ICT can cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 16.5%, saving up to $1.9T annually
Potential reduction in harmful gases is even larger than thought a few years ago, according to study by BCG and GeSI.
Doha, Qatar 3 December 2012: Increased use of information and communication technology (ICT) such as video conferencing and smart building management could cut global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.5% by 2020, amounting to $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel savings. SMARTer2020, a new study unveiled today, shows that concerted action by policy-makers to encourage the use of ICT can save 9.1 Gigatonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) of harmful greenhouse gases from being emitted.
The study was conducted by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a leading management consulting firm, on behalf of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), an ICT industry partnership for sustainability. It concludes that the potential for information technology to reduce global carbon emissions has been under-estimated until now, and that the abatement potential of ICT is seven times the size of the ICT sector’s own carbon footprint. The findings are being released today in a report titled "SMARTer2020".
SMARTer2020 follows up the SMART2020  study, which first evaluated ICT’s potential to enable a low-carbon economy in 2008. The updated in-depth research in SMARTer2020 now concludes that up to 16.5% of global GHG emissions can be slashed by implementing ICT solutions throughout the economy – over 16% more savings than was calculated in the earlier study four years ago.
The new research study identifies GHG abatement potential from ICT-enabled solutions ranging across six sectors of the economy: power, transportation, manufacturing, consumer and service, agriculture, and buildings. Emission reductions come from virtualization initiatives such as cloud computing and video conferencing, but also through efficiency gains such as optimization of variable-speed motors in manufacturing, smart livestock management to reduce methane emissions, and 32 other ICT-enabled solutions identified in the study. Some ICT-driven solutions such as smart electricity grids reap benefits at the national level, whilst others like intelligent building management systems can result in energy – and cost - savings for individual households and businesses.
Alongside the sectoral analysis, SMARTer2020 includes detailed national studies of the GHG abatement potential of ICT in seven countries, identifying for each country the best strategies for policy-makers to pursue. The countries studied were Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The launch of the study took place during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP18 meeting in Doha. Welcoming the report, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC stated, “It is critical that the world captures every last bit of energy efficiency, if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep below dangerous rises in temperature. I am pleased that this important new study shows how information and communication technology can play an essential role in saving energy. Now we need more and effective government policies that reward such action and penalize delayed responses.”
Speaking at the launch of the report, Luis Neves, GeSI Chairman, said, “The ICT revolution is powering even more innovations than we had imagined, leading to greater potential to cut GHG emissions, and a smaller ICT footprint. SMARTer2020 shows the abatement potential of ICT is seven times the size of the ICT sector’s direct emissions. Information technology can drive the transition to a low carbon economy, with greater efficiency, and the preservation of our environment.”
Philipp Jung, a San Francisco-based partner at BCG, added, "This study shows that information and communications technology can achieve even greater savings than we previously thought — as much as $1.9 trillion annually by 2020. The research also shows that country-specific approaches, coordinated within a global framework, are essential to realizing this potential given the diverse country-specific circumstances."
The study, entitled SMARTer2020, is available for download at http://gesi.org/SMARTer2020
Click here for the original GeSI press release.
 SMART2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age, 2008 (http://gesi.org/portfolio/project/5)