ICTs must be part of the climate solution brokered in Copenhagen

Date: Mon, 11/02/2009 - 13:06

Information and communication technology is the single most powerful tool humankind has at its disposal to avoid potential climate catastrophe, says ITU
ICTs must be part of the climate solution brokered in Copenhagen The EU chief negotiators united for climate in Barcelona

In the lead up to the Barcelona Climate Change Talks (2-6 November), which will produce the draft text to be considered at the UN’s COP 15 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December, ITU is stressing the critical importance of including information and communication technologies (ICTs) as part of the solution.
Specific mention of the critical role of ICTs in the Copenhagen draft Agreement will help commit policy makers around the world to seek technical solutions to reducing GHG emissions.
A recent study 1 estimated that more effective use of ICTs could help reduce total global emissions by 15% by 2020, representing carbon savings five times higher than the estimated emissions for the whole ICT sector in 2020. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), of which ITU is a part, estimates that these reductions could deliver energy efficiency savings to global businesses of over EUR 500 billion.
Since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997, the number of ICT users has tripled worldwide, yet ICTs find no mention in the current draft COP 15 text.
If the ingenuity of technological innovation has had the unfortunate consequence of creating unforeseen environmental damage, ITU believes the same drive to innovate - fundamental to the human spirit - can be harnessed through ICTs to reduce carbon footprint across all industry sectors, and fight the impact of climate change through accurate monitoring and rapid disaster response.
ITU supports the view that successful strategies will require truly radical change, rather than incremental change to ‘business-as-usual’ approaches. ICTs are the only tool powerful enough to serve as the ‘circuit-breaker’ to our current climate-hostile strategies, and to effect the true paradigm shift needed to make a difference.

• The ICT industry is at the forefront of a ‘green revolution’, with new developments in areas such as smart grids, sustainable networks, energy-efficient data centres, teleworking, intelligent cars, smart buildings and energy-efficient workspaces.
• Strategies like the universal charger, which has just been standardized by ITU, will deliver an estimated 50% reduction in standby energy consumption, eliminate 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers, and cut GHG emissions by 13.6 million tonnes annually2.
• A study conducted by the European Telecommunication Network Operators’ association (ETNO) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), showed that by replacing of 20% of business travel in EU-25 countries by non-travel solutions (such as videoconferencing), it would be possible to avoid some 22 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year3.
• Telecommuting can translate into dramatic savings in GHG emissions. For every one million EU telecommuters, one million tonnes of CO2 emissions would be saved annually 4. A similar study in the United States, where commuting distances tend to be longer, found that today’s 3.9 million telecommuters already save 10-14 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent 5.
• ‘Dematerialization’ – where bits replace physical goods – can play an important role in reducing GHGs by reducing or even entirely eliminating the need for manufacturing and transport. Examples are e-mail, online billing, online submission of government forms, downloads to replace music CDs, video DVDs, magazines and books . . .
• In the field of intelligent transport systems (ITS), parking guidance systems can lead motorists to the most appropriate parking space, reducing engine time; GPS for navigation or vehicle dispatch can reduce journey times; and RFID-based road pricing schemes can encourage greater use of public transport.
• It is estimated that in 2006 the five leading search companies consumed five gigawatts of electricity. That's almost enough to power the entire Las Vegas metropolitan area on the hottest day of the year 6. Developing equipment that uses less energy and runs at lower temperatures will dramatically cut the energy needed to cool it through refrigeration.
• ITU is working on developing common agreed methodologies for measuring the carbon footprint of ICTs, to facilitate measurement of the impact of ICTs on emissions and support meaningful reporting and comparisons. Without a standardized methodology it will be impossible to accurately rate the carbon footprint of ICT equipment. ITU’s common methodology will help establish the business case to go green and support informed consumer choices and climate-friendly business procurement.
• Next-generation networks will dramatically reduce power consumption – by as much as 40% for large network switching centres. ITU’s NGN Global Standards Initiative is the world’s largest-ever collaborative standardization project. NGN components are already beginning to make their way into operators’ networks 7.
• Developing countries are often hardest hit by the impact of climate change – in the form of extreme weather and natural disasters. ICTs have a critical role to play in monitoring and early warning systems.
• In Africa, the UN has teamed up with mobile phone companies and other partners to install 5,000 new weather stations. These will monitor the impact of climate change, transmitting news immediately to farmers’ mobile phones via text messaging – a critical service for Africans, 70% of whom rely directly on farming to survive 8.
• Using satellite monitoring instead of ground-monitoring for farming needs can reduce CO2 emissions by 97% 9.
• Information technologies are playing a key role in raising awareness about climate change. One example: tools like Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental in garnering support for the UN’s campaign to ‘Seal a Deal’ on climate change.
• Better use of power-saving modes for ICT equipment like PCs, mobiles and laptops can reduce emissions. ITU’s new broadband standard VDSL-2 incorporates three power modes.
• The introduction of digital TV and digital radio (planned to be complete by 2015 for some 120 countries worldwide) will cut antenna power consumption by a factor of almost 10 compared with traditional broadcasting equipment 10.
• In 1995, the carbon emissions from transporting paper copies of ITU-T Recommendations around the globe amounted to 108 million tonnes of CO2 per year. By moving to online distribution, total carbon emissions from the distribution of ITU-T Recommendations in 2007 was just 1.5 million tonnes, a reduction of over 98%.
ITU and OECD, in partnership with GeSI, organized a side-event at the Barcelona Climate Change Talks on ‘ICTs and Climate Change’, where top decision-makers from governments, international organizations and industry will share their views on innovative new ways to use ICTs to address climate change.
In addition, ITU will participate in the iSeeT@theClimateChangeKiosk alongside the UN, UN agencies including UNFCCC, UNDP, UNEP, UNITAR, and other partners to showcase current ICT-related climate projects around the world. ITU will organize a special programme of daily Business Talks by leaders in the ICT sector from both the developed and developing worlds.

