Combating the threat of climate change with ICT

Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson, Sustainability Director at Ericsson, entering COP18.

ICT’s potential to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions is even greater than originally estimated. The SMARTer2020 report – the latest from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) together with Boston Consulting Group – shows that ICT-enabled solutions will continue to be a driving force in combating climate change.

SMARTer2020 follows up the SMART2020 study, which, in 2008, first evaluated ICT’s potential to enable a low-carbon economy, identifying ICT as a key sector in the fight against climate change. The central finding of the report was that ICT can enable emissions reductions of 7.8Gt CO2e (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) by 2020, or a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with if no such action were to be taken.

Since then, a lot has changed. We have seen the emergence of the cloud, and the use of mobile broadband, connected devices and smartphones has skyrocketed. In 2011, carbon emissions were the highest on record, and estimates indicate that they will again hit record levels in 2012. As about 190 countries gather in Doha, Qatar, for the UN climate change conference (COP18/CMP8), it is clear that there has never been a more crucial time to explore the possibilities of ICT in combating one of our planet’s greatest challenges.

The SMARTer2020 report released this week in Doha, takes a fresh look at the role ICT can play in greenhouse gas abatement and estimates a potential reduction of 9.1 GtCO2e by 2020. This represents 16.5 percent of the projected total in that year. The greenhouse gas abatement potential from ICT-enabled solutions ranges across six sectors of the economy: power, transportation, manufacturing, consumer and service, agriculture and buildings.

Emissions reductions come from initiatives such as cloud computing and video conferencing, but also through efficiency gains like optimization of variable-speed motors in manufacturing and smart livestock management to reduce methane emissions. And while ICT-enabled solutions also have their own greenhouse gas footprint, the total potential reduction is seven times greater than their ICT-related emissions.

If we are going to reverse the trend of increasing greenhouse gases, we must explore the possibilities of the Networked Society to deliver transformative solutions and put in place more robust policies that encourage their use. The challenge now, in the wake of an expiring Kyoto protocol, is to get global policy makers to encourage the implementation of these solutions.

At Ericsson we have contributed to the report in three different perspectives, from the ICT industry own footprint, the potential of the ICT industry to reduce ICT and from one of the country perspectives, India.

It feels great to be in Doha, Qatar, releasing this report and being able to discuss how we can advance the role of ICT in the framework of the global climate negotiations.

Written by Matilda Gennvi-Gustafsson

Matilda worked with environmental and production management within the food industry in the early 1990s and joined Ericsson in 1997. She has focused, over the years, on sustainability, business and change management. She is, since the beginning of 2009, working at group level as Sustainability Director, where Ericsson’s sustainability strategy is one of her main areas of responsibility.

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