[AfrICANN-discuss] Broadband a climate champion: ITU Puts forward ICT to bridge the ‘carbon emissions gap'

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Thu Apr 5 08:58:20 SAST 2012

Broadband a climate champion: ITU Puts forward ICT to bridge the ‘carbon
emissions gap'


By Richard Chirgwin<http://forms.theregister.co.uk/mail_author/?story_url=/2012/04/03/itu_broadband_climate_report/>•
more from this author<http://search.theregister.co.uk/?author=Richard%20Chirgwin>

Posted in Networks <http://www.theregister.co.uk/networks/>, 3rd April 2012
22:58 GMT <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/04/03/>

 The ITU’s Broadband Commission report, *The Broadband Bridge: Linking ICT
with Climate Action*, is a good piece of advocacy – but can its
prescriptions work?

The premise of the report is simple enough: the Copenhagen Accord seeks a
capping of emissions at 44 gigatonnes of CO2 by 2020, but that’s unlikely
to be achieved. There’s a gap of maybe 9 Gt according to the
lowest-ambition pledges already made; and ICT can help bridge that gap.

The approaches the
are also straightforward: the IT sector needs “greening”
(something nobody much doubts, since less hungry data centres, to pick one
example, are also cheaper to run); and ICT can help other sectors by
transforming industries (replacing physical goods with electronic where
possible), by changing work behaviours (for example, replacing travel with
telecommuting), by allowing developing economies to leapfrog high-emission
phases (for example, letting them start out with smart buildings that can
be carbon-neutral or provide a net benefit), and by helping mitigation

There's even a snippet of endorsement for Australia's approach, with the
report calling for national broadband strategies - something that might at
least offset the loopy bad-math sideswipes this country's National
Broadband Network keeps copping from *The Economist*.

The report is released ahead of the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable
Development in Rio, it’s so worthy it hurts, and I’m pessimistic about it
making any difference, because humans – particularly as we discover
consumerism – prefer to add than to substitute.

While there are exceptions in books, newspapers, and CDs, all too often
people layer the new on top of their existing behaviours, rather than
substituting new-for-old. Sure, people buy, install and even use
videoconferencing systems – but how many executives give up the travel
budgets that represent their status?

Or there’s the interaction with communications technologies and work: in
spite of peoples’ ability to telecommute, any Sydney commuter will agree
with the official reports that traffic is getting worse as the years go by.
Instead of replacing the trip to the office, the always-in-touch worker is
supposed to do *both* - travel to the office, and make out-of-hours
connections so as to keep working.

In spite of the pervasive belief that the Internet is destroying
television, you only have to watch Twitter at the right time to see that
people are adding their Tablet usage to their TV-watching.

The Internet is replacing any number of individuals’ trips to particular
kinds of shops, but the products they buy from the Internet often involve
international air freight as well as a local delivery van.

And that’s ignoring the other problem implicit in the ITU’s report.

As ITU secretary-general Dr Hamadoun Touré said in the report’s
“Addressing climate change implies completely transforming our way of life,
the way we work, the way we travel, shifting our model of development to a
fairer, more sustainable model to ensure our survival. We need to put at
stake all the resources available to us, and mobilize the political will to
turn discussions and negotiations into agreements and actions.”

This is all well and good, but standing against it is a pervasive mood
against top-down solutions – particularly in countries like Australia,
America and the UK, and particularly in the face of the problems facing
another top-down solution, the Euro.

Take the focus on smart cities and smart grids, for example: while these
offer opportunities for advances in energy efficiency, the opportunity is
offset by political opposition that ranges from the reasonable (if this is
more efficient, how come we’re paying more for power to fund the smart
meter projects?) to the nearly-reasonable (is smart metering at risk of
being too intrusive?) to loopy (smart meters will give you cancer).

In other words, any top-down project needs to be extremely well-executed if
it’s to survive on the ground.

In spite of my personal pessimism, however, I’d encourage you to take a
look at the report: it provides a very good compendium of research and
research sources into the interaction between ICT and energy, and even if
the policy prescriptions don’t pan out, information is always a good place
to start. ®
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