ICT Can Cut Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 16.5%, Saving up to USD1.9T Annually

The study was conducted by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a leading management consulting firm, on behalf of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), an ICT industry partnership for sustainability. It concludes that the potential for information technology to reduce global carbon emissions has been under-estimated until now, and that the abatement potential of ICT is seven times the size of the ICT sector’s own carbon footprint. The findings are being released today in a report titled “SMARTer 2020.”

SMARTer 2020 follows up the SMART 2020(1) study, which first evaluated ICT’s potential to enable a low-carbon economy in 2008. The updated in-depth research in SMARTer 2020 now concludes that up to 16.5 percent of global GHG emissions can be slashed by implementing ICT solutions throughout the economy — over 16 percent more savings than was calculated in the earlier study four years ago.

The new research study identifies GHG abatement potential from ICT-enabled solutions ranging across six sectors of the economy: power, transportation, manufacturing, consumer and service, agriculture and land use, and buildings. Emission reductions come from virtualization initiatives such as cloud computing and video conferencing, but also through efficiency gains such as optimization of variable-speed motors in manufacturing and smart livestock management to reduce methane emissions, as well as 32 other ICT-enabled solutions identified in the study. Some ICT-driven solutions, such as smart electricity grids, reap benefits at the national level while others, such as intelligent building management systems, can result in energy and cost savings for individual households and businesses.

Alongside the sectoral analysis, SMARTer 2020 includes detailed national studies of the GHG abatement potential of ICT in seven countries, identifying for each country the best strategies for policy makers to pursue. The countries studied were Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The launch of the study took place during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 18 meeting in Doha. Welcoming the report, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC stated:

“It is critical that the world captures every last bit of energy efficiency, if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep below dangerous rises in temperature. I am pleased that this important new study shows how information and communication technology can play an essential role in saving energy. Now we need more and effective government policies that reward such action and penalize delayed responses.”

Speaking at the launch of the report, Luis Neves, GeSI chair, said:

“The ICT revolution is powering even more innovations than we had imagined, leading to greater potential to cut GHG emissions, and a smaller ICT footprint. SMARTer 2020 shows the abatement potential of ICT is seven times the size of the ICT sector’s direct emissions. Information technology can drive the transition to a low carbon economy, with greater efficiency, and the preservation of our environment.”

Philipp Jung, a San Francisco-based partner at BCG, added:

“This study shows that information and communications technology can achieve even greater savings than we previously thought — as much as USD1.9 trillion annually by 2020. The research also shows that country-specific approaches, coordinated within a global framework, are essential to realizing this potential given the diverse country-specific circumstances.”

In 2008, GeSI commissioned and published SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age. The report identified the potential for ICT to deliver 7.8 GtCO2e cuts in greenhouse gases by 2020.

The new study, SMARTer 2020, updates and significantly expands on the SMART 2020 analysis with new analysis and data, and covers the broader use of ICT in other industries. The report includes analysis of the barriers to adoption of ICT solutions, practical recommendations for policy makers, as well as sectoral analysis, case studies, and individual country reports with recommendations. It calculates that ICT could save 9.1 GtCO2e in GHG emissions by 2020.

The study was undertaken by The Boston Consulting Group and funded by ICT sector group the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). The supporting analysis was conducted independently by The Boston Consulting Group with the assistance of additional industry experts. Input was provided by GeSI member companies, ICT users, and the global experts consulted regarding alternative methodologies and application.

SMARTer 2020 was kindly sponsored by AT&T, Alcatel-Lucent, Bell Canada, BT, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Nokia, Sprint, Telenor, and Verizon.

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