Artificial Intelligence | Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | SDG13
July 10, 2019

Here’s how we can use tech to boost climate action

By Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Today, we are facing not one but two deep transformations.

The first one, driven by the emergence of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain, the Internet of Things, 5G and others, is transforming our economies and our lives at warp speed and scale.

As for the second transformation, climate change, it is affecting our ecosystems and the future of life on our planet.

The question before us is: how can we turn this digital transformation into climate action? In other words, what can these emerging technologies and information and communication technologies (ICTs) in general do to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy?

This is a topic very close to my heart.

When I first joined ITU almost 13 years ago, climate change did not really figure in ITU’s work.

I led the publication of ITU’s first report on ICTs and climate change for the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in Bali.

The overwhelming reaction then was: what have ICTs got to do with climate change, and why is ITU getting involved in the issue?

Paths to progress

We have come a long way. I am pleased that that question is no longer raised and the importance of ICTs for adapting and mitigating against climate change is now well recognized.

This September, ITU will submit another report to the 2019 Climate Action Summit called by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

What both reports show is that although ICTs are a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, their impact is much greater in terms of mitigating effect on the highly polluting sectors such energy generation, transportation and buildings, and in helping efforts to adapt to climate change.

Nevertheless, ITU has been working with the industry to minimize the digital ecosystem’s growing carbon footprint – be it by working on e-waste or in reducing energy consumption. For example, we have just established a new Focus Group to study environmental efficiency in the age of Artificial Intelligence.

This group will provide a global platform to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of AI and other frontier technologies. It will also address these technologies’ ability to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the objectives of the Paris Agreement, and the protection of biodiversity.

ITU’s 9th Green Standards Week, which will take place in Valencia, Spain from 1 to 4 October 2019, will look at these efforts in detail.

New technologies are driving innovative solutions that are transforming the way goods and services are being produced and delivered. Already, robotics and automation and predictive analytics are supporting businesses and industries in optimizing resource efficiency, cutting down emissions in the manufacturing process, or replacing energy intensive parts in products.

Window of opportunity

The window of opportunity and action is closing fast.

The past four years were the warmest on record. There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there has been for 800,000 years.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0 °C of global warming above pre-industrial levels.

This comes at a heavy human and economic cost. And too often, it is the poorest who are hit the hardest.

Join us as we step up the action on this important issue.

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Here's how we can use tech to boost climate action

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