December 02, 2008
Report Finds that Information Technology and Communications Sector can Help Reduce Climate Change
by Robert Kropp
Study of information and communication technology concludes that ICT can be utilized to reduce
carbon emissions across all sectors of global economy.
In June, a report entitled "SMART 2020:
Enabling the Low Carbon Economy in the Information Age" concluded that the information and
communication technology sector (ICT) could spearhead global emissions savings that represent a
"significant proportion of the reductions below 1990 levels that scientists and economists
recommend by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change."
The report found that "through
enabling other sectors to reduce their emissions, the ICT industry could reduce global emissions by
as much as 15 per cent by 2020 – a volume of CO2e five times its own footprint in 2020."
CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent)is the universal unit of measurement used to indicate
the global warming potential of each of the six greenhouse gases.
The report was
developed by The Climate Group, an
international, non-profit organization whose goal is to help government and business set the world
economy on the path to a low-carbon, prosperous future, on behalf of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), a group formed to
further sustainable development in the ICT sector.
Because the United States poses both
challenges and opportunities for the ambitious goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by
80% below 2000 levels by 2050, the Boston Consulting
Group (BCG) on behalf of GeSI developed a US-focused analysis, published in November.
According to Joan Krajewski, Senior
Director of Compliance and Sustainability at Microsoft and Chair of the report's steering
committee, "If you look at the opinions of the committee regarding climate change, there's not a
lot of time left to turn the ship around. We can't rely on a free market economy to do it.
Government intervention is necessary."
"The US represents a large part of carbon
emissions, and lags behind Europe and Japan in the development of both overarching and targeted
policies to address the problem," said Phillipp Jung, a partner and managing director at BCG.
The US report addendum advocates a number of opportunities for the implementation of ICT
solutions to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, including incentives for utilities to invest
in smart-grid technologies that could reduce CO2 emissions and save $15 billion to $35 billion in
energy and fuel costs by 2020; investment in smart infrastructure for road transportation that
could reduce travel time and congestion and save $65 billion to $115 billion; development of
energy-efficient smart buildings that could save $40 billion to $50 billion; and encouragement of
travel substitution through virtual meetings and flexible work arrangements that could save $20
billion to $40 billion.
The report finds that "the ICT industry also bears responsibility
for reducing its own emissions." Through the development of data centers, increased PC efficiency,
and telecommunication network and device efficiency, "the ICT industry recognizes both the symbolic
and practical significance of reducing its own emissions and meets that challenge with continued
innovation and technological breakthroughs."
The report clearly asserts that none of the
improvements it advocates is possible without significant involvement by the federal government.
Among the steps the US government should take, according to the report, include recognizing the
role that the ICT sector can play in a national energy efficiency strategy; establishing a national
"center of excellence" to develop standards for CO2 emissions and coordinate public-private
collaboration; encouraging the " ubiquitous deployment and adoption of broadband;" and rewarding
energy efficiency and reducing emissions by monetizing carbon dioxide emissions.
monetization will play an important role in a market-based economy," said Jung of BCG.
"Overall, I must say I was surprised at the size of the opportunity that ICT presents for the
reduction of carbon emissions," he added.
Krajewski of Microsoft envisions a leading role
for the US in the global reduction of emissions. "We are home to a lot of non-carbon technology
development. Furthermore, the US economy depends to a great extent on the service sector, where ICT
can have a significant impact. We have the ability to emphasize different solutions to the problem
of greenhouse emissions."
Jung cautioned against easy optimism when considering the
possibility of such dramatic reductions of emissions. "Although we know the savings will be great
in the long run, we don't yet know the price of implementing the smart grid recommended by the
report. And how difficult will it be to align the many stakeholders to realize these savings?" he
Yet Krajewski finds cause for a cautious optimism. "If the new US administration
does indeed appoint a Chief Technology Officer, that appointee could encourage more use of
technology while playing a vital role in establishing national policies and strategies," she said.
Krajewski concluded, "We are eager to carry the findings of this report forward and work
collaboratively with the new administration to develop ICT solutions to the problem of climate
The SMART 2020 report and its US addendum describe how the use of information and
communication technology can contribute to a low carbon economy across all sectors of the global
economy. Its findings envision practical solutions to the crisis of global climate change; as the
report summary concludes, "It is now up to policy makers, industry leaders and the sector itself to
make sure this potential is realized. The stakes couldn’t be higher."