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Climate change

Climate Change ​​​​​​ ​



The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as “a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods".  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines climate change as a “change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. It refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or human activity". The 2030 Agenda acknowledges climate change as “one of the greatest challenges of our time"[1]. It elaborates that climate change and “its adverse impacts undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development. The survival of many societies, and of the biological support systems of the planet, is at risk" [2].  

According to NASA, the immediate signs of climate change include: global temperature rise; warming oceans; ice sheet and glacial retreat; decreasing snow cover; sea level rise; declining Arctic sea ice; extreme weather events; and ocean acidification [3]. Many of these consequences of climate change are monitored using satellite imagery from outer space. 

No matter where you live, everyone stands to be affected by the consequences of climate change. Some 2.4 million (40%) of the total world population live within 100km of the coast today, with at least 11-15% of the population of small island developing sta​tes (SIDS) living on land with an elevation of 5 meters or lower [4]. Th​e World Bank identifies that cities are also increasingly at risk from the impacts of climate change, with more than 80% of the global costs of adaptation to climate change expected to be incurred by and within cities.


ICT products and services consume energy, that generates carbon emissions over their life cycle in:

a) Manufacturing and production: It has been estimated that a tonne of laptops could be responsible for emissions of up to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide[5].

b) Usage:​​

c) Disposal: In early 2019, the United Nations found that US$62.5 billion dollars in materials are lost in approximately 50 million tonnes of annual e-waste, which could be tripled by 2050[10]

The installation of 'smart infrastructure' allows to improve monitoring and evaluation of energy consumption across networks in real-time. For example, smart electricity meters can help building-owners and occupiers understand their energy consumption better. Advanced computer modelling can help telecom operators plan for and handle data traffic more efficiently. Smart traffic lights can help reduce traffic jams and greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from cars. 

In fact, the carbon footprint of ICT goods and services depends in large part on how/where energy is generated and whether power is generated from fossil fuels or renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources are not de facto clean energy sources in terms of carbon footprint – although they are cleaner. Carbon-fueled power stations emit 820g equivalent of CO2 equivalent per kWh of energy, gas-fired power stations 490g equivalent of CO2 equivalent per kWh of energy, photovoltaic sources 41, hydraulic energy 24, nuclear power stations 12 and wind-powered stations 11 gCO2eq per kWh[11]

ITU’s contribution

At the UN level, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement at the COP 21 Conference in Paris, France, on 12 December 2015 to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low-carbon future. The Paris Agreement built on the Convention and brought together all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries. 

Various ICT services are useful for monitoring climate change and storms (e.g. better modelling and prediction of weather and of climate, space-based observation of greenhouse gas emissions or GHGs). ITU supports the growth of satellite surveillance and monitoring services from space for:

ITU-R Working Party 7B (WP 7B) studies space radiocommunication applications relevant to climate change. ITU-R Working Party 7C (WP 7C) studies the remote sensing systems that are important for monitoring and tracking the extent, pace and acceleration of climate change. 

ITU-T Study Group 5 studies 'Environment, climate change and circular economy'. The group has been working on developing international standards (i.e. ITU-T Recommendations) that support the sustainable use of ICTs (including products, services, installation, infrastructure, etc.). Recently, Study Group 5 is working to align the development of ICTs with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UNFCCC Paris Agreement. 

ITU has partnered with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTI), the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and the GSMA to set the ICT sector and sub-sector on a clear GHG reduction pathway, and is working on a new international standard that will set the GHG emission trajectories for the ICT sector to be compatible with the UNFCCC Paris Agreement. 

ITU-D has a Study Group Question 6/2 on ICTs and the Environment about climate change, its effects and assisting in the transition towards a green and circular economy. ITU has a portfolio of activities in e-waste and aims to tackle the challenges faced by this waste stream at the global, regional and national level. Priorities include conducting life-cycle analysis of products and processes, helping shift current economic models to a green and circular economy for ICT equipment, supporting policy and regulatory development, producing standards, improving and collecting worldwide e-waste data and raising awareness.  

Recognizing  the growing footprint of digital technologies, ITU has also created the new Focus Group on “Environmental Efficiency for AI and other Emerging Technologies". This focus group will study the environmental performance of AI, Big Data application, blockchain and other digital technologies. The group will identify the standardization needs to develop a sustainable approach to AI and other emerging technologies. ITU published a report, entitled “Turning digital technology innovation into climate action", to highlight the emerging role of digital technologies in accelerating climate actions and tackling the e-waste challenge. With other UN partners, ITU also recently published the report, “Frontier Technologies to Protect the Environment and Combat Climate Change" (2020). 

The United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative is a UN initiative coordinated by ITU and UNECE with the support of 14 other UN agencies and programmes. The initiative is dedicated to support the transition to smart sustainable cities and is developing technical reports and deliverables that encourage circularity actions in cities and examine the impacts of frontier technologies in cities. 

In addition, ITU organizes multi-stakeholder events to highlight the role of ICTs in climate change. With eight other UN agencies and programmes, ITU hosts a Symposium on ICT, Environment & Climate Change [12] regularly, which brings together leading telecom executives, policy-makers, service providers, civil society, the academia and UN representatives to discuss how frontier technologies can help combat climate change. ITU also organizes the Green Standards Week every year to debate key issues relating to ICT standards and the environment. This event brings together the ICT sector, policy-makers, city planners, representatives from civil society, the academia and technical experts to share experiences in building smart sustainable cities and how standards can improve the sustainability of different sectors. ​

[1] Para 14, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", available at:

[2] Para 14, "Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", available at:





[7] OECD:



[10] "A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot", 24 January 2019, available at:

[11] The French Intergovernmental Expert Group on Climate Change (GIEC) and figures quoted by the French Society of Nuclear Energy (SFEN) (which consists of industry professionals), "Climat: faut-il sortir du nucléaire pour sauver la planète ? Sept arguments pour comprendre le débat", 9 July 2019, at:


Last update: November ​2020  ​​