IT: Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

IT is a serious polluter – but it’s also the key to reducing carbon outputs, says Dr Hamadoun Touré of the ITU. We can use technology to slash our emissions, and still save the third world, he says. And while we are about it, why does every phone ship with a new power supply?

Our computers and telecoms make as much pollution as all the world’s aeroplanes – but unlike aviation, IT has a vital role in putting the whole planet on a greener track, the Secretary-General of the ITU will tell the networking world at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona in February.

“Estimates show that ICT could cut global emissions by 30 to 40 percent,” says Dr Hamadoun Touré. It’s a tool to reduce consumption elsewhere, he argues: people can cut back on travel to save budgets and reduce their environmental impact, but they need to replace those trips with phone calls, emails and video conferences.

“ICT is a relatively minor part of the problem, but a major part of the solution,” says Dr Touré.

IT managers already know that cutting our companies’ environmental impact needs greater efficiency – and that needs good communications. But Dr Touré sees this on a global scale. He’s head of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations body that oversees telecoms. If he can steer regulations and standards that drive efficiency, we all benefit.

Climate change is just one part of a three-way challenge he faces. The ICT industry has also committed to a part in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which aim to make concrete steps on world poverty by 2015.

“We are targetting 2015 for digital broadcasting in 120 countries,” he says. “Growth depends on ICT. And developing nations can go straight to new technologies, bypassing the old ones. I am not a fan of recycled equipment going to the developing countries – they should have the best new technologies.”

But the third issue he faces is the recession. How can the world keep up the investment needed to make networks green, and help third world economies, when there is no money available?

ICT is an essential for other sectors to meet their goals he says, so it should form part of any government’s stimulus package: “You need Internet access in every school, every university and every hospital,” he says. “Take any economic sector, and ICT makes it more efficient and able to do more with less. People need to keep their costs to a minimum, and only ICT can help them do that.”

Rather than worry about missing the 2015 goals for development and carbon reduction – he hopes to bring them forward to 2012, “so other can meet their goals.”

ICT is being torn three ways, by climate, development and recession, but this is actually an opportunity, he says: “This year, I’m focussing on the economic crisis and what our industry can do to mitigate it. Our industry came through a crisis in 2001-2002, and you don’t have the same type of crisis twice in a decade.”