The data behind ICT and climate change

On Nov 25th, my colleague Stephen Harper blogged about the role of Information Communications Technology (ICT) in combating climate change, and outlined some policies that Intel, through DESC, are pursuing to allow the solutions potential of ICT to be realized.

I thought it would be helpful to provide some background information about those ‘recent studies’ that have been looking at the role of ICT in combating climate change.

Early in 2008, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) published its report, “Information and Communications Technology: the Power of Productivity. How ICT Sectors Are Transforming the Economy While Driving Gains in Energy Productivity”. ACEEE studied the correlation of the growth of the Internet and ICT markets in the US and the increased energy efficiency of the US economy over the last several decades and found a statistically significant relationship. The report concluded that,

“For every extra kilowatt-hour of electricity that has been demanded by ICT technologies, the U.S. economy increased its overall energy savings by a factor of about 10. Thus, these productivity gains have led to huge net savings in both energy and economic costs. The extraordinary take away from this finding is that ICT is a net saver of energy across our economy.”

Another 2008 report by the World Wildlife Fund, “IT Strategy for CO2 Reductions“, focuses on Europe and concludes that ICT strategies could reduce up to 25 percent of Europe’s climate emissions.

The most recent report, by The Climate Group and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) takes a global view of the role of ICT as part of a climate solution and gives a number of examples of how ICT’s energy efficiency benefits can help reduce society’s carbon footprint.  That report, “Smart 2020: Enabling the Low Carbon Economy in the Information Age“, concludes that,

“ICT is a key sector in the fight against climate change and could enable emissions reductions of 7.8 Gt CO2e in 2020, or 15% of business as usual emissions.”

This represents 5X the footprint of the ICT industry in savings. Their recent US addendum analysis puts the potential in the US at as much as 22 percent of US emissions in 2020.

The Economist is running a great story about ICT and climate change that also covers this positive impact effect in their The World in 2009 Special Edition. Check it out here.

Oh…and speaking of The Economist; they just started their latest online debate sponsored by Intel. The topic is the role of offsets in carbon cap and trade markets. If you want to join the debate, click here.. If you want to see what our Intel execs have to say on the topic,click here.

7 Responses to The data behind ICT and climate change

  1. Ed Maibach says:

    Marisa,
    Sad that these opportunities have not received the serious attention that they deserve.
    There is an even more fundamental use of ICT to fight climate change that is also being overlooked here in the US: public engagement campaigns. Karen Akerlof and I recently published an analysis of such national campaigns in Canada, UK and Sweden (“Sermons as a Climate Change Policy Tool: Do They Work? Evidence from the International Community” Global Studies Review, Fall 2008, http://cgs.gmu.edu/publications/gsr.html). Our conclusion is that when done well, they work. This is low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change that our society really can’t afford not to harvest.
    Ed Maibach

  2. Steve Brown says:

    Marisa, great to see you blogging. Thanks for providing all those links to some great resources. Would love to hear more of your personal opinion and voice in future blogs. Keep it up!

  3. ken says:

    Great set of resouces, look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.
    I would suggest things are not so clean, on the interpretation of ICTs and a greener world. For example, I’d point to this resent study
    >>High speed broadband will create energy bottleneck and slow Internet>”It has now become clear that the exponential growth of the Internet is not sustainable, “said Dr Hinton.>The result indicates that, even with the improvements in energy efficiency of electronics, the power consumption of the Internet will increase from 0.5% of today’s national electricity consumption to 1% by around 2020.>Dr Hinton says the growth of the Internet, IT broadband telecommunications will provide a wide range of new products and services.>“To support these new high-bandwidth services, the capacity of the Internet will need to be significantly increased. If Internet capacity is increased, the energy consumption, and consequently the carbon footprint of the Internet will also increase.>“This will place a major burden on the nation’s power infrastructure as well as significantly contribute to green house gas production.http://uninews.unimelb.edu.au/news/5599/
    http://www.ee.unimelb.edu.au/people/rst/talks/files/Tucker_Green_Plenary.pdf

  4. Glaciers are considered among the most sensitive indicators of climate change, advancing when climate cools and retreating when climate warms. Glaciers grow and shrink, both contributing to natural variability and amplifying externally forced changes.

  5. ogame says:

    High speed broadband will create energy bottleneck and slow Internet>”It has now become clear that the exponential growth of the Internet is not sustainable, “said Dr Hinton.>The result indicates that, even with the improvements in energy efficiency of electronics

  6. Ogame says:

    Marisa, great to see you blogging. Thanks for providing all those links to some great resources. Would love to hear more of your personal opinion and voice in future blogs. Keep it yes tahnk you