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Broadband Report Highlights ICT’s Role in Low-Carbon Economy Transformation

A new Broadband Commission report illustrates “the kind of transformative solutions” information and telecommunications (ICT) and broadband technology can provide to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. “The Broadband Bridge: Linking ICT with Climate Action for a Low-Carbon Economy” report includes ten recommendations that information and communications (ICT) and other government policy makers can use to “strengthen and hasten the ability of ICT and broadband to accelerate global progress towards the low-carbon economy.”

A new and global policy framework is required in order to address climate change, which the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Climate Change deems “one of biggest challenges humankind has ever faced.”

“No country will remain untouched: some may experience extreme weather events, others severe drought, or sea level rises resulting in the loss of coastal areas…To contain the most severe risks and consequences…will require substantial reductions in greenhouse gases (GHGs), in particular CO2– a daunting task that can only be achieved with transformation to a low-carbon economy.”

ICT as a Key Enabler

ICT and broadband technology can, and already are contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation by reducing CO2 and GHG emissions, increasing energy and resource efficiency– thereby conserving increasingly precious natural resources, and reducing human waste. “Broadband can deliver vastly enhanced energy efficiency, mitigation, adaptation, real-time monitoring and emergency response, as well as broader benefits such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and job creation, social inclusion and improved governance and wider access to education and health,” the report authors’ write.

In addition to ten recommendations for policy makers, the report “showcases best government practices in mobilizing ICT to reduce GHGs and build inclusive societies,” according to Hans Vesterberg, Ericsson president and CEO, who chaired the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Climate Change, which produced the report.

Top Ten Areas for Action

The report’s authors reference a 2008 report in which WWF and Ecofys identified 10 key areas where ICT ‘could help deliver up to 1 billion metric tons of strategic CO2 reductions.’ All of them revolve around employing ICT to make “things” environmentally aware and intelligent. They are:

  1. Smart city planning
  2. Smart buildings
  3. Smart appliances
  4. Dematerialization services
  5. Smart industry
  6. i-optimization
  7. Smart grid
  8. Integrated renewable solutions
  9. Smart work
  10. Intelligent transport

A follow-up report, Smart 2020, produced by the Boston Consulting Group, Climate Group and GeSI estimated reductions from ICT-enabled energy efficiency at between 13-22%, while a 2008 American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy showed that overall US energy savings increased by a factor of 10 for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity consumed by ICT, the authors note.

ICT in Action

The report illustrates how ICT is already being used to mitigate and adapt to climate change. One example of climate change adaptation included in the report is China Mobile’s Rural Communication and Information Networks program, which as of year-end 2010 had connected some 89,000 remote villages to its mobile telecoms network.

More than 19 million rural customers were sending out an average 19.5 million SMS a day on the network’s Agricultural Information Service. Among the ICT applications related to climate change mitigation and adaptation are automated, machine-to-machine (M2M) monitoring and control systems, automatic drip irrigation, wireless water quality monitoring of fresh water aquaculture and water conservancy.

For all the promise ICT and broadband technology hold out in terms of mitigating and adapting to climate change, there are significant challenges and obstacles to realizing its full potential, the report authors write, particularly when it comes to government policy and regulatory environments.

Current regulatory environments are organized and promote an isolated “silo” approach to gathering data and information and solving problems, according to the report, with separate communications networks built in parallel. “High licensing fees, spectrum charges and high tariffs also inhibit market development and discourage investment and expansion,” the authors state.

In terms of government policy, there’s a glaring lack of policies specifically tailored for and targeted to adopt “greener ICT solutions,” while at the same time “dismantling barriers to implementation like the subsidization of CO2-intensive industries.”

The report is produced by a global industry association and it does promote its self-interest. Climate change is real and human activity is accelerating it significantly. Likewise are the benefits ICT can provide in terms of meeting the challenges posed by climate change, however. The report is well worth reading.

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