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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Battling climate change via ICTs


Features of the week:

Global telecom regulator, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently described climate change as one of the two core challenges facing the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry. REMMY NWEKE examines the efforts being put in place to curb this emerging monster.


“... Climate 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,” ITU Secretary General, Dr. Hamadoun Toure.


Addressing participants at the recently concluded meeting of the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) in Johannesburg, Dr. Toure noted that climate change is another profound challenge that is at work and transforming the face of the world.

He pointed out that whatever the underlying cause may be, current rates of extinction based on scientists’ predictions that two-thirds of all bird, mammal, butterfly, and plant species will be extinct by the end of this century, stressing that not only the species will be affected after all, but the very survival of the world and the planet itself, is now in jeopardy.

To this extent, Toure said, ITU is mainstreaming this major issue into its regular work programme, so as to give it the required importance on how Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) could help prevent and avert climate change.

“There is a strong role for ITU in standards for energy efficiency of the ICT equipment on which our digital economy depends. ITU has always taken the lead in setting high standards for telecommunications and ICTs, and this is another key area in which ITU can make a real difference,” he emphasized.

Also, the assemblage passed a resolution to encourage ITU member states to work towards reductions in Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions arising from the use of ICTs, in line with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

ITU, Toure said, aims to achieve climate neutrality for its operations within three years, and is at the forefront of this progress compared with many other international organizations.

Nigeria gets DNA:
Nigeria recently inaugurated its Designated National Authority (DNA) to enable the nation approve and implement Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects.

Head, Climate Change Unit, Federal Ministry of Environment, Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Victor Fodeke, who disclosed this in Abuja, enlightened that CDM allows emission-reduction projects in developing countries to earn Certified Emission Reduction (CER) credits, each equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2).

He stressed that CERs could be traded, sold and used by industrialized countries to meet a part of their emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Explaining that the protocol is an international deal linked to the UNFCCC with major feature to set targets for 37 industrialized nations and European community for reducing GHG emissions.

Fodeke said that the DNA would ensure that all approved CDM projects in the country conformed to sustainable development criteria. As such, DNA has the responsibility of evaluating proposed projects and issuing letters of approval in accordance to its mandate and ensures that Nigeria maintains control over the CDM projects’ expectations. He noted that CDM was approved by UNFCC as part of Kyoto Protocol to enable nations employ greener technology in their development programme locally.

Collaboration with WMO:
In the global effort to combat climate change, ITU, according to Toure, has continued to help developing countries to mitigate the effects of this change, including the use of emergency telecommunications and alerting systems for disaster relief, adding that in collaboration with its membership, ITU is identifying the necessary radio-frequency spectrum for climate monitoring and disaster prediction, detection and relief, including a promising cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in the field of remote-sensing applications.

ITU further assured of continuous joint efforts in the context of the UN system, in order to ‘deliver as one’ with a principal focus on ICTs and climate change, noting that in 2000, UN members adopted the Millennium Declaration as a renewed commitment to human development, including the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

However, climate change impacts tend to offset progress being made to meet the MDGs by 2015, as a result, Toure said, it is crucial to empower developing countries by facilitating their access to the ICTs needs for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

“It is widely acknowledged that the issue of climate change is rapidly emerging as a global concern, which needs a global response. The high-level segment underlined that member states are committed to combating climate change: ITU remains committed to combating climate change. ITU’s work is in line with the needs and priorities of our member states in the vital importance of taking action to combat climate change,” Toure assured.

GreenHouse threats:

As the earth’s climate is changing, greenhouse gases are accumulating and human activities are the cause, according to experts at the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up in 1988, the build-up of GHGs threaten the earth inexorably on the path to an unpredictably different climate. Just as one of the main GHGs which humans are adding to the atmosphere, carbon dioxide (CO2), is increasing rapidly.

Noteworthy is that at about 1750, at the start of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, there were 280 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere. Today, the overall amount of GHGs has topped 390 ppm CO2e; parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent – all GHGs expressed as a common metric in relation to their warming potential and the figure is rising by 1.5–2 ppm annually.

Equally, some reputable scientists believe the earth’s average temperature should not rise by more than 2°C over pre-industrial levels. Among others, the European Union indicated that this is essential to minimize the risk of what UNFCCC calls dangerous climate change by keeping the costs of adapting to a warmer world bearable. In addition, scientists say there is a 50 per cent chance of keeping to 2°C if the total GHG concentration remains below 450 ppm.


Climate change:

Described as fast becoming a household name in the rapid evolution of environment, climate change problem is attributed to burning fossil fuels including coal, oil and gas and deforestation.

Experts claimed that the heat-trapping blanket of GHG in the atmosphere causes global temperatures to rise also known as global warming. This trapped energy could also cause potentially significant changes in the timing and length of the seasons as well as the amount and frequency of precipitation. As global temperatures rise, this causes climate to change; A warmer earth will lead to changes in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, and a wide range of impacts on plants, wildlife, and humans.


