Unlocking the potential of ICT to cut carbon emissions

When history reflects on the first half of this century, there will be a number of important stories to tell. The exponential growth of ICT is certainly one - and will be remembered as one of the great developments of our time. Climate change is another, though it remains up to us to decide whether the story will be one of the journey to carbon neutrality, or one of irreversible damage to our planet.

Unlocking the potential of ICT to cut carbon emissions

The job for companies like BT is to work out not only how these stories will evolve, but how they will intertwine. Specifically, how can one – ICT – impact on our efforts to tackle the other – climate change?

I believe we all have a responsibility to work out how we can keep global temperature rises within 2°C and drive the “revolution for climate change” that President Hollande spoke of in his closing speech in Paris at the UN climate negotiations, COP21. And ICT really should be a big part of the answer that helps

BT’s new report: ‘The role of ICT in reducing carbon emissions in the EU’ highlights that ICT could reduce emissions in 2030 by 37% of the EU’s total emissions in 2012 (1.5 Gt CO2e). Or put another way, that’s the equivalent of planting 500m hectares of trees, which would cover approximately 65% of the landmass of Australia. In short, the potential for ICT to make a positive environmental impact is huge.

Practically, realising this potential means a number of things.

It means being smarter about how we move people and products around, by using more technologies like car sharing apps and fleet management systems, to help us reduce the number of vehicles on the roads and distances travelled.

It means using technology to be smarter about the way we make things. Developing sophisticated manufacturing processes can help us reduce unnecessary waste, and circular economy supply chains can drive substantial environmental savings.

And it means being smarter about the way we live and work. BT superfast connections in Cornwall are a good example of this, allowing people to shop and work more easily from home, and saving them from getting in the car.

The case for reducing carbon emissions using ICT isn’t just an environmental one, either. Increasing the use of ICT could generate new revenues of €678bn in 2030 according to our study. And the additional costs savings could be around €643bn. The economic benefits, as well as the environmental ones, could be substantial.

All this means one thing. We’ve mapped out the potential of ICT to help tackle climate change. Now we need to get there. We need a step-change in behaviour and implementation.

The critical question now is: how can we create the systematic change required to ensure ICT is realising its full potential as a means of cutting carbon emissions?

Policy makers and business leaders have an enormous social, economic and environmental opportunity – to set the direction and ambition of action on climate change using ICT. Recommendations for how we could achieve this include:

  • developing a robust EU-wide policy framework to drive change in those sectors that offer the greatest potential gain from ICT-enabled carbon solutions. The buildings, manufacturing and energy sectors offer nearly 74% of the ICT-enabled carbon savings analysed in our report.
  • developing a comprehensive yet flexible ‘decarbonisation’ roadmap to deliver carbon reduction and energy efficiency targets, including actions to be taken and a timeline.
  • encouraging long-term investment in clean technologies, from both the public and private sectors, and technological innovation to improve energy efficiency.
  • encouraging high levels of innovation in business models, job markets and the wider economy.


Only with this level of commitment and cooperation can we realise the potential of ICT in reducing carbon emissions.

The opportunity is ours to write a story about our climate that matches the vision laid out in Paris last year. Collectively, we have the knowledge – and the time to act is now.

Gabrielle Giner is BT’s head of sustainable business policy

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