ICT industry faces carbon challenge in Copenhagen

The IT industry will be challenged to meet carbon emissions targets if it succeeds in an attempt to have technology...

The IT industry will be challenged to meet carbon emissions targets if it succeeds in an attempt to have technology included in the international climate change agreement being struck in Copenhagen.

The target, developed by UN standards body the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), could become the benchmark by which all IT users measure their IT-related carbon emissions.

Members of the ITU have already rejected one attempt to introduce an ICT emissions target at the organisation's four-yearly assembly in Johannesburg last October.

The ITU, which includes the world's principal IT and telecommunications companies and the majority of national telcos and industry associations, threw out the proposed target because there was no internationally agreed way of measuring ICT-related emissions. They were concerned that some companies would measure ICT emissions in a way that unfairly showed them in the best light.

Green technology

But the ITU secretariat is hoping it can pave the way for an ICT emissions target by securing major concessions for the ICT industry in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change being negotiated in Copenhagen. The ITU is attempting to get "information-communication technologies" listed as a green technology in the Copenhagen text.

A significant billing for ICT in Copenhagen would be a boost for the ICT industry, which claims that developing countries must invest in the internet and computer technologies if humankind is to reduce the harm it is causing to the earth's environment. If the ITU is successful, ICT investments in developing countries could be rewarded with carbon credits.

The concession is billed by the ITU as one that would be of double public utility - to the environment and to developing countries, where subsidised IT investments would help reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously bridging the digital divide.

Speaking from Copenhagen, Malcolm Johnson, director of the ITU's telecommunications standardisation bureau, said a UN concession would depend on establishing a standard way of measuring how ICT reduces carbon emissions.

Measuring emissions

But after Copenhagen, the ITU will challenge industry to use the same methodology to measure its own emissions - and to adopt the target it rejected last year.

"We tried it 12 months ago in Johannesburg," said Johnson. "We tried to see if we could agree on a target percentage reduction. But quite a few of the big companies didn't want to. The problem is that every company is using a different methodology [for calculating ICT-related emissions]. Depending on the company's profile, it is going to make one company look better than another," he said.

Without a standard way of measuring emissions, the best the world representatives of ICT could muster at the Johannesburg meeting was a commitment, known as Resolution 73, to "work towards reductions in GHG emissions". They made no commitment to a target for reducing their own emissions.

The same Resolution agreed the terms by which the ITU has directed its lobbying efforts in Copenhagen - although ICT has its own carbon footprint, its application to the efficient utilisation of resources can make a larger emissions reduction.

The industry lobby in Copenhagen estimates that ICT could help reduce carbon emissions by up to 40% by 2050. Industry adopted that favourable estimate, even though it was calculated using uncertified methods and despite this having been cause enough for it to reject reduction targets of its own.

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