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ITU responds to industry's quicker, cleaner and greener call

The number of ICT users has trebled since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. As a result of a call from the telecoms industry, the ITU is to set up a new group to establish standards for lower ICT emissions and how ICT itself can help reduce emissions in other sectors, eg, energy, transport and buildings.

Responding to an industry call, ITU has set up a new group to work on standards related to the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on climate change. The new group will focus in particular on the reduction of ICT emissions and how ICTs can assist in cutting emissions in other industry sectors such as energy, transportation and buildings.

Since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997 the number of ICT users has tripled worldwide. It is estimated that the ICT sector produces between 2 and 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And yet ICTs are also seen as a part of the solution to the climate change challenge.

ICTs could help cut global emissions by between 15 and 40%, depending on the methodology used to make these estimates. Two recent ITU symposia on ICTs and climate change in Kyoto in April and in London in June this year drew attention to the wide variation in these estimates. A key objective of the Focus Group will be to develop internationally agreed methodologies to describe and estimate the impact of ICTs on climate change, both directly and through their application in other industry sectors.

The importance of ICT standardization to deal with this global issue was acknowledged following the very successful Kyoto and London symposia, and a study by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) — a group comprising key technology companies and organisations, including ITU. The reports of the two symposia were submitted to the G8 Summit held in Hokkaido, Japan, on 7-9 July 2008.

Participants in the symposia — representing ICT companies from around the world — as well as the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, called on ITU to increase its activities in ICTs and climate change. In a message to the London symposium, Mr Ban commended ITU for working with partners inside and outside the UN family to give high priority to actions in this field. "The ICT sector has much to offer in creating a cleaner, greener world but it must also apply international standards in reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions," Mr Ban said.

ITU has moved quickly to create the new Focus Group on ICTs and Climate Change, with an ambitious work plan to conclude by April 2009. ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I Touré said he was: "very appreciative of the drive that has come from the ITU Telecommunication Standardisation Sector on this topic, paving the way for the establishment of the Focus Group." Dr Touré went on to under line that: "Climate change is one of the major issues of our time and the key role that ITU is playing in addressing the issue has been acknowledged by the UN Secretary-General. ICTs are a contributor to global warming, but more importantly they are the key to monitoring and mitigating its effects."

Malcolm Johnson, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau issued a call to arms for the world’s ICT companies and others following the announcement of the Focus Group: "We have heard from industry and from the UN Secretary-General that ITU must tackle this issue of global importance. I encourage all interested parties to participate. This group is open to all and I encourage contributions from the ICT sector as well as other industry sectors, research institutes, and any other specialists in this field."

Work will start immediately using electronic means, and the group will meet physically for the first time at ITU headquarters in Geneva on 1-3 September 2008 under the chairmanship of David Faulkner of BT. In fact, ITU is expected to conduct most of its work using remote collaboration tools to the maximum extent, and collocation with other meetings, to minimise its own emissions.

Presentations from the Kyoto and London symposia can be viewed here. The GeSI study on facilitating the low-carbon economy in the information age has been published highlighting the role that standards will play. A webpage for the Focus Group will be made available shortly.

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