COPENHAGEN — For a conference that is focusing on negotiating an international agreement on fighting climate change, there’s an almost shocking amount of information technology firms at the Copenhagen climate talks. There’s a kiosk in the middle of the Bella Center where companies from Google to Cisco to Microsoft to various IT trade groups can lead daily discussions about how information technology can fight climate change. While I have little doubt about IT’s ability to reduce emissions (see The Climate Group’ Smart2020 report), a representative from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) told me today that the group is hoping that the final Copenhagen agreement will reference IT as an important part of the shared vision to reduce emissions.
Information and communications technology (ICT) can cut global green house gas emissions by 15 percent across sectors, said Arthur Levin, the head of the Telecommunication Standardization Policy division of the ITU, a UN group focused on ICT. The group believes this contribution should be recognized by negotiators. Eventually, he said, we also hope to discuss the possibility of ICT projects being used in the Clean Development Mechanism, a market structure to help industrialized nations gain and trade credits from green projects created in developing nations.
The Smart2020 report found that ICT can cut emissions through adding efficiency to the power grid, buildings, transportation and logistics, and through dematerialization (replacing physical goods with virtual ones). The report says that even factoring in the energy and carbon footprint of ICT (which is about 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions) ICT can reduce greenhouse emissions by a factor of five.
The IT companies at Copenhagen certainly know that data well. The Chief Environment Strategist of Microsoft, Rob Bernard, who gave a presentation at the IT kiosk in Copenhagen on Thursday, said that ICT can “enable radical energy efficiency,” “drive basic research,” and deliver “responsible environmental leadership.” Bernard said ICT can help deliver research that can aid the issues that the attendees and delegates of the Copenhagen conference will be focusing on closely over the next eight days.
Google also has tools that will contribute to the climate dialogue. Today the search engine giant launched a tool that helps collect and manage deforestation data, and which could come in very handy for groups backing these different forestry frameworks. Google has also been showing off its Google Earth layers that focus on climate change at Copenhagen this week.
Cisco has been highlighting its TelePresence (video conferencing) and web conferencing tools at Copenhagen all week as well. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark chose Cisco as “the official technology partner of COP15.”
But should ICT get drafted into the language of the agreement itself? Well, it clearly could play a major role in cutting emissions substantially in the near term, compared to other technologies that are in the research and development and science project stage. And Tom Phillips, the chief of government and regulatory affairs for the GSM association, the mobile trade group, explained that it’s crucial to “get ICT policies into government hands.”
What do you think? Should IT get a shout in the Copenhagen agreements?