Copenhagen Countdown - A look at ways ICT can help

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) due to kick off in Copenhagen on December 7 and the country's politicians debating an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the Australian ICT industry is gearing up for what some suggest could – and should – be a green revolution.

Whether you agree with the view human activities have helped caused the warming of the planet or not, there is no denying the momentum behind efforts to combat the potential threats of climate change.

From the global level with international organisations such as those under the UN umbrella (UNDP, UNESCO, UNFCCC, IPCC, etc), the IMF, the World Bank, the EU and others to the domestic with the Federal and State Governments and grass roots projects such as those like Computers Off, there have been countless hours (and funding) put into researching climate change and considerable effort taken to develop and deploy solutions to achieve more sustainable ways of living.

And the ICT industry is heavily involved with many of these solutions while also contributing to the rise in emissions, particularly through its growth in the consumption of energy.

A 2007 report by the Australian Computer Society (ACS) noted, for example, "the amount of carbon emissions attributable to ICT usage by Australian Business is approximately 8 Million Tonnes of CO2 per annum, or approximately 1.52% of the total emissions from total energy consumed."

That may not seem like a big number, but when you take it across the globe and into bigger economies and consider the cascade effect ICT has had on other sectors it is noteworthy.

To be sure there is an increasing focus on the role ICT has played in driving up emissions and several reports have emerged. In its submission to the UNFCCC the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said ICT across the globe with the proliferation of mobile phones and the Internet "currently contributes 2-3% of global green house gas (GHG) emissions and this figure is expected to rise".

But despite the adverse contribution ICT has played in climate change, many, including the IPCC and environmental groups like the WWF, suggest ICT can be used to help reduce our carbon footprint and be a part of the solution rather than the problem.

"Worldwide deployment of low-GHG emission technologies as well as technology improvements through public and private RDD would be required for achieving stabilisation targets as well as cost reduction," the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) reads.

The ITU says "it is reliably estimated that ICTs can reduce emissions in other sectors by at least 15%, making them a significant enabling technology to combat climate change".

Analyst firm IDC has also recently said if ICT-based technologies are used intensively they have the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent in G20 countries compared with emissions recorded in 2006.

IDC also found that leading technologies for reducing emissions include integrating renewable energy into energy distribution via smart grids, ICT-enabled smart building systems, ICT-optimised supply chains and variable motor controls in industry machinery.

“"ICT-based technologies have considerable potential to reduce carbon emissions,” said research director at IDC Energy Insights, Roberta Bigliani.

“Given that carbon emissions reductions made quickly have more impact on global warming than those that take longer to implement, we recommend that governments and industry immediately evaluate and implement these technologies."

At the local level action is being taken on sustainability efforts; lead primarily by governments. The Federal Government's recently announced national e-waste recycling program is but one example.

The scheme is designed to initiate a uniform national policy regulating the disposal of electronic products in Australia, including computers, monitors and TVs. It will require manufacturers and importers of electronic equipment to join a government-accredited Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) as part of the new policy.

According to Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, the national eWaste scheme not only demonstrates the ICT industry’s initiative in tackling environment and sustainability issues, but is also a practical approach in providing a solution to the disposal of electronics in a responsible manner, such as the disposal of computers and TVs for recycling free of charge.

However, such government campaigns have been overshadowed by carbon reports which list Australia’s industries as non-carbon flexible. Australia is currently ranked 15th out of 19 countries, according to the Climate Change Institute Low Carbon competitiveness report.

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The report which examines the competitiveness of the nineteen G20 countries to adapt to the opportunities and costs of moving to a carbon constrained world, lists Australia behind countries such as Mexico, Russia and China.

The report reveals Australia’s productivity in low carbon emission environments will be much lower compared to other countries with similar levels of GDP, such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France, which is ranked first.

According to the report findings, high levels of wealth and expenditure on schooling will provide Australia with a prosperous future in a low carbon world.

However, carbon intensive exports and high levels of car ownership reduce Australia’s productivity in the medium term, and the carbon intensive electricity sector and high consumption of transport fuels limits Australia’s productivity in the early stage.

This report follows on from the Government’s 2008 Review of the Australian Government's Use of Information and Communication Technology more commonly known as the Gershon report.

The Gershon report which revealed there was a significant disconnection between the Government’s overall sustainability agenda and its ability to understand and manage energy costs and the carbon footprint of its ICT industry, said the government ICT marketplace is neither efficient nor effective.

One of the key recommendations of the report was for a more sustainable ICT environment to meet future technology and energy demands without putting a larger carbon strain on the environment.

The report recommended the development of a whole-of-government ICT sustainability plan, in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), to manage the energy costs and carbon footprint of the Government’s ICT activities.

Last month, (DEWHA) introduced a $26.9 million Low Emissions Technology and Abatement (LETA) initiative designed to curb GHG emissions over the long term. The scheme supports the identification and implementation of cost effective abatement opportunities, and the uptake of small scale low emission technologies in business, industry and local communities.

The scheme will also support a number of sub-programs including the LETA Renewables, which supports broad industry development projects and national projects as set out in the Commonwealth/State Renewable Remote Power Generation Program (RRPGP) Partnership Agreements, and LETA Geosequestration Pilot Project, that looks at improved monitoring and verification technologies for geosequestration in Australia.

DEWHA has also turned its ‘green’ attention inward with the roll out of its environmental sustainability web portal LivingGreener.gov.au. Set to be up and running in 18 months, the portal will have new site functionality such as Web 2.0, collaboration and end-user stories, and content about relevant state and territory government assistance, content to assist schools and small businesses, and location specific information filtering.

According to tender documents, the new look website is not only intended to increase user accessibility and usability through better web software/technology, but is part of a set of Government measures aimed at helping Australians to make their homes and every-day activities more environmentally sustainable; the focus being on energy, water, waste and transport.

While these are just a few small examples and many businesses continue to pay only lip service to green ICT, it is highly likely regulation, cost and normative drivers will push sustainability up the business agenda. And it is this momentum outlined above that provides opportunities for the industry to contribute to what is arguably one of the biggest challenges facing humanity.

So, in the lead up to Copenhagen, Computerworld spoke with CSC CTO and National Director of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Bob Hayward, Fujitsu's director of sustainability, Alison O'Flynn, about the top five technologies that could help organisations and individuals reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.

We kick off the series with a look at Power Management.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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