Attendees at the ITU Symposium on ICTs, the Environment and Climate Change in Ghana earlier this month have renewed calls for global leaders to recognise the power of ICT to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
The purpose of the Symposium was to further discuss using ICT to monitor climate change and to mitigate and adapt to its effects, and hence identify future requirements for ITU’s work. It particularly focused on Africa and the needs of developing countries and the topics included mitigation and adaptation to climate change, e-waste, disaster planning, cost-effective ICT technologies, challenges and opportunities in the transition to a green and resource efficient economy.
An outcome document from the Symposium asks that the ITU, as the UN agency specialising in ICT, lead a coalition urging delegates at the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP-17) in South Africa later this year to address the enormous potential of ICT to cut emissions across all sectors. It also asks for recognition of the value of ICT in monitoring deforestation, crop patterns and other environmental phenomena.
The belief is that specific mention of ICT in the COP-17 negotiations, along with the adoption of a methodology for measuring the carbon footprint of ICT equipment and its inclusion in National Adaptation/Mitigation Plans, would provide an incentive to the ICT industry to invest in developing countries, help reduce the digital divide, and at the same time help fight climate change.
Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary General of the ITU, stressed the organisation’s commitment to providing the technical know-how to mitigate and adapt to climate change. “It is now clear to most observers that ICTs have a very important role to play here. Recognition of this at the international level will provide countries with a solid argument to roll out climate change strategies with a strong ICT element,” he said.
There does still seem to be a reluctance amongst governments to accept the role of ICT as a green enabler, but there is now plenty of research to suggest that technology is going to be a major factor if national carbon reduction targets are going to be achieved.
There is still an entrenched government mindset that often sees investment in ICT as non-essential and frequently wasted through failed projects. This is particularly true in the UK, where the cost of public-private partnership and private finance initiatives have resulted in the public sector paying well over the odds for ICT projects.
So, when they’re trying to reduce a national deficit, investing in large-scale ICT projects is very low on the list of priorities. But it’s only going to get more urgent as time passes and emissions targets loom. One thing the government has (hopefully) learnt is that rushing the decisions only makes a project more likely to fail. On the other hand, it’s hard to see how you ever make government ICT procurement truly effective.