Monday, 16 April 2012

ICT and broadband – the key to a low-carbon economy

The Broadband Commission has published a report putting its weight behind the view that ICT, supported by broadband communications, is an essential part of moving to a low-carbon economy.

The Broadband Commission for Digital Development was set up in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO). The Commission comprises government leaders and the high-level representatives and leaders from relevant industries and international agencies and development organisations.

The report, called The Broadband Bridge – Linking ICT with climate action for a low-carbon economy, says that broadband has a vital role to play in three key areas related to climate change:

  • Transformation: helping other sectors of society to reduce greenhouse gases through dematerialisation, such as substituting travel with online collaboration or books with e-books.

  • Climate mitigation: reducing the ICT sector’s own emissions, such as developing low-energy products and solutions.

  • Climate adaptation: changes in processes, practices and structures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems to climate change impacts.

There are more details on each of these sections in the report. (The overview of adaptation is particularly interesting – it’s an area not often discussed)


The 40-page report goes on to set out the challenges, actions to date and follows up with some government case studies.

It concludes with some specific recommendations for what governments, organisations and corporations need to do to ensure that ICT/broadband achieves its low-carbon potential. The main message is that the various stakeholders need to work together and that a lack of awareness about ICT and broadband’s enabling role is a key challenge. To set things going the organisation came up with 10 specific recommendations, primarily aimed at governments, which are summarised below:

  1. Adopt a long-term National Broadband Plan/Strategy and consciously connect this to your climate goals.

  2. Bring convergence to ICT policy formulation so that it aligns with other policy areas.

  3. Ensure regulatory certainty to create a framework of investment certainty.

  4. Drive cross-ministry collaboration and integrated decision-making and use government procurement to send the right market signals.

  5. Remove the policy barriers hindering research and investment in 21st century ICT-based infrastructure and low carbon solutions.

  6. Encourage the take-up of low-carbon solutions by rewarding or incentivising consumer behaviours.

  7. Fund and facilitate scalable pilots to demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of broadband as a low-carbon enabler.

  8. Form partnerships across public, private and non-governmental sectors and industries to help develop a collaborative mindset.

  9. Develop metrics and standards for calculating both ICT’s environmental impacts and the positive contribution it can make to other sectors.

  10. Share knowledge and raise awareness.


The report provides useful support to the view that ICT can make a real contribution to a low-carbon economy, something that government often seem to acknowledge but then make policy that only categorises ICT as a problem, not part of the solution. Much of what’s in the report has been said before, in one form or another, but it’s well worth repeating.

My only criticism is that there is a confusion between ICT and broadband in the report, which tends to confuse, if not dilute the message. It’s understandable, given that it comes from the Broadband Commission, but the report is really talking about ICT. Broadband is one (very important) aspect of green ICT.

© The Green IT Review

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