quoting from a communiqué from ITU to COP-16; “delegates are urged to look to ICTs in the context of their own sectoral emissions to take maximum advantage of the power of ICTs to reduce emissions worldwide and to enhance action on adaptation, taking into account the needs of developing countries.”
The ITU and GeSI are already trying to do their bit. In November they agreed to formalise their cooperation in the area of measuring the impact of ICTs. It’s aimed at developing a standardised common methodology which will be recognised globally for the measurement of the GHG emissions of ICTs themselves and the reduction of emissions enabled by ICTs in other sectors.
This report seems to take the Smart 2020 report further by stressing the impact of ICT in monitoring and managing climate change. It’s an aspect of green IT I’ve been banging on about for some time. Climate change is happening, so we need the systems in place to understand the long-term changes, but also (eventually) the local/real-time detail so that systems can adapt to the impact, for example, of extreme climate events on supply chains. It’s not comfortable to think about, but it’s the world that we’re heading for.