"We all know that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have revolutionized our world...ICTs are also very vital to confronting the problems we face as a planet: the threat of climate change...Indeed ICTs are part of the solution. Already these technologies are being used to cut emissions and help countries adapt to the effects of climate change...Governments and industries that embrace a strategy of green growth will be environmental champions and economic leaders in the twenty-first century."
Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary General (Geneva, Switzerland, 5 October 2009)

" ... Climate change is a global challenge that the world simply cannot afford to lose — not just for our sake, but for that of our children. ITU is undertaking important work using ICTs to help prevent and avert climate change. ITU has a key role in creating standards for ICT energy efficiency. At the same time we are helping developing countries mitigate the effects of climate change, including the use of emergency telecommunications and alerting systems for disaster relief. And we’re working to identify radio spectrum for climate monitoring and disaster prediction, detection and response."
Dr Hamadoun Touré
ITU Secretary General

"The mobile industry is committed to greater energy efficiency and together we can also be a low carbon catalyst for people and machines. Through innovative solutions, mobile is able to lower emissions and drive energy efficiency in other sectors but it can also improve communication, health, distribution, education and other indispensable services in low-income areas. Therefore we call upon governments and the COP15 to ensure that mobile solutions are at the vanguard of the global fight to prevent climate change and mitigate its consequence."
Rob Conway
CEO and Board Member, GSMA

"Since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997 the number of ICT users has tripled worldwide. Smart grids, teleworking, intelligent transport systems, smart buildings and energy-efficient workspaces are all examples of how ICTs can facilitate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. GeSI's Smart 2020 Report showed the combined savings from ICT use in mitigating the effects of climate change are many times more pronounced than their overall contribution. ICTs are a part of the solution to drive a low carbon society and in my opinion this must be recognized in any new international agreement."
Luis Neves
Chairman, Global e-Sustainability Initiative

"The Green ICT sector carries with it significant momentum, drive and expertise. CIOs today are including bigger picture areas such as clean energy and renewables to reduce CO2e for our power-hungry data centres, so we are in a leadership position to bridge a gap between ICT and CO2 reductions that simply cannot be ignored."
Catalina McGregor
Founder, UK Gov. Green ICT Delivery Unit and Liaison Officer, ITU-T Study Group 5 to OECD/EC

