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Changing the ICT Climate

Through their manufacture, maintenance and use, information and communication technologies (ICTs) currently contribute an estimated 2-2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With that figure likely to climb, ITU is making climate change a key priority, through strategies to mitigate and adapt to their environmental impact, by harnessing the power of technology to redress the damage caused by greenhouse gases and by helping to monitor climate change.

Currently, ICTs are net contributors to global warming. But if ICTs are part of the problem, they can also be a major part of the solution. ITU's new climate website - - provides a global focal point for ICT-related climate change initiatives, offering a wealth of information, links and resources.


"ICTs can be used to help usher in a whole new generation of energy-efficient products and energy-saving strategies... Major work programmes now underway in just about every ITU technical Study Group seek to harness the power of tomorrow's technologies to solve future climate problems." Dr. Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General


ITU is working towards a climate-neutral ICT industry by:

  • Reducing the ICT sector's own energy requirements

  • Fostering the use of ICTs for carbon displacement

  • Promoting the use of ICTs to reduce emissions in other sectors

Reducing ICT impact

The ITU-led move to Next Generation Networks (NGN) will significantly cut ICT energy requirements by reducing the number of switching centres needed by telcos. One example is BT's 21st Century Network, now being rolled out across Britain, which will require just 100-120 metropolitan switching centres, compared with the carrier's 3,000 current sites. Since NGN equipment can handle greater climatic variation, most switching sites can soon be fresh-air cooled, rather than air-conditioned. In addition, many new NGN standards specify multiple power modes, enabling much lower power consumption when equipment is in 'sleep' mode.

The Regional Radiocommunication Conference 2006, which involved 120 countries, developed a new digital broadcasting plan, based largely on ITU-R Recommendations. GE06 Plan envisages a significant reduction (by a factor of almost 10) of transmitter power and of the number of transmitters required. With approximately 100,000 transmitters using up to 100-150 kW each, the savings are potentially huge!

Monitoring climate change

Responsible for the equitable management of the world's radio frequency spectrum, ITU is also working to ensure spectrum availability for the advanced systems and satellites that are increasingly vital to climate monitoring, weather forecasting, remote sensing and disaster prediction and detection. For instance, the World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs) analyze the spectrum requirements and allocate the necessary radio frequency spectrum for systems and applications used in environment and climate monitoring, and studies carried out by ITU-R further support these activities.


ICTs for carbon displacement

One good example of how the innovative application of ICTs can reduce carbon emissions is the new joint initiative between the European Telecommunication Network Operators (ETNO) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) called Saving the climate @ the speed of light. This project, which originated at an ITU-led World Summit, targets a reduction of EU carbon emissions by 50 million CO2 equivalent tonnes.


Here's a sampling of just a few of ITU's climate change initiatives:

  • Cross-cutting work on NGNs which could reduce PSTN power consumption by up to 40%.

  • Recommendations on the use of radio-based applications to provide key data for the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS).

  • Exploring ways to reduce ICT power needs, dispose of - or recycle - ICT equipment in an environmentally responsible manner, and developing a standardized methodology for calculating an ICT carbon footprint.

  • Recommendations on multimedia and videoconferencing are providing people with a means of communicating and collaborating remotely.

  • Handbooks on the use of cars as wireless environment monitoring tools and the use of radio technologies for minimizing transportation distances and cost.

  • The most recent World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07) and the Radiocommunication Assembly (RA-07) adopted a number of Resolutions on studies related to remote-sensing, a vital component in the science of climate change.

  • ITU is looking at how RFID-equipped sensors and telemetry systems could be combined to create sensor-based networks for temperature and lighting control.

  • The creation of a joint handbook with the World Meteorological Organization on radio-based technologies for climate control, observation and prediction.

  • ITU's work in the field of intelligent transport systems is helping cut carbon emissions by reducing congestion.

  • The use of emergency communications to prevent and mitigate disasters.

  • A Focus Group on ICTs and Climate Change (FG ICT&CC) established July 2008.

A climate-neutral ITU

The Union works with the Chief Executives Board (CEB) to develop a common UN strategy to combat climate change, and collaborates with the UN Environmental Group. ITU also makes an important contribution to international events on climate change, such as last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan and the World Climate Conference-3 set for 2009.

To set an example, ITU is putting its own house in order through paperless meetings, video and audio conferencing, webcasting of meetings, remote teleworking, a carbon audit and greater energy efficiency. The aim is make ITU climate-neutral.


In 1995, carbon emissions from transporting paper copies of ITU-T Recommendations around the world was 108 million tonnes of CO2. In 2007, now delivered online, free of charge, emissions related to their distribution was just 1.5 million tonnes - a reduction of over 98%.










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Updated : 2009-04-21