How can ICT impact on Climate Change be reduced, and how Digital technologies can put the world on a net-zero emissions path?
Climate change is the defining challenge of this era. It threatens to raise vulnerability, undercut economic gains, impede social and economic progress, and deteriorate residents’ access to essential services and quality of life throughout the world. The planet is endangered by growing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which directly contribute to climate change. Scientists have cautioned that there is only a limited amount of time left to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C, beyond which any increase will exacerbate the dangers of climatic disasters.
Furthermore, experts warn that the already-disruptive climatic impacts will reach catastrophic proportions, inflicting irreparable harm to the planet’s key ecological systems. These climate impacts may become self-reinforcing loops that disproportionately harm the young, elderly, and other vulnerable people.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are a collection of devices and services that acquire, transfer, and display data and information digitally. These include the internet, wireless networks, cell phones, computers, software, middleware, video conferencing, and social networking. ICTs can contribute to addressing the world’s most critical climate challenges and facilitating the much-needed transition to a circular economy. They can also be used to monitor climate change and help mitigate and adapt to climate change.
ICT companies’ practices to tackle climate change
Major ICT companies are expanding their efforts to reduce their GHG emissions and decarbonize the whole global economy. More organizations are getting on board with carbon-neutral pledges, net-zero emission goals, and emission reduction targets.
Umniah is a Jordanian mobile network operator involved in various initiatives and partnerships aimed at protecting the environment and achieving sustainable development. It collaborated with the (Green Wheelz) initiative to conserve the environment by collecting plastic caps and aluminum cans to support and provide wheelchairs to people in Jordan with disabilities. It also collaborated with the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association to launch the (Himmeh w Lammeh) clean-up campaign in Ajloun Forest. Umniah initiated the UPOWER solar power project to lower its carbon footprint where solar technology was included in the energy mix and generated around 36 gigatonne-hours per year, over half of the company’s total energy demand of 72 gigatonne-hours.
Zain Group as well is one of the Middle East’s biggest telecommunications companies that has recognized the importance of environmental protection. Zain’s climate action plan includes goals for reducing emissions, eliminating waste, and aligning with UN Sustainable Development Goal 13. In addition, the company is dedicated to developing climate change scenarios that will help limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Du is one of the two primary telecom operators in the UAE that is conscious of its environmental impact and strives to reduce it via different efforts led by policies established by their Health, Safety, and Environment and Responsible Procurement departments. They have created many machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies that have a beneficial environmental effect, save costs, and boost production. Smart industrial energy monitoring and smart vehicle tracking and telemetry systems are examples of these technologies.
Du invested in monitoring and reducing their energy use and GHG emissions using smart energy hybrid generators, solar-powered mobile sites, and effective fleet management. They have also implemented several water-saving methods across their offices and warehouses, such as tap aerators and water flow reducers.
A new wave of technological innovation is expanding our understanding of critical environmental challenges while also providing new solutions.
Earth observation satellites using remote sensing technology might be the solution for examining all of the environmental changes occurring on the planet. Remote sensing encompasses all approaches used to analyze the Earth’s surface or atmosphere using the properties of electromagnetic waves. Space remote sensing is the process of extracting physical, biological, and human information from data collected by Earth observation satellites. The data acquired offer an overview of large areas of the Earth’s surface in several regions and allow for the monitoring of events such as desertification, drought, pollution, weather-related disasters, land use, and urbanization through repeated observations. “DM-Sat-1” is an example of a nanometric satellite that will monitor, gather, and analyze environmental data as well as will measure air pollutants and greenhouse gases.
Smart grid technology makes it possible to effectively manage and distribute renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydrogen. The smart grid connects the electricity grid to a range of distributed energy resource assets like wind turbines, fuel cells, battery storage, and solar PV units. By leveraging digital communications technology to collect data on the smart grid, utilities can quickly detect and resolve service issues through continuous self-assessment. For example, if the energy production of a solar system drops due to clouds or other weather circumstances, the grid can intercept and modify energy output to an acceptable level until the weather conditions improve. This self-healing capability is critical to the smart grid since utilities no longer have to rely on customers to report problems.
Environmental impacts of the ICT industry
From the energy used to manufacture smartphones to the fact that even emails generate carbon emissions, the world’s internet addiction comes at a cost to the climate.
Despite all the advantages of the ICT industry, it also has a drawback, which is its contribution to GHG emissions. Because of the energy used in its creation, distribution, and usage, ICTs have an environmental impact at every step of their life cycle. According to GSMA’s Mobile Net Zero study, the mobile industry emits more than 220 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) each year, which is about 0.4 percent of global carbon emissions – a huge impact when multiplied billions of times. These concentrations represent part of the global ICT industry’s carbon emissions, which amount to around 700 Mt CO2e each year, or about 1.4 percent of global carbon emissions.
While consumers are increasingly linking their devices to more environmentally friendly renewable energy sources, such as household roof-top solar panels, these renewable technologies eventually become e-waste. Many of these technologies are hard to recycle, and only a few countries have waste regulations for end-of-life management. It’s also uncertain if e-waste management systems will be able to keep up with the increasing amount of ICT components and equipment. According to the United Nations, the world creates up to 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical trash (e-waste) annually, and only 20% of this waste is formally recycled.
Digital Transformation Technologies and the path to net-zero
As world leaders and organizations discuss plans to cut GHG emissions and mitigate the worst impact of climate change globally, digital transformation technologies have emerged as rapid and effective climate mitigation and adaptation solutions. Digital technologies have a lot of potential for putting the world on a net-zero emissions path. Space observations of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere will become more significant for monitoring, analyzing, and predicting climate impacts, which will aid researchers in better understanding climate change and may guide policy to prevent catastrophic climate-related dangers to society. E-waste must also be addressed to ensure a long-term global digital transformation. This can be accomplished by transitioning from a linear use once and discard strategy to circular economy principles, in which devices are reused and repurposed. All agents, including governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and others must adopt strategies to unlock digital potential, build momentum, and launch projects to support global climate action.
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