The world’s green enthusiasts had pinned a lot of expectation on the United Nations-backed summit on climate change (COP-15) held at the Danish capital of Copenhagen in December last year. But the talks at the summit nearly broke down — as climate change sceptics had hoped for following the leaked e-mails from a University of East Anglia climate science research lab. Climategate, as the scandal came to be known, questioned the official position of the green brigade — that there was a need for global cooperation in controlling the juggernaut of climate change.
After being exposed that some of its scientists were manipulating serious climate change data to suit their line of research, the scandal took the wind out of the sails of the climate change brigade. The argument that greenhouse gases largely emitted by humans were responsible for climate change seemed suspect. Thus the portents were dark when the Copenhagen summit was held.
Up in arms
Even before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body spearheading the talks, could come out of the hurt caused by the Climategate, it was punched on the nose by the leaked Danish document which sought to impose unfavourable carbon emission conditions on the poor countries. Most of the countries from the South were up in arms. It would take a miracle to save the summit, the world thought as it held its breath.
“Copenhagen did not live up to expectations overall and was disappointing,” says Peter Lacy, managing director, Accenture sustainability services, Europe, Africa and Latin America. “Expectations were probably too high and too focused on a single event.”
But all was not lost in Copenhagen. “However, we did see a final agreement with some significant components such as the global commitment to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius and important steps such as a commitment to US$100 billion funding and deals in areas such as forestry.
“We also saw the measures countries and regions such as the European Union (EU) are taking (China reducing the carbon intensity of its gross domestic product by 40 per cent+ by 2020, US agreeing to 17 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2020, EU reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 on 1990 levels and so on). A global agreement may take another year (COP-16 at Mexico) and will be challenging, but action is taking place.”
Now that the expected action, because of the near failure of Copenhagen, is not as imminent and intense, does it mean green IT is dead? “Green IT is definitely not dead,” says Lacy. “Applying information communication technology to energy and carbon technology, [ICT to ECT] is only just beginning. Companies are making major strides forward. US$500 billion globally is being invested in low carbon technology as part of the global stimulus packages.
“There may even be global trade barriers for high carbon products and services in Europe and the US. Climate change reduction and the shift to a low carbon economy will continue (albeit not with the steeper trajectory Copenhagen had promised). The key thing is not to look at Copenhagen alone but to look at the next three to five years. The trajectory remains unaltered. Green ICT will play a crucial enabling role in everything from data centres to machine-to-machine technologies such as SMART Grids and Meters.” According to IDC’s G20 ICT Sustainability Index, 5.8 billion tonnes (gigatonnes) of carbon dioxide emissions can be eliminated through the focused use of ICT-based solutions by 2020. Further, it is estimated that the six countries from the Asia Pacific that were included in the study—Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea—can contribute in the reduction of 2.4 billion tonnes (or 41.4 per cent) within this target.
Among the Asian countries, IDC ranked Japan as the only top tier country in the index with the score of 16, meaning of the G20 nations, Japan has the most potential to reduce greenhouse gases. Australia, China and South Korea were ranked in the fourth tier of the index, while India and Indonesia were ranked in the fifth tier.
“Asia Pacific has a prominent role to play in dealing with climate change as a global issue,” says Philip Carter, associate research director for IDC’s Asia Pacific practice and green IT and sustainability research. “We are hopeful that governments in the region will start to identify technology areas highlighted in the study and provide incentives for companies and consumers to start using them with this objective in mind.”
A similar study, the SMART 2020 report by The Climate Group, predicts that the ICT sector could enable US$1 trillion in energy cost savings and 7.8 gigatonnes of carbon emissions by 2020.
But how will it be achieved? To do this, says Lacy, the industry needs to understand market trends around low carbon technologies, drive savings within their own organisation (for instance, through low energy or carbon data centres), create new products and services that meet low carbon or energy needs, adapt existing products and services that can drive cost savings, energy reduction and carbon benefits, partner with other companies in industry value chains that will emerge in areas such as intelligent cities around themes such as mobility, energy, water and waste, and shape new markets by educating consumers, actively working with regulators and policy-makers to set the right incentives.
Sector in transition
According to Lacy, some of the most promising technologies from an ICT to ECT perspective are around machine-to-machine (M2M) technology that can use wireless and fixed line communications to enable smart systems.
In the IDC study in the Asia Pacific, the importance of specific sectors and technologies varied by country. Transport-related sources constitute the largest share of carbon dioxide reduction potential in Japan (30 per cent) and supply chain and logistics optimisation is the specific technology area expected to have the greatest impact in meeting the target for this sector. In China, the energy generation and distribution sector is where most opportunity lies to reduce carbon emissions.
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