ICT 'single most powerful tool' to combat emissions

ITU calls for delegates at UN climate change meeting to use advanced technologies to reduce emissions across wide range of industries.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

Delegates gathered at this week's 15th United Nations (U.N.) Climate Change Conference (COP15) are urged to tap the potential of high-tech solutions to cut carbon emissions across all business sectors.

Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Hamadoun Touré, said in a statement Friday he hoped to see specific mention of ICT in key areas of the negotiating text during the U.N. conference in Copenhagen, including the adoption of an agreed methodology for measuring the carbon emissions from ICT equipment and its inclusion in national adaptation plans.

This, Touré said, would offer an incentive to the ICT industry to invest in developing countries, reduce the digital divide and fight climate change.

"At Copenhagen, we have a real and reachable opportunity to help save the planet through astute deployment of modern ICTs," he said. "Studies clearly show that more effective use of ICTs can deliver tremendous CO2e savings. Put simply, ICT is the single most powerful tool humankind has at its disposal to avoid potential climate catastrophe."

ITU defines CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent, as a standardized measure of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions designed to account for the different global warming potentials of GHGs.

According to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) Key World Energy Statistics 2009, global CO2 emission increased from 15,640 metric ton of CO2 (mt of CO2) in 1973 to 28,962 mt of CO2 in 2007.

China, with its huge demand for energy leading to the burgeoning local coal mining industry, has quadrupled its CO2 emission since 1973, the report stated. The Asian economic powerhouse currently accounts for 21 percent of global CO2 emission, in contrast to just 5.7 percent 30 years ago. This is second only to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, which emitted 44.9 percent of carbon dioxide in total.

In a separate report on Chinamining.org's Web site, the National Development and Reform Commission, China's economic arm, reported that coal output in the country grew by 14.8 percent year-on-year to hit 258 million tons in July 2009.

While recognizing that ICT equipment contribute to the worldwide carbon emission problem--around 2 percent to 2.5 percent of global GHGs are produced by the industry annually--they can also potentially play a huge role in reducing the world's carbon footprint.

Some studies have estimated that by deploying ICT in strategic areas, emission reductions of over 40 percent could be achieved by 2050--five times more than they are estimated to contribute by that year.

The ITU, which membership includes 191 U.N. states, will be represented by Touré and Malcolm Johnson, director of the organization's telecommunication standardization bureau (TSB), at the two-week conference in Copenhagen. The two representatives will be working with industry leaders to raise awareness of ICT's role in climate change, as well as develop a standardized methodology for measuring the carbon footprint in ICT.

TSB hopes to seal an agreement on this new methodology in April 2020.

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