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March 10, 2014

Greening the Blue: ITU Using Interactive Remote Participation to Address UN Climate Neutrality Goals

By Anders Norsker

ITU has been piloting a multilingual and collaborative remote meeting technology, Interactive Remote Participation (IRP), which allows delegates from across the world to meet face-to-face without the need to travel. For an organization that convenes meetings year-round, this means substantive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and cost savings for ITU and its membership. The IRP technology is just one step that ITU is taking towards meeting the UN goal of climate neutrality.

Moving towards a Climate Neutral UN has become a priority for all UN System Organizations. As in previous years, over 50 percent of emissions from UN activities are from air travel (0.87 million tonnes CO2), which means that reducing travel emissions remains the biggest challenge to the organization, as a whole, in achieving climate neutrality.

As our Secretary-General, Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré, has saidClimate change is a global challenge that the world simply cannot afford to lose – not just for our sake, but for the sake of our children.” For these reasons, ITU has committed to leveraging innovative technological solutions to address the problems of climate change.

In the three years that the IRP service has been in operation, approximately 1,000 meetings have included remote participation involving more than 10,000 individuals who have avoided travelling 38 million kilometres. This has resulted in savings of 24 million kilograms of CO2and US$ 9 million. Last year alone, ITU hosted more than 400 meeting sessions with Interactive Remote Participation services. Over 3,500 remote participants from 87 countries and 354 cities contributed remotely to ITU meetings. The Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (ITU-T) has decided that starting December 2013, IRP will be standard for all of their meetings.

History of Interactive Remote Participation Services at ITU

It may come as a surprise to some that ITU first provided remote participation services way back in 1963 when U Thant, then UN Secretary-General, addressed ITU’s Radiocommuncation Conference via Telstar (one of the first communication satellites).  Many of the challenges facing us today, such as climate change, were unforeseen at that time and the impact of advances in technology- such as the invention of voice telephony, the development of radiocommunications, the launch of those first communications satellites – in shaping our world, had yet to be identified.

Ever increasing budget restrictions and the continuous search for savings have compounded the concerns about climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions through innovation. In addition, ITU’s attempt to facilitate wider-participation and inclusiveness has led us to adapt, evolve and accelerate the search for technological solutions to these challenges.

On 1 January 2010, ITU started IRP out of its own initiative. In April that year, volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland erupted, which caused major disruptions to European air traffic and many delegates were unable to travel to Geneva to attend ITU meetings as a result. Thanks to the IRP projects, ITU was able to offer the possibility of remote participation. In the same year, the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-10) instructed the Secretary-General to further expand electronic working methods to advisory groups of the three Sectors (Resolution 167). Since then, remote participation has been extended to ITU working groups as well as the meetings that report to the Council.

The piloting of IRP began officially after PP-10 and has since become an integral component of ITU working methods. Both interactive and passive (i.e. webcast) remote participation are now provided across the whole of ITU, with multilingual IRP also being provided.  Furthermore, IRP has facilitated the inclusion of people with special needs by providing captioning for those with hearing impairments, audio conferencing for the visually impaired and web conferencing for those with mobility challenges.

Towards a Sustainable Future 

In addition to remote meeting technology, ITU has put a focus on transformative, technological solutions to ensure a sustainable future. For example, the Green ICT Application Challenge awards energy efficient Information Communication Technology (ICT) approaches and applications that address global environmental issues in cities and urban areas.

We also make recommendations regarding ICTs, the environment and climate change. ITU’s Green ICT Standards and Recommendations cover topics such as responsible e-waste disposal, methodologies to monitor and reduce environmental impacts of ICTs as well as defining procedures for recycling of rare materials in ICT goods.

The recently launched Green Portal on ICTs and Environment contains a vast store of current external resources related to ICTs and climate change to be used by study groups, ITU members and the public.

Along with the IRP services and numerous “Green” initiatives, ITU is taking viable steps towards “Greening the Blue.” To date, ITU emissions per staff member and per office facility remain well below the UN average. To find out more about ITU’s climate neutral initiatives, visit the website greeningtheblue.org.

Mr. Anders Norsker is the Chief, Information Services Department, International Telecommunication Union (ITU). He joined the United Nations in 1989 working with the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODC). He was also Head of the Information and Communications Technology Services for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Chief, Information Technology Division at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Photo by NASA

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Greening the Blue: ITU Using Interactive Remote Participation to Address UN Climate Neutrality Goals

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