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 Monday, 21 April 2008
The first ITU Symposium on ICTs and Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan (hosted by MIC Japan), brings together policy makers and experts from international organisations and consortia, research institutes and the information and communication technology (ICT) industry.

The first session of the Symposium asked: Will ICTs come to our rescue? The Chairman of this session, Mr Art Levin, Head of ITU’s Corporate Governance and Membership Division, outlined the Kyoto process and the latest results of climate research, and referred to the role that information and communication technologies play in climate change, not only in contributing to global warming, but also in monitoring it, mitigating its impact and helping adaptation in some of the most vulnerable parts of the globe. He invited panelists from the ICT sector to identify the fields in which their company, organisation or institution comes to the rescue.

Session speakers all agree on the need but there are different ideas on methodology:

Dr Luis Neves, Chairman of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), described the objectives of this industry-led initiative as a double strategy:

  1. GeSI members are actively implementing measures leading to increasing energy efficiency and decoupling energy consumption from CO2-emissions.
  2. They offer services to their customers, which increase there energy efficiency as well, e.g. tele/audioconferencing to replace traveling and teleworking to avoid commuting. E-Commerce instead of going to the supermarket, Business-TV, E-Business, E-Learning, E-Teaching, E-Government.

A similar strategy is described in an early study by a joint initiative of the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) and WWF with the title “Saving the climate @ the speed of light”. This frequently cited study shows, that in the period up to 2010, the potential savings that can be achieved by ETNO members exceed by tenfold their current CO2 emissions. However, the study raises new questions: What will happen after 2010? What happens outside Europe?

Dr Neves announced the publication of a new study (5 June 2008) carried out by GeSI and The Climate Group. This study examines over a period of 12 years (until 2020) how ICTs can not only deliver energy savings and carbon reduction, but do so in a way that drives even greater economic growth and productivity.

The second Panelist, Mr Tetsuo Yamakawa, Director-General, International Affairs Department, Telecommunications Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, presented the results of a study of his Ministry, which includes a net energy consumption forecast for Japan, based on current technologies and consumer behaviour: By 2012 the electricity meter would pass the 57 billion kWh mark, which could be reduced to 44 billion, by introducing more energy efficient technologies. However, the broadcasting sector will emit a further 73 billion kWh, and solutions have to be found to reduce energy consumption in this sector. Mr Yamakawa named not less than 19 areas which have been identified by the Ministry for reductions of CO2 with the aid of ICTs. The study will be published in English language soon.

Climate-friendliness as a sales and marketing argument

Mr Jeff Hurmuses, President, China and Japan, of Tandberg spoke on “The potential of video-conferencing to reduce travel”. Studies conducted by Tandberg and Ipsos show the willingness of customers to buy goods and services from “green” companies rather than from companies with no or bad environmental reputation. Moreover, climate-friendliness influences the employment market, as 80 per cent of employees preferred working for a company that uses environmental responsible methods and tools (such as video-conferencing and remote collaboration tools) instead of extensive business traveling.

Prof Jun Fujimoto from the Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo, spoke on “Ecodesign of an ICT society”. He presented the results of a study carried out by his institution on the likely effects of ICTs by 2020. The overall effect is a reduction in CO2 emissions of 2-3 per cent, rising to 10 per cent by 2050. However, the effects will not be uniform. If one takes social change into account, it is possible to increase the saving from 10 to 40 per cent by 2050. He concluded that the ICT revolution can have a big impact on assisting the environment.

Dr Tim Kelly, Head, Standardization Policy Division, ITU-T presented the “ITU background report on ICTs and climate change”, which had been especially prepared for this symposium. This background report pulls together some of the studies mentioned before and illustrates the activities of the three sectors and the General Secretariat of the ITU as an international standardisation body and specialized agency of the United Nations.

The title for this session, “ICTs to the Rescue” was phrased as a question. In the view of the panel, the issue should not be framed as a question, but as an affirmative statement. The key is to make the positive effect of ICTs significantly larger than the negative effects.

The use of ICTs is growing and will continue to grow, especially in developing countries. However, in the area of ICTs there are two main positive roles: emission reductions by the sector and emission reduction achieved by the use of ICTs. As to the latter, the sector can also serve as an enabling technology by developing products and services that promote the use of ICTs to reduce emissions in other sectors.

All Panelists agreed that ICTs can only be a part of the solution. The process of climate change cannot be stopped or slowed down by ICTs alone – it needs people, consumers, and users to intervene into current trends fast and energetically, and to act environmentally responsible.

The second day of the ITU Symposium on ICTs and Climate Change (16 April 2008) will be available as a webinar (webinar registration, live audio stream) in order that remote participants can see and hear presentations from wherever they are in the world. Sessions titles include “ICTs as a clean technology” (e.g. remote collaboration, energy-efficient broadband, and other e-Environment opportunities), “Towards a high-bandwidth, low carbon future”, and “Adapting to climate change”.

The concluding wrap-up session will review comments on the draft Resolution on ICTs and Climate Change for WTSA-08. The revised chairman’s report and draft Resolution will be forwarded for review by the second ITU symposium on ICTs and climate change, to be held 17-18 June 2008 in London, hosted by BT. The Kyoto recommendations will also be forwarded to upcoming meetings of the World Economic Forum, the OECD (in Republic of Korea), the G8 (in Japan) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).