The ITU has announced a set of green ICT recommendations, but is it too little too late? Guy Daniels reports.
At a meeting in South Korea of its Study Group 5, the ITU has announcement agreement on a globally-recognized set of methodologies to assess the environmental impact of ICT. The group also agreed to produce a report on due diligence guidelines for conflict minerals supply, and to study environmental protection and recycling solutions for batteries for mobile phones and other devices.
The problem of estimating emissions from the ICT sector – and the level to which ICT can help reduce overall emission – was raised at the ITU’s Climate Change symposium back in 2008. The methodology just agreed has been developed in cooperation with other standards bodies, including the IEC and ETSI, and is also aligned with the Digital Agenda of the European Commission.
As commendable as this is, the question is does the ICT industry really care? Not just giving environmental issues and policies a cursory nod, as a means to tick the ‘sustainability’ box in their annual corporate governance reports, but really care?
During 2009 the ICT industry appeared to be making great progress in both sorting out its own house (especially with regards CO2 emission policies) as well as raising the awareness that adopting smart ICT solutions can help with the greater environmental impact work. To this end, there was great excitement in the months leading up to the COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.
TelecomTV was fortunate to be involved in this process – we created a series of video case studies and the feature-length documentary film ‘Green Planet’. We also attended both the main COP15 event and the preliminary meeting in Barcelona. It was at the Spanish event that the reality dawned on representatives of the ICT sector – nobody else really cared.
Despite sterling efforts from groups such as the ITU (who deserve a heck of a lot of thanks), it soon became clear that the vast majority of government groups and non-governmental organisations were far too busy with their own problems and bureaucratic processes to even listen to the ICT sector’s justified claims of help.
The result was that ICT barely got a look in. Go ahead and search the agreed texts from COP15 for mention of how ICT can help. You’ll be sorely disappointed with the results. The situation quickly deteriorated after that – the amount of green ICT news has slowed to a trickle. Sceptics point out that the ICT industry never really cared about the environment, they were just using the green campaign to generate new sales.
Which is why the ITU’s latest work really matters. As an industry, we cannot give up on our work to help reduce global GHG emissions, we cannot allow the naysayers to win. And so a retrenchment and regrouping was important. If the industry stands any change of convincing politicians that investing in smart ICT solutions can help, then it needs to be 100 per cent sure of its facts. As Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary General of the ITU, said yesterday:
“An internationally agreed methodology means estimates of the impact of ICTs on greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption will now have much greater credibility. It will also show just how significant a contribution ICTs can make by reducing global emissions in other sectors.”
Exactly right, which is why it’s still not too late. But it’s going to take more than the ITU and a handful of aware vendors and operators to get the message across. Political support helps, and Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission: added:
“I'm pleased that the industry is taking the task of measuring its own footprint so seriously. And I'm pleased that the ITU, as a UN agency, is doing such good work facilitating negotiations, reaching out globally to industry sub-sectors and to other standardization initiatives.”
The parallel work on ‘conflict minerals’ began in response to a request from the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ITU said it would undertake a survey of existing due diligence requirements and guidelines concerning sources of these minerals – those that are smelted into tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Ahmed Zeddam, Chairman of ITU-T Study Group 5, said:
“This has been the most productive and significant meeting in the long history of Study Group 5. Twelve new important standards have been agreed, including many critical to methodologies to assess the environmental impact of ICT and the protection of home networks and next generation network equipment from EMC and environmental effects. ITU is the only organization producing these important global standards.”
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