World Economic Forum: Technology offers climate change solutions

Technology offers the solutions to counteract potentially devastating climate change, according to experts at the World Economic Forum, but at the same time, many researchers say IT is still one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions.

Climate change has been a major topic at the Davos-based conference, which is attended by 2,400 decision makers and influencers from the worlds of business, politics and research. On the first day, the issue was voted the most likely to have the biggest impact in coming years and, worryingly, the one global leaders are least prepared for.

"Technology provides the solutions" to offset the menace of climate change, said Jacques Aigrain, chief executive of Swiss Re, at a forum session.

While IT does contribute to environmental degradation, it's also part of the solution, commented Simon Mingay, lead researcher on environmentally sustainable IT at analyst Gartner.

"We did a rough calculation at the end of last year," he said. "We estimated that the operational energy by PCs and servers, not including cooling, causes 0.75 per cent of global emissions."

But this figure doesn't include embodied energy, such as manufacturing or transportation, which would put the estimate substantially higher, according to Mingay.

He stressed that technology has a positive impact on the environment through emissions, as it is used to reduce them. Computers are used in controlling devices for better efficiency, e-business cuts back on individual travel and the internet, through video conferencing, cuts back on air travel. "The total effect is almost certainly positive," he said, "but there's a huge opportunity to get better."

Businesses could help simply by switching their computers off at night and using more efficient cooling systems, Mingay said. "Enterprises need to express it as a goal and requirement, and employees will act on it."

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory