This post is part of a series of interviews on the impacts of climate change and the COP21 talks in Paris. The author is one of 79 signatories to an open letter from CEOs to world leaders urging climate action.
What are the key contributions your industry can make to accelerate climate change action?
At the end of November, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of London as part of a coordinated global movement to press for a lasting global settlement from the UNFCCC negotiations, COP21. Their call to action was simple: to change everything, we need everyone. I would add we also need everything; every tool, every innovation at our disposal.
The ICT industry has been at the forefront of innovation for the past three decades. We have the opportunity now to make it the forefront of the global battle against climate change. Research from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) suggests that ICT can enable a 20% reduction of global carbon emissions by 2030. What this means is that we have an opportunity to hold emissions levels where they are today.
Connectivity through ICT enables us to virtualise services and work to the cloud. A Harvard Business School study estimates that across 11 representative economies, including the UK, 4.5 Mt of CO2e could be saved annually from moving services to the cloud.
Our purpose as a company is to use the power of communications to make a better world, and environmental sustainability is at heart of this.
At BT we’ve been monitoring and managing our energy efficiency and carbon emissions for over 20 years. We know the most material impact of our business is carbon and we have been working and refining what we can do to cut emissions.
That’s the rationale behind our ambition to help customers reduce their carbon emissions by at least three times our own end-to-end carbon impact by 2020.
At the heart of the 3:1 ambition is technology. From how we use big data to increase energy efficiency in buildings, to cutting edge remote working technology which reduces car journeys.
Our investment in broadband in the UK connects people, opens access to a world of content, but it also enables reduction in our environmental footprint. From virtual meetings through to smart energy measurement. Take our Superfast Cornwall programme which has brought fibre broadband to 95% of Cornish homes and businesses. Our research shows this will save 581,146 tonnes of CO2 – 25 times more than the carbon emissions associated with the network – by 2020.
It also means sharing best practices with the businesses we partner with to deliver our services. Through our Better Future Supplier Forum we work with companies, large and small, to share best practice analysis tools and techniques. This means collaborating to design eco-friendly products and implement environmental management and greenhouse gas emissions strategies.
Why does climate change matter to your industry? To you personally?
Our products reach millions of households in the UK and around the world. Technology is pervasive. At the same time ICT solutions have the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 12Gt in 2030, nearly 10 times higher than ICT’s expected footprint in 2030.
That’s a huge responsibility for us. Managing a company with the potential of these tools at our disposal gives us an important duty. And it’s one we are determined to live up to.
We can equip households and organisations with the tools to live and work more sustainably, like smart meters hooked up to intelligent measurement systems. ICT has helped us reduce global energy use across our own operations by 4.5% in the past 12 months.
The toughest challenge is still on the demand side – inspiring people to take action on climate change. That’s why in September we launched 100% Sport, a global push to inspire millions of sports fans worldwide to #go100percent and switch to renewable energy. 100% Sport also celebrates the sports clubs, organisations and players inspiring, encouraging and challenging their fans and teams to live, work and play more sustainably.
A global deal in Paris is an important step – what would you like to see next?
The fact that the world’s leaders – from President Xi Jin Ping of China to President Obama – are meeting in Paris this week is something to be celebrated in itself.
We hope that by showing a shared commitment from industry, that governments will listen and take decisive action to combat climate change.
Along with many other businesses we need to make sure that policy makers understand the potential of ICT and smart technologies. There are some huge carbon efficiencies to be realised across all sectors here, from agriculture, health, manufacturing and public services, to logistics, travel, buildings and energy.
We hope a strong global climate deal is reached; one which limits temperature rise to 2°C and avoids catastrophic climate change. For this is a unique opportunity to reach a deal which avoids that path.
If we succeed, and I believe there is every reason we could, we need everyone – each head of government and each civil servant and each business – to return home and implement a plan which delivers real change.
Countries and businesses must start to identify deep decarbonisation pathways.
The biggest first step we could take is bringing renewable capacity to the market faster, and encouraging take-up of clean energy more quickly.
That fundamentally means new financial instruments to stimulate alternative energy and efficiency projects as well as green bonds. And an ambitious fifth carbon budget to drive further reductions in UK emissions.
If everyone works together we can get a successful outcome in Paris, and it will change everything. If we have the political will to make a deal, then we must have the resolve to act upon it. I fully intend for BT to be part of that solution.
Author: Gavin Patterson, CEO, BT Group
Image: An observer works on his computer at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen