Information and communication technologies (ICT) are largely contributing to climate change but also hold the key to tackling it, several experts and industry figures told a conference today at United Nations headquarters in New York.
“We cannot have a discussion on climate change in isolation from the discussion on the technologies to address the problem,” said Alexander Karsner, United States Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, at the outset of a two-day meeting on the impact of ICT on climate change.
Calling for “very proactive problem-solving through the deployment of technology,” Mr. Karsner said that “while waiting for the big solution we should take every bit of existing solutions along the way.” On the positive side, “technology is proliferating solutions faster than our global political leadership can enforce them” and energy efficiency had become paramount for all sectors, starting from the oil industry. The right approach involved science and technology, capital markets and policy, he said, since “markets alone do not make global strategies.”
“The Secretary-General sees overcoming the threat of climate change as the defining challenge of our times,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, adding that ICT “are crucial to understanding the environment and the impact of climate change,” provide tools to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and are instrumental in providing information on climate change.
General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said “ICT will be instrumental in helping to develop new, climate-friendly technologies that can help economies growth sustainably and reduce emissions in the years ahead,” stressing that technology had already offered climate-friendly solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon sequestration.
IBM Vice-President for Corporate Environmental Affairs Wayne Balta said ICT companies could enact substantial energy savings in their internal operations, in design and manufacturing, and in product use. ICT could improve the energy efficiency of all economic sectors, diagnose the carbon emissions of a product or process and suggest its redesign, he said.
Xerox Corporation Environment Vice-President Patricia Calkins said the paper industry was the fourth largest user of fossil fuels, and nearly half of all office paper became waste within a day. The “paperless office” had not materialized, but industry could enable “smarter, more efficient choices,” such as energy-efficient appliances that shut down automatically when not in use. Companies that measured their full environmental impact had achieved greater energy efficiency.
“For environmental impact, it all starts with design,” said Tod Arbogast, Dell Computer Director of Sustainable Business, since a product’s design had an impact throughout its life cycle. Efficiency was dictated by economic reasons, since servers, personal computers and monitors accounted for more that 60 per cent of global ICT-related carbon emissions and world average electricity prices had grown by 56 per cent since 2002.
Companies had minimized packaging, dematerialized products and were offering customers convenient recycling services, he said, adding that recycling substantially reduced carbon emissions due to raw material extraction, product manufacture, landfill and combustion.
The event has been organized by the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development and AIT Global Inc., a global association of management and information technology professionals.