Reducing GHG via ICTs:

GHG appears to be driving force behind climate change, hence the need to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. Of which it is estimated that ICTs contribute around 2-2.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, expectedly, this will grow as ICTs become more widely available.

Similarly, ICTs could significantly help reduce climate change by promoting the development of more energy efficient devices, applications and networks; encouraging environmentally friendly design and reducing the carbon footprint in its own industry. Hence, ICTs promise to drastically reduce GHG emissions.

Toure equally declared that ICT is active in the area of climate change for well over a decade, and ITU is now making climate change a key priority, with strategies to reduce the environmental impact through the creation of a standard methodology for calculating carbon footprint, the promotion of Next Generation Networks (NGNs) thereby reducing power consumption by up to 40 per cent.

He further said that there is need for online versus print publications, while harnessing the power of ICTs through remote collaboration, intelligent transport systems, sensor-based networks standing on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and telemetry as well as monitor climate change by conducting and managing studies on remote-sensing, providing key climate data via radio-based applications.

“To solve today’s climate problems ITU will work closely with its membership to lead efforts in achieving a climate neutral ICT industry,” he said.

Ericsson pact to address climate change:
Commenting on the Ericsson’s commitment to address the issue of radioactive emission from base stations and climate change, Managing Director, Ericsson Nigeria, Mr. Leif Edwall said, his firm is constantly looking at ways of achieving energy efficiency in all its offerings, both as a cost driver and from an innovation perspective.

“We are also looking at how telecommunications in itself can have broader benefits to society, and help in reducing CO2 emissions, a contributor to climate change,” he said, stressing that Ericsson has implemented a three-step process to achieving energy-efficient communications for products, sites, and networks, which include energy-optimized networks, site optimization and alternative energy sources.

Explaining further, Customer Solutions Manager, Ericsson Nigeria, Mr. Chinedum Akaniro, noted that his firm has a number of energy optimization innovations that reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), while at the same time improving the environmental performance of mobile network growth worldwide.

“In Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) mobile networks, Radio Base Stations (RBSs) are our largest volume products and they are the highest contributors of CO2 emissions. We have improved the energy-efficiency level of our WCDMA radio base stations by up to 80 per cent in 2008, compared with the levels in 2001,” he said.

He added that Ericsson recently introduced a new feature, Base Transceiver Station Power Savings, which reduces energy consumption in mobile networks during low traffic periods by putting the radio resources of the network that are not being used into standby mode. Equally, the Ericsson Tower Tube which has led to a 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions associated with construction, and a 40 per cent reduction in energy consumption.

“These will significantly reduce their environmental impact as well as operational expenditure,” Mr. Akaniro said.


GSMA concerns:

The Global System for Mobile Association (GSMA), lately revealed that an interpolated 20 per cent penetration is expected to yield a target of 118,000 green power sites by 2012.

According to the spokesman, Mr. David Pringle, GSMA predicts that by 2012 up to 50 per cent of new off-grid base stations in the developing world including Nigeria, could be powered by renewable energy, thus offering a unique opportunity for its Green Power for Mobile initiative to thrive by delivering knowledge assets and methodologies, aggregation of relationships with suppliers and community building bridging operators, green power vendors and telecommunications equipment vendors.

GSMA further sought to work with operators, green power vendors, and telecommunications equipment vendors to impact a global reduction in industry-wide emissions and increase the number of people connected today.

“A cohesive community with regular events and leadership will facilitate the exchange of ideas and needs to drive the use of green power solutions within the mobile industry forward,” he said.

Additionally, Mr. Pringle, said GSMA is evaluating potentials for the industry as an aggregate to benefit from carbon credit trading. At a site level, carbon credits produced by replacing an off-grid diesel generator site with green power range from US$450-$1,500 per site, per year.

Although this amount could be said to be too small presently to warrant the overhead of carbon trading at a site level, Pringle noted that the economics of aggregating network credits are immense. So, the evaluated suitable carbon trading methodologies would support trading through UNFCCC and plans to move to a pilot phase are underway.

Summary:
Therefore, it is estimated that the ICT sector produces directly some 2-3 per cent of total GHG emissions and this share will increase as ICTs and the Internet continue to grow. Broadband deployment and the increasingly intense use of the Internet will contribute to the rise emissions.
Thus, ICTs could also help in reducing the GHG emissions of other sectors, by replacing the need for travel and by improving transport efficiency, so as to reduce the carbon footprint of individuals and companies.
Additionally, ICT industry could help other sectors to combat climate change, by looking at the mitigation impact it has on such sectors of the economy and new communication technologies as well as the evolving nature of the Internet, using ITU standards through the deployment of a high bandwidth low carbon future and broadband energy saving approaches among others.
It is commendable that Nigeria has inaugurated DNA and it would be helpful to speedy up actions to ensure that the nation’s engagement is at par with the global demand.


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