The ICT industry can play a vital role in the green economy (Analyst Angle)
The impact of climate change is increasingly visible and has been felt by more and more people around the world. This has resulted in an increase in the frequency of forest fires, storms and longer periods of drought. Declining icebergs and rising sea levels are contributing to more flooding, especially in coastal cities.
The increase in global average temperature and sea level is the result of a constant increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. Between 2005 and 2021, there was a 10% increase in carbon dioxide levels, as shown in Diagram 1.
Green economy initiatives are underway
The science behind climate change is assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is a United Nations (UN) intergovernmental body responsible for assessing the causes, impacts and risks of climate change, and providing response options for mitigation and adaptation. The IPCC leads and organizes meetings and events to communicate its findings and methodologies. For example, the organization co-sponsored a workshop on biodiversity and climate change in December 2020 to explore the links between biodiversity and climate. Several international policies have been established to combat climate change. The Montreal Protocol was introduced to reduce the production of ozone-depleting materials, such as chlorofluorocarbons.
It has established a regularly revised schedule that outlines the dates for the phase-out of ozone-depleting materials.The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established to support the global response to climate change, through global discussions on stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. From the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement have been introduced. The first describes the obligation for developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions by 5% on average compared to 1990 levels. Under the Paris Agreement, countries commit to reducing carbon emissions in the goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2 ° C above pre-industrial levels, while striving to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Global industry has adjusted its processes and equipment. Many organizations are adopting energy-saving practices and paperless offices by taking advantage of digital technology. An example would be the screening of plastic packaging.
2. Initiatives of the ICT industry
The information and communications technology (ICT) industry contributes significantly to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the ICT sector is expected to account for up to 20% of global electricity consumption levels by 2030.
Green development initiatives for the ICT industry can be broken down into several aspects, especially hardware, software and processes. In terms of materials, the focus would be on evaluating the equipment and tools used by ICT organizations. Companies start by understanding the energy consumption levels of their equipment, then adjust their procurement policies and establish energy-saving parameters for new purchases, such as replacing desktops with laptops, that consume up to 90% less electricity. Organizations have also implemented recycling programs to promote responsible waste management for old electronics, where improper disposal could worsen chemical and greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, Sprint (United States) implemented its buy-back program to support responsible management of electronic waste. It buys back mobile devices to recycle them by certified recyclers or to refurbish them. Amazon’s recycling program (US) encourages its customers to recycle their devices and accessories, with all associated costs covered by the company.
In terms of software, the ICT industry has also seen many initiatives, such as the development of electronic work solutions. For example, video conferencing tools facilitate remote online collaborations and reduce traffic on the roads. According to GeSI, this could save more than 100 hours of travel time per year per person. An expected 67% reduction in travel-related emissions could be achieved. Monitoring applications are also adopted by industry to provide real-time energy usage patterns and prompts for organizations to make rapid adjustments in their operations.
In process terms, the adoption of renewable energy has been an important topic for the energy intensive ICT industry. Major ICT players are increasingly harnessing renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to reduce their carbon footprint. For example, Google’s investments in renewable energy include a solar power plant in Chile and a wind farm in Sweden.
The Momentum for Change initiative launched by the UNFCCC is a major program that stimulates the efforts of the ICT industry in the adoption of green practices. The initiative recognizes and showcases green transformational solutions developed by ICT organizations, such as electric vehicle (EV) charging. For example, the Green Credit Card is an initiative launched in South Korea to encourage the adoption of a low-carbon lifestyle. Users receive points for taking public transport and performing paperless transactions, which can be redeemed for cash. It is a good way for companies to establish their presence in the global industry by demonstrating their green credentials.
3. What’s new
Existing technologies and practices in the ICT industry are tackling climate change by enabling the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and helping businesses adapt to the impacts of climate change. ICT innovations are harnessed to monitor environmental variables, such as soil condition in the agricultural sector, which could improve the efficiency of water resource management. With rising global temperatures, this ICT application would enable precision agriculture using the generated environmental data.
Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and digital twins, could produce promising solutions to tackle climate change. For example, the materials science industry could leverage AI and machine learning (ML) to produce structural materials and products with fewer raw materials, such as steel and cement. The production of these raw materials contributes more than 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the development of new environmentally friendly materials would reduce the existing carbon footprint.
Another promising aspect is “green mobility”. The transport industry contributes around 24% of global carbon dioxide emissions, with freight and passenger transport accounting for around half of this volume. The development of autonomous vehicles is fundamentally based on ML to enable prospects of reducing congestion by optimizing travel routes, thus reducing energy consumption during the journey.
Future innovation development plans should aim to achieve net zero emissions. Innovations ranging from designing with greener materials to deploying multi-hazard warning systems are key to helping the world cope with climate change. More data and analysis is needed to provide information on climate change mitigation, made possible by technological advancements, such as AI. Therefore, the development and implementation of future innovations should encompass more important environmental considerations.
4. The potential benefits of going green
Adopting green ICT technologies and practices reduces carbon emissions in other industries. During the recent HUAWEI CONNECT 2021, Huawei’s rotating chairman Eric Xu highlighted several commitments from the European Union (EU) and China to achieve carbon neutrality. The benefit of adopting ICT technology was also discussed, which could potentially reduce industrial emissions by 12.1 billion tonnes; this is about 10 times the emissions from the ICT industry itself. Reducing energy consumption through green innovations could also translate into cost savings. For example, smart meter solutions could save a home unit about US $ 200 annually on its energy bill.
ChargePoint is an electric vehicle infrastructure provider that offers intelligent energy management tools to drive widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Its mobile application allows drivers to locate available charging stations and manage charging sessions. This convenience facilitates the process of transitioning from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles. Diagram 2 below describes the benefits that ChargePoint drivers have brought in the fight against climate change, such as the reduction of 27.2 million kilograms of carbon dioxide.
Figure 2: Benefits of adopting EVs (Source: ChargePoint)
ICT can support a circular economy
These environmental and economic impacts could benefit players in the ICT industry by reducing their operational expenses, so that a larger budget could be allocated to research and development (R&D) functions to create and deploy new technologies and innovations. green. Creating a circular economy that could operate in a sustainable manner would allow industry to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. The ICT industry has improved connectivity and enabled many of the innovations mentioned in this article. Using ChargePoint as an example, the lack of efficient connectivity could potentially impact its operations. Drivers would not be able to locate charging stations to charge their vehicles, and worse yet, could not activate the charging process without their mobile app.
Without a doubt, there is an opportunity for the ICT industry to play a key supporting role in the global green movement.