The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations, has propelled broadband to the front of the world’s green agenda by insisting that it is key to fulfilling carbon reduction commitments. 

In a report released this week, entitled ‘The Broadband Bridge’, the ITU outlines that although the ICT sector’s contribution to carbon is approximately two percent, it believes that broadband solutions will allow other sectors to significantly reduce the remaining 98 percent of global emissions. 

“Transformative broadband solutions are those that reinvent business models or allow countries to leapfrog from high emitting technologies to low carbon development,” reads the report. 

ITU highlights that in order to limit global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, emissions need to be capped at approximately 44 Gt of carbon dioxide by 2020. 

However, if the lowest-ambition pledges made in Copenhagen at the 15th Conference of Parties are implemented, it is estimated that 2020 emissions would be in the region of 53 Gt of carbon dioxide – leaving a gap of 9 Gt of carbon dioxide. The ITU believes that ICT and broadband-enabled applications “offer the potential to decrease this gap”. 

Firstly, the report points to broadband enabling the advancement of smart cities. It outlines that by 2016 over 30 percent of the world’s population are expected to live in metro and urban areas, even though they represent less than one percent of the Earth’s total land area. 

It reads: “Applying trans-sectoral ICT-based innovation in cities can yield multiplier effects that benefit the entire economy, leading to more interconnected sustainable communities. 

“And while countries debate national emission reduction targets, it is cities which have to implement changes to reach those targets.”

ITU also points to broadband supporting the development of smart grids, where electricity companies aim to reduce losses, prevent outages and provide customers with real-time information to manage their own energy footprint. 

Finally, the report examines how broadband can support flexible working environments. It cites an example provided by a Swedish telecom operator, which used teleworking, flex-working, telepresence and video conferencing for several years, to showcase how a country could reduce its CO2 emissions by two to four percent if reductions of 20 to 40 percent can be achieved per employee in a 10 to 20 year timeframe. 

“A lack of awareness about ICT and broadband’s enabling role is a key challenge going forward. Policies and strategies will need to consider how to influence individual behaviour and raise awareness to enhance the uptake of broadband-enabled low-carbon solutions among consumers worldwide,” concludes the report. 

“By taking action now, broadband’s potential as a transformational technology, will more rapidly move from ideal to reality.”