Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are of fundamental importance in reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, as well as in helping countries everywhere adapt to climate change and to deal with its sometimes catastrophic effects. This is the message of a report launched on 6th December 2010 by ITU and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) on Using ICTs in tackling climate change.
The report describes, with concrete examples, how ICTs 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 to swiftly transmit data, analysis and alerts.
The environmental impact of ICTs is being tackled through the introduction of more efficient equipment and networks, alongside better waste management through the entire lifecycle of electronic devices, according to the report. It notes that for every watt of energy saved by a billion end users of ICT equipment, a whole power plant is no longer required. And all sectors of the economy can significantly reduce their energy needs (and thus GHG emissions) through ICTs, which, for example, can maximize the efficiency of power systems in "smart" grids that distribute electricity with much less wastage and can harness effectively the power from renewable resources.
The report also highlights the crucial importance of ICTs in keeping watch over the Earth's climate and weather, and in warning of impending natural disasters. Thousands of lives are saved every year through monitoring systems that use data from satellites as well as sensors on land and sea. To ensure that these operations can be undertaken without interference, ITU, as the international steward of the limited resource of radio-frequency spectrum, allocates the necessary frequencies and approves technical standards.
Computing power and broadband networks are essential in analyzing these monitoring data and transmitting the results. In addition, notes the report, ICTs – and especially broadband Internet access – are playing an increasing role in delivering services that help to create and support a sustainable future. These include online access to education and medical services, even in remote communities, as well as information that helps protect food security. Within the next ten years, up to 250 million people living in Africa will experience increased water stress, and crop yields in some African countries are expected to drop by half, according to the report. ICTs can systematically monitor world supplies and shortages of water and food crops, as well as delivering advice to farmers on how to improve yields.
"ICTs are uniquely powerful tools for reducing emissions in every other sector. They also play an essential role in climate science. And because of this major role, they offer one of the most significant opportunities to reduce GHG emissions, especially in those industries that are among the highest producers of CO2, such as energy generation, waste disposal, construction and transport," commented ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré. "I call on the international community to recognize that ICTs must be a key component of efforts to mitigate climate change, and that ICTs support what climate change threatens most: sustainable development," he added.
"Actual implementation of sustainable ICTs is a critical step in achieving sustainable development. ICTs can have a net enabling effect that contributes to a low carbon economy, starting with the supply chain, energy efficiency in the use phase all the way through end of life management. When ICTs are applied, measurement of this net effect compared to business as usual is possible. GeSI members are fully committed to raises awareness by engaging with other stakeholders so we can fully realize the benefits of ICTs" stated GeSI Chair, Luis Neves.
Under the Bali Action Plan, issued in 2007 at the 13th Conference of Parties (COP-13) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ICTs are included in actions to promote technology-based sustainable development, including mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. The new report from ITU and GeSI shows how powerful ICTs are in this effort. It calls for the inclusion of ICTs in national mitigation plans. And it concludes quoting from a communiqué from ITU to COP-16 (in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010) "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.
ITU and GeSI sign agreement to collaborate on measuring the ICT impact
In order to fully appreciate the impact of ICTs in meeting the challenge of climate change, it is necessary to see trustworthy statistics. Using ICTs in tackling climate change notes that Study Group 5 in ITU's Standardization Sector (ITU-T) is in the process of approving a standard that presents the general principles on how to assess the environmental impact of ICTs and outlines the various methodologies that are being developed by ITU, in cooperation with UNFCCC and other bodies, including GeSI. These will allow fair comparisons to be made among projects, communities and even countries as a whole, when it comes to using ICTs to reduce emissions.
On 17 November 2010, an agreement was concluded by ITU and GeSI to formalize their cooperation in the area of measuring the impact of ICTs. It was signed by Malcolm Johnson, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, and by Luis Neves, Chairman of the Board of GeSI, and has the objective of developing a standardized common methodology which will be recognized globally for the measurement of the GHG emissions of ICTs themselves and the reduction of emissions enabled by ICTs in other sectors.
The report by ITU and GeSI Using ICTs in tackling climate change can be viewed and downloaded here. www.itu.int/ITU-T/climatechange/itu-gesi-report.html
International Institute for ICT Journalism