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ITU seeks inclusion of ICTs in Copenhagen document

By Prince Osuagwu
Alvin Toffler, in his work The Third Wave, listed three revolutionary shifts of civilization the humankind has achieved through history. The first, Agricultural Revolution that enabled the humankind to accumulate wealth.

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The second, Industrial Revolution that made possible mass production of industrial products. The third, Information Revolution that transformed the way people think, work, and enjoy life.

But today another powerful revolution, the Green Revolution is shaping up. Almost all the world activities, including product and services are going green. This is to protect the world environment from a damning climate change that may not do anybody any good. In extension, the world leaders are gathering in December at The United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, between December 7 and December 18, 2009.

The conference includes the 15th Conference of the Parties, COP 15 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 5th Meeting of the Parties, COP/MOP 5 to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

According to the Bali Road Map, a framework for climate change mitigation beyond 2012 is to be agreed there.
But before the Copenhagen conference, there is also the climate change talks which kicked off Monday to run through Friday in Barcelona. This pre climate change talk, is expected to produce the draft text to be considered at the UN’s COP 15 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December.

Climate change is regarded as the 21st Century’s greatest human rights issue and security challenge. To stave off this disaster, world leaders meeting at Copenhagen are expected to agree to deep, rapid and binding emissions cuts and also make decisions that would save the world.

Perhaps, that is why the world telecom body, International Telecommunications Union, ITU, is insisting that ICTs must be part of the climate solution brokered in Copenhagen.

ITU’s argument is that Information and communication technology is the single most powerful tool
humankind has at its disposal to avoid potential climate catastrophe and non inclusion of it in the Copenhagen document is in itself, a disaster.

What this means to ITU is that specific mention of the critical role of ICTs in the Copenhagen draft Agreement will help commit policy makers around the world to seek technical solutions to reducing Green House Gas, GHG emissions.

Incidentally, ITU may not be crying wolf where there is none. A recent study estimated that more effective use of ICTs could help reduce total global emissions by 15% by 2020. This percentage, represents carbon savings five times higher than the estimated emissions for the whole ICT sector in 2020.

The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), of which ITU is a part, estimates that these reductions could deliver energy efficiency savings to global businesses of over EUR 500 billion.

Obviously, since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997, the number of ICT users has tripled worldwide, and so, it is baffling that ICTs find no mention in the current draft COP 15 text.

If the ingenuity of technological innovation has had the unfortunate consequence of creating unforeseen environmental damage, ITU believes the same drive to innovate, which is fundamental to the human spirit, can be harnessed through ICTs to reduce carbon footprint across all industry sectors, and fight the impact of climate change through accurate monitoring and rapid disaster response.

To support its position, that ICTs are the only tool powerful enough to serve as the ‘circuit-breaker’ to the current climate-hostile strategies, and to effect the true paradigm shift needed to make a difference. ITU reeled out hordes of Proof Points, including that:

*The ICT industry is at the forefront of a ‘green revolution’, with new developments in areas such as smart grids, sustainable networks, energy-efficient data centres, teleworking, intelligent cars, smart buildings and energy-efficient workspaces.

*Strategies like the universal charger, which has just been standardized by ITU, will deliver an estimated 50% reduction in standby energy consumption, eliminate 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers, and cut GHG emissions by 13.6 million tonnes annually2.

*A study conducted by the European Telecommunication Network Operators’ association (ETNO) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), showed that by replacing of 20% of business travel in EU-25 countries by non-travel solutions (such as videoconferencing), it would be possible to avoid some 22 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year3.

*Telecommuting can translate into dramatic savings in GHG emissions. For every one million EU telecommuters, one million tonnes of CO2 emissions would be saved annually 4. A similar study in the United States, where commuting distances tend to be longer, found that today’s 3.9 million telecommuters already save 10-14 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent 5.

*‘Dematerialization’ – where bits replace physical goods – can play an important role in reducing GHGs by reducing or even entirely eliminating the need for manufacturing and transport. Examples are e-mail, online billing, online submission of government forms, downloads to replace music CDs, video DVDs, magazines and books . . .

*In the field of intelligent transport systems (ITS), parking guidance systems can lead motorists to the most appropriate parking space, reducing engine time; GPS for navigation or vehicle dispatch can reduce journey times; and RFID-based road pricing schemes can encourage greater use of public transport.

* It is estimated that in 2006 the five leading search companies consumed five gigawatts of electricity. That’s almost enough to power the entire Las Vegas metropolitan area on the hottest day of the year 6.

Developing equipment that uses less energy and runs at lower temperatures will dramatically cut the energy needed to cool it through refrigeration.

*ITU is working on developing common agreed methodologies for measuring the carbon footprint of ICTs, to facilitate measurement of the impact of ICTs on emissions and support meaningful reporting and comparisons.

Without a standardized methodology it will be impossible to accurately rate the carbon footprint of ICT equipment. ITU’s common methodology will help establish the business case to go green and support informed consumer choices and climate-friendly business procurement.

*Next-generation networks will dramatically reduce power consumption – by as much as 40% for large network switching centres.

ITU’s NGN Global Standards Initiative is the world’s largest-ever collaborative standardization project. NGN components are already beginning to make their way into operators’ networks 7.

* Developing countries are often hardest hit by the impact of climate change – in the form of extreme weather and natural disasters. ICTs have a critical role to play in monitoring and early warning systems.

* In Africa, the UN has teamed up with mobile phone companies and other partners to install 5,000 new weather stations. These will monitor the impact of climate change, transmitting news immediately to farmers’ mobile phones via text messaging – a critical service for Africans, 70% of whom rely directly on farming to survive 8.

* Using satellite monitoring instead of ground-monitoring for farming needs can reduce CO2 emissions by 97% 9.
* Information technologies are playing a key role in raising awareness about climate change. One example: tools like Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental in garnering support for the UN’s campaign to ‘Seal a Deal’ on climate change.

* Better use of power-saving modes for ICT equipment like PCs, mobiles and laptops can reduce emissions. ITU’s new broadband standard VDSL-2 incorporates three power modes.

*  The introduction of digital TV and digital radio (planned to be complete by 2015 for some 120 countries worldwide) will cut antenna power consumption by a factor of almost 10 compared with traditional broadcasting equipment 10.

* In 1995, the carbon emissions from transporting paper copies of ITU-T Recommendations around the globe amounted to 108 million tonnes of CO2 per year. By moving to online distribution, total carbon emissions from the distribution of ITU-T Recommendations in 2007 was just 1.5 million tonnes, a reduction of over 98%.


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