UN Calls For More ICT To Fight Climate Change

The UN’s technology body has highlighted how Ghana is mitigating global warming effects through ICT

The United Nations’ technology body, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), is calling for a wider use of technology projects in helping countries adapt to climate change.

At the Durban Summit last week, the ITU released a study focusing on how an ICT project allowed Ghana’s cocoa industry to become more resilient to the effects of climate change. The ITU said Ghana’s case should set an example for other developing countries.

Real-time sharing

The study focuses on how ICT can be used in optimising production by, for example, sharing information in real time between producers and end users, said Dr Bilel Jamoussi, chief of the ITU’s Study Groups department, in an interview with Business Green.

He said ICT has, in general, been overlooked as a tool for helping developing countries adapt, and that Ghana’s case demonstrates the value that these countries can find in technology projects.

“It’s a really good sign that these countries are seeing how they can adapt,” he said. “These countries are not always big producers of greenhouse gases, but they are the most affected [by climate change].”

The ITU believes that ICT has in general been overlooked as a way of helping stem climate change and to adapt to its effects, Jamoussi said.

“Our key goal is that ICT is viewed as an enabler and plays a central role in adaptation and mitigation,” Jamoussi told Business Green. “Our report and recommendations are a concrete example of that.”

As part of its wider support of ICT’s role in mitigating climate change, the ITU has created a set of standardised methodologies for assessing the impact of ICT on the environment, and has participated in other initiatives such as the development of a standardised, energy-efficient mobile phone charger.

Universal charger

The ITU gave its approval for the concept for a universal phone charger in 2009, with the aim of drastically reducing the number of chargers produced, shipped and subsequently discarded as new models become available.

Universal chargers also allow phone manufacturers to reduce their packaging by not including a new charger with every new phone. The ITU standard will enable users to charge not only their mobile phones but also other handheld devices, such as MP3 players, tablet computers, cameras, wireless headphones and GPS devices, all using a single micro-USB charger – that is, assuming the device makers all buy into the idea.

The charger also has a detachable power cable that can be used for data transfer or charging from a PC’s USB port, ridding users of the need for an additional cable.

Moreover, the ITU has specified a no-load power consumption (the amount of power used when nothing is connected) below 0.03W, which it claims is the most efficient available today. The recommended charging current has also been increased – in the range 750 to 1500 mA – to reduce charging time and ensure demanding devices, such as smartphones, can use the charger.

Last July, attendees at the ITU’s Symposium on ICTs and Climate Change in Ghana called for recognition of the value of ICTs in monitoring deforestation, crop patterns and other environmental phenomena.

“It is now clear to most observers that ICTs have a very important role to play here,” said ITU secretary general Dr Hamadoun Tourév at that time. “Recognition of this at the international level will provide countries with a solid argument to roll out climate-change strategies with a strong ICT element.”

Green growth

A report by the ITU and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative in December, 2010, found that ICTs can help tackle the problem of climate change both by driving down emissions in the technology sector – using more efficient equipment and providing better waste management – and improving energy efficiency in other sectors, by reducing their energy needs.

However, government spending cuts in the UK threaten to cripple many first-generation green IT projects. Compass Management Consulting warned in October, 2010, that environmentally-friendly IT projects may be axed as cost-cutting measures are implemented in the current financial climate.

UK Chancellor‎ George Osborne faced calls earlier this year from a consortium of business leaders – including Microsoft and BT – to set out a comprehensive green growth strategy. The group published an open letter pointing out that the UK was losing momentum to emerging economies in green sectors.

But, according to Fujitsu’s Green IT: Global Benchmark report, the UK is leading the way in the adoption of green IT practices, and Great Britain boasts a green IT index higher than the US, Australia and India.

The government has re-iterated its target of becoming “the greenest government ever” and, in October, announced £1 billion in funding for a Green Investment Bank, which will provide financial interventions to unlock significant new private investment in green infrastructure projects.

Sophie Curtis contributed to this report.