Infrastructure | Quality/Performance
November 18, 2016

Can investing in connectivity help combat climate change?

By Houlin Zhao:

In Benin, regional supervisors used to monitor their village’s water supply mostly by instinct. But in 2007, a Senegalese software company introduced water supply managers in Benin, and across Africa, to the mWater platform. Now thanks to these information and communications technologies (ICTs) water supply managers can track the entire lifecycle of their supply at their fingertips through a smartphone app.

This convergence between utilities and telecommunications is opening up countless connectivity opportunities around the world. In Cuba for instance, thanks to an innovative early warning system that taps into the country-wide text messaging service, communities are forewarned when a cyclone’s approaching, so they can get themselves and their families to safety.

In Kigali, Rwanda, young students had no choice but to stop studying once the sun set because their home had no electricity. In recent years the government and its private sector partners have brought bio gas into homes, a small yet significant part of an overall plan to replace charcoal and firewood with renewables and which now fulfills 85 percent of the Rwanda’s energy needs. Thanks to ICTs monitoring the grid, homes now have more energy for light and school grades have improved.

These cases illustrate some important ways that ICTs are transforming peoples’ lives by improving their environment and existing services. ICTs can play a transformative role in securing a sustainable and efficient future, and will be a frontline tool in the fight against climate change.

Heavy investment needed

With 180 member states having signed (and 26 countries having ratified) the Paris Agreement is now moving towards entry into force. In preparation for this moment, most countries are already looking at how to implement at the national level, in particular with regards to reaching their National Determined Contributions (NDCs), which reflects the commitment made by each country to reduce significantly their Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.

As this process moves ahead it is important to recognize how broadband infrastructure and ICT technologies can drive the transformation needed to move towards a low carbon future, or even a carbon-free future.

Radiocommunications has always been a robust resource for climate monitoring. Efficient management of the radio spectrum and harmonization of new wireless technologies enable us to conduct observations and long-term monitoring of solar activity to improve the world’s knowledge and understanding of the influence of the electromagnetic radiation from the sun on earth’s environment, including climate, right down to regional, country and local levels. It makes possible continued observations to characterize changes in the atmosphere, oceans, and land surface, and the use of such information for climate change modeling; as well as continued observations of the change in the ozone layer and its effects on the environment and human health.

International agreement in ITU on the efficient management, allocation and protection of the radio spectrum for such applications is essential to its successful operation and development.

Terrestrial and satellite radiocommunication systems, and telecommunication networks, in particular the Internet of Things, will crucially allow sustainable management of natural resources, environmental protection, food security, climate change and humanitarian programmes and contribute to the monitoring of carbon emissions, the changing of ice in polar caps and glaciers, and temperature changes. They increase productivity, optimize energy consumption and cut transportation costs leading to reduced levels of CO2 emissions.

Smarter cities

Smart Sustainable Cities will be a strategic area for further investment in ICTs over the forthcoming decade. With over half the world population now living in cities, ICTs are becoming ever more important as a means of addressing the consequent challenges of rapidly growing urban areas, such as providing efficient mass transport and green energy.

In today’s cities much of the infrastructure is installed by a diverse set of suppliers and maintained by different agencies that have traditionally worked apart. The interconnection and interoperability of city systems will demand standardized interfaces, and this is where standards organizations such as ITU will have an important role to play. For city planners, utilities and technology providers, standards are essential enablers in achieving efficient, cost-effective and scalable levels of performance and quality. Such an approach will also provide massive potential to tap into the Big Data generated from such connected systems, and provide improved understanding to manage and mitigate climate change challenges.

Empowering communities

The increasing investment in ICTs confirms the power of connectivity and the technologies as a positive force for effective international development. By 2020, it is expected that up to 1.5 billion more people will be connected. Developing relevant e-services for those online, and those who will eventually get connected, is vital if we are to effectively combat climate change, carry out effective disaster management and encourage environmentally-friendly behaviors through access to best practices, localized content and knowledge sharing.

Eliminating the digital divide between developed and developing countries must be a policy priority, and for this to happen ever more innovative investment models are needed to achieve the global roll out of broadband infrastructure.

Affordability is critical for universal access and it is positive to note that average prices for all types of mobile broadband services are falling globally and fell by more than 25% in Least Developed Countries in 2016. Encouraging consistent and relevant regulatory policies and frameworks that create an enabling environment for affordable access remains a priority pillar of ITU’s work.

These are just a few instances of the incredible potential of ICTs. Fulfilling this potential will require mobilizing the right investment. In my role as Secretary-General of ITU I will continue to work with all our membership and stakeholders from the ICT sector – including governments, municipalities, private sector, academia, civil society, entrepreneurs and investors – to mobilize partnerships and investments so that the world can benefit from the powerful potential of broadband and ICTs to address climate change.

This blog was originally published on the Thomson Reuters Foundation website.

Houlin Zhao
Houlin Zhao (@ITUSecGen) was elected 19th Secretary-General of the ITU at the Busan Plenipotentiary Conference in October 2014. He took up his post on 1 January, 2015.Prior to his election, he served two terms of office as ITU Deputy Secretary-General (2007-2014), as well as two terms as elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (1999-2006). He is committed to further streamlining ITU’s efficiency, to strengthening its membership base through greater involvement of the academic community and of small- and medium-sized enterprises, and to broadening multistakeholder participation in ITU’s work. He is married with one son and two grandchildren
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Can investing in connectivity help combat climate change?

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