"Huawei supports ICT industry initiatives addressing green technology. For our part we are promoting many end-to-end green products including wind-solar power supply solutions. Huawei supports the actions taken by ITU to promote ICTs as part of the climate change solution as well as its work in developing the standards related to energy efficiency and climate change that industry needs."
Wei Feng
Director of Standards, Huawei

"International recognition of the key role that digital communication technologies have to play in mitigating climate change will empower policy makers to mandate the use of technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We fully support the inclusion of text to this effect in the Copenhagen Agreement.
Modern telecommunication has fundamentally changed the world. Now digital technologies will have a significant role to play in saving it. Damage wrought by the industrial revolution may be addressed to an extent by the intelligent deployment of efficiency and new, modern ways of moving information instead of goods and people. Nokia Siemens Networks supports an ambitious and binding agreement to cut global greenhouse gas emissions and recognition of the key role to be played by telecommunications."
Rajeev Suri
CEO, Nokia Siemens Networks

"Governments attending the Copenhagen Climate Conference must build ambitious but realistic investment plans to fulfill their carbon reduction commitments. Empirical evidence shows that an up-front investment of US$200-500 in ICT can save a tonne of carbon emission per year, with some quick wins at US$10 per tonne. Developing countries might see higher costs because they lack some of the infrastructure developed countries already enjoy."
David Eurin
Head of Energy Consulting, Analysys Mason

"Sustainability and green issues have become a major part of our culture. Even in a recession, with cost cutting a priority, companies have been forging ahead with plans to become carbon neutral. At the heart of much of this effort is Green ICT, which has the additional benefit of reducing operational expenditure. Orange is keen to see the potential of ICTs as part of the solution recognized at an international level."
Marc Fossier
EVP in charge of Corporate Social Responsibility, France Telecom

"Deutsche Telekom's commitment to climate protection is more than 10 years old. We invest significant efforts into increasing energy efficiency for the decarbonization of electricity consumption. Our strategy also includes the development and marketing of products, services and solutions that help our customers to reduce their own CO2 emissions. ICT is a fundamental enabler for reducing CO2 emissions of almost all industries. Because worldwide emissions are still growing, we support an international agreement with strong and clear reduction targets in Copenhagen which keeps global warming below the 2°C limit."
Dr Ignacio Campino
Representative of the Board of Management for Sustainability and Climate Change,
Deutsche Telekom

"The ICT industry intends to make a fundamental contribution to improving climate change and be a key enabler to achieving or exceeding the commitments made at Copenhagen. The exciting thing for companies like BT is that using ICT to tackle climate change not only saves the planet but can also improve lifestyles, inclusion and reduce service/infrastructure costs."
Paul Excell
Chief Innovation Officer, BT


1 GeSI Smart 2020 : Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age
2 GSMA analysis from UNEP, Gartner, European Commission Integrated Product Policy Pilot on Mobile Phones, University of Southern Queensland data
3 ETNO/WWF: Saving the climate at the speed of light
4 ETNO/WWF: Saving the climate at the speed of light
5 The Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Impact of Telecommuting and e-Commerce
7 Estimates of the precise energy savings vary. The estimate of 30 per cent comes from the implementation of BT’s 21CN (see “Protecting out changing world”, presentation by Donna Young (BT) at ITU symposium on ICTs and climate change, London, 17-18 June 2008, available at: The estimate of 40 per cent comes from Dittberner Associates International (, who have constructed a number of models showing the benefits of NGN, which show an average 40 per cent saving in energy requirements as well as a 40 per cent saving in investment requirements and an 80 per cent saving in space requirements. (see for instance presentation at:
8  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
9 Kazuo Murano, President, Fujitsu Laboratories, speaking during the ‘CTO Roundtable for Growth at the ITU TELECOM WORLD 2009 Forum, Wednesday 7 October 2009.
10 The ITU Regional Radiocommunication Conference 2006 (RRC-06) involved 120 countries, and developed a new digital broadcasting Plan GE06 which envisages significant reduction (by almost 10 times) of transmitter power and reduction of the number of transmitters (due to the possibility of transmitting several TV and sound programmes in one channel). Taking into account that there are roughly one hundred thousand transmitters in these countries with power of up to 100-150 kW each, most of them operating 24 hours a day, the resulting energy savings will be very important.

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