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Climate Action 2010-2011

Technology and Business

Technology and Business ICTs are uniquely important in combating climate change Dr Hamadoun I. Touré Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) From mobile smart phones to broadcasting to emergency communications, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are a crucial part of our everyday lives and of countless administrative and industrial processes. These vital technologies are energy hungry and have an environmental impact throughout their lifecycle. But they are also uniquely powerful tools for reducing emissions in almost every sector and play an essential role in climate science. Reducing ICT’s carbon footprint – and everyone else’s ICTs offer an immense opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the board, especially in those industries that are among the highest producers of CO 2 , such as energy generation, waste disposal, construction and transport. For example, ICTs provide means for virtual meetings, immediately cutting out the need to travel. It has been suggested that if 20 per cent of business travel in the EU was replaced by video and web conferencing, it would save 22.3 million tonnes of CO 2 a year. Experts have estimated that some 2.5 per cent of global emissions are caused by the ICT industry (mainly through the consumption of electricity), excluding broadcasting and related radiocommunications. The figure is likely to rise substantially as the use of ICTs spread, despite efforts by the industry to improve efficiency. A large data centre, for instance, could have the energy requirements of a medium-sized city. According to ITU statistics, the number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide rose above five billion in 2010, and by the end of this year, more than two billion people will be online. This enormous growth, coupled with new, power-hungry applications, will lead to increasing energy consumption. Some analysts suggest that the energy used by ICTs in Europe alone may grow to 10.5 per cent of total consumption by 2018. | 88 | But, crucially, deploying ICTs can massively reduce the emissions produced in other sectors. According to the G20 ICT Sustainability Index 2009, 5.8 billion tonnes (gigatonnes) could be eliminated by 2020 “through the focused use of ICT-based solutions”. The broadband boost Advanced networks that give broadband internet access allow governments, companies and individuals to not only use new services such as telemedicine and online education, but also to achieve substantial energy savings – especially when used as part of an integrated broadband system across all sectors. And the electricity industry itself is of major significance. According to the World Energy Council, electricity generation is the single largest contributor to global CO 2 emissions – around 40 per cent of the total. Significant reductions will be made through broadband-enabled ‘smart’ electricity grids that allow for efficient generation and distribution of energy. In addition, smart grids make it easier for locally generated electricity (including from renewable sources) to be integrated, stored and shared as demand fluctuates across the grid. Some US studies have suggested that smart grids could generate savings of between 10 and 25 per cent in electricity demand. In May 2010, ITU together with UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development (www.broadbandcommission.org), to promote the adoption of practices and policies that enable all countries and communities to experience the benefits of broadband. The Commission’s members are leaders from governments, relevant industries, international agencies and development organisations. They presented a report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September 2010, highlighting the central role of ICTs in accelerating progress to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the target date of 2015. www.climateactionprogramme.org

Technology and Business ICTs in measuring and monitoring Most observers agree that ICTs can save much more CO 2 than they produce. But it is hard to find consistent figures that show this on a large scale. A transparent and standardised way of accurately measuring both the pollution impacts and the ‘cleaning’ power of ICTs is needed. We need to see figures we can trust if fair comparisons are to be made on a global scale – and this has important implications for the COP process. Methodologies for measurement In October 2010, a study group of ITU’s Standardization Sector began the approval process of a new standard that sets out a framework for evaluating the environmental effects of ICTs and outlines methodologies to assess these impacts in terms of goods, networks and services, as well as the use of ICTs in organisations, cities, and even whole countries. In future, it should be possible to make valuable comparisons of ICT-related emissions using agreed and transparent methodology. A factory in Croatia, for example, could be measured against similar premises in China or Canada. A factory owner could then look at the current impact of his operations and calculate the potential CO 2 savings that could be made through ICTs. It is anticipated that the new standard will be published in final form in early 2011. Under its umbrella, further, more detailed standards on specific areas are expected to be provided from 2012. The results will also be fed into work on the Clean Development Mechanism, defined in the Kyoto Protocol. These methodologies could prove invaluable in providing a trusted means of measuring the impact of ICTs. International carbon markets can function largely because a trusted ‘currency’ exists to measure emissions in many contexts. A standardised means of measurement does not yet exist for ICTs. The new standard will begin to correct this and offer a way to include the powerful influence of ICTs in calculations of how to combat climate change. Monitoring the planet ICTs are also fundamental to climate science in the gathering, processing and analysis of data. The role of ICTs is clearly shown in the World Meteorological Organization’s World Weather Watch (WWW). At its core is the Global Observing System (GOS), which uses satellites and remote sensing equipment on land, sea and in outer Space. Another component of WWW is the Global Data Processing System, which links thousands of ordinary and super computers to process enormous volumes of meteorological data to generate warnings and forecasts, as well as for modelling the Earth’s atmosphere. And all of this data can be shared – almost instantly and in huge amounts – through broadband networks. The services provided by GOS rely on having sufficient radio spectrum and allocated frequencies that remain free of interference. The need to co-ordinate such arrangements internationally is one way in which ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector plays an essential role in climate monitoring. ICT are crucial in emergencies When natural disasters hit, ICT, in many forms, become a critical part of the response. Because terrestrial communication networks are vulnerable to disasters (or, in many remote areas or developing countries, might never have existed in the first place), wireless systems provide a highly cost-effective and reliable alternative for humanitarian teams to communicate with each other or the outside world, and to provide victims with such facilities as telemedicine. Wireless and satellite broadband communication equipment can be moved to disaster sites and deployed rapidly. The ITU has been active in sending such systems to afflicted areas, most recently following the Haiti earthquake in January 2010. Broadband and other communication systems also play a critical role in boosting a country’s preparedness to deal with natural disasters and emergencies. They allow for reliable data-gathering and alerts, and enable civic authorities, organisations and individuals to receive early warning of any impending threat. The ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector assists with the rapid deployment of emergency communications and organises workshops on introducing ICTs for climate monitoring in developing countries and the use of remote sensing technologies in disaster management. The Sector is also helping countries adapt to the impact of climate change. In low-lying nations at risk from sealevel rise, the ITU provides ICT tools for implementing adaptation measures and early-warning systems. A call to action I call on everyone at COP 16 to recognise that ICTs must be a key component of efforts to mitigate climate change. And let us work to raise awareness worldwide of their fundamental role in achieving what climate change threatens so severely: sustainable growth and development. Dr Hamadoun Touré is Secretary-General of the ITU. In October this year, he was re-elected to serve a second term. He was previously director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), the executive arm of the ITU’s development sector. He is strongly committed to projects such as the Pan-African Telecommunications Network. ITU, based in Geneva, is the leading UN agency for information and communication technology (ICT) issues and the global focal point for governments and the private sector in developing networks and services. For 145 years it has co-ordinated the shared global use of the radio spectrum, worked to improve telecommunication infrastructure in the developing world, and addressed the global challenges of our times, such as mitigating climate change and strengthening cybersecurity. International Telecommunication Union Place des Nations, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland Tel: +41 22 730 5111 Email: itumail@itu.int Website: www.itu.int www.climateactionprogramme.org | 89 |