Broadband Promises Green Future Says UN Report

Broadband allows for flexible working practices, but it’s also a boon for the environment, says a UN report

Broadband has opened up a whole online world to many people, but it can also be used to tackle the problems of climate change and increasing carbon emissions.

This is according to a report from the UN’s Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

Climate change

The study has come up with some interesting findings. For example, it estimates that the smart use of information and communication technologies (ICT) could save 15 percent of global emissions – about 7.8 gigatonnes of CO2 a year – by 2020, with only a small increase in ICT’s own emissions.

It also found that ICT could close the increasing gap between the ambitions of countries to cut their carbon emissions and the action needed to stave off a 2°C temperature rise this century by up to 87 percent.

The report provided real world examples. It cited a 2009 analysis by Accenture and Vodafone of five sectors in Germany (logistics, transportation, buildings, smart grids and dematerialisation). That study concluded that the smart use of ICT solutions could reduce CO2 emissions in Germany by as much as 25 percent.

And it warned implementing lower carbon approaches was needed, otherwise climate change will cost $171bn per year by 2030, if global emissions aren’t stabilised. This is the report’s estimated annual investment that adaptation to climate change will require.

“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,” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré in a statement.

“The understanding of the benefits that broadband can bring is at a global tipping point. Its role in GDP growth, in enabling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and offsetting the effects of climate change is just now starting to be understood, because finally the deployment is there and the benefits can be realised,” said Hans Vestberg, one of the report’s authors.

Vestberg is also the President and CEO of Ericsson, and he is also the chair of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Climate Change.

Environment and economy

“Creating a low-carbon economy means transitioning from the energy-intensive physical infrastructure of the 20th century to the innovative, connected, information-based infrastructure that will be the hallmark of the 21st century,” said the report.

“Broadband has huge potential to help shift the world towards a low-carbon economy and address the challenge of climate change,” it said. “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 believes that broadband will help climate change in three core areas, namely transformation (less travel, less physical assets and more cloud, smart grids etc), climate mitigation (improving the energy efficiency of ICT kit), and finally climate adaptation (changing systems, processes and practices as the effects of climate change arrive).

The report urges all ‘stakeholders’ to take measures to change, innovate and “eliminate barriers to low-carbon technologies and encourage private sector investment in broadband over the long term.”

It also published a set of ten recommendations for policy makers and global leaders. This includes  aligning ICT and climate policy, providing incentives to encourage the uptake of low-carbon ICT solutions, and funding scalable pilots to demonstrate how broadband can both enable low-carbon solutions and build a strong business case to attract private investment.

The full report can be found here.

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