ITU: COP15 needs to recognise ICT's role in carbon reduction

As we move closer to the Copenhagen Climate Change conference (or COP15 for short) in early December, the ITU has said it will send a message to Denmark requesting that ICT's role in the reduction of climate change effects be included in the agreement. I'm surprised it isn't included already.

The ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré has already stated that "ICT is now clearly recognized as part of the solution, not part of the problem," and it's heartening to hear the ITU contribute to the debate on climate change.

As proof of this, the ITU made its annual session (where among other things, it approved its budget for 2010-2011) as paperless as possible. It claims to have saved 766 kilograms of paper, or almost one and a half tons of greenhouse gas emissions - the equivalent of driving a typical family vehicle for almost four months. Annual global carbon emissions are apparently heading north of 8 trillion tons, just to put the ITU's effort here in context. So, although it's not apparent at this stage quite what message the ITU will send to Denmark, it's almost certainly going to be worth more than the paper it's written (if an email is not sent instead AND the email is not printed out when it gets to Copenhagen - which would be a waste).
Given that the ICT industry does indeed have very significant a role to play in reducing its carbon footprint (particularly since it emits more globally than the aviation industry), it's timely to look at what what's possible. Here's a personal list of ten in no particular order:
•    Dematerialization - this is where the use of data replaces physical methods of communication, so, using email instead of writing a letter for example
•    Telecommuting - work from home instead of travelling to the office
•    Remote collaboration - collaborate with colleagues using videoconferencing more often
•    Smart grids - a framework for encouraging greater use of off-peak electricity
•    Greener data centres - data centres guzzle power and a single one can consume more power than some towns and cities
•    M2M adoption - communicating in real time over the mobile network to centralised monitoring resources is the way ahead in terms of reducing the energy spent travelling out into the field to check machines or objects
•    Smart buildings - buildings that restrict power usage and are built to be energy efficient are the way ahead
•    Intelligent Transport Systems - vehicle loads and routes can be optimised by the application of ICT to reduce fuel consumption
•    Procuring energy from renewable sources - power can be procured on the open market from energy created by solar or wind power
•    Innovative power supplies - initiatives such as the ITU's universal mobile phone charger (or indeed, not leaving household and business equipment switched to 'standby' all the time) will help people use power in smarter ways.

Of course, corporate and individual responsibility is the common thread to achieving these goals. Which is why the efforts of the ITU to save 766 kilos of paper from use in its annual meeting shouldn't really be pooh-poohed.

Nicolas Jacquey
Simon Marshall