According to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), ICT has the potential to slash global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% by 2030 through helping companies and consumers to more intelligently use and save energy.

How does ICT affect the environment?

This leads to pollution of soil, water and air in the present as well as for the future. During the use phase of ICT hardware, energy consumption impacts the environment. At the end of life of ICT hardware, recycling, disposing as e-waste in landfills or disassembling are additional impacts that affect the environment.

How can ICT help the environment?

ICT have the ability to improve efficiency and cut the use of material goods, thus reducing energy demands and the burden upon the environment. … Solutions such as videoconferencing, e-learning, or integrated point-of-sale systems can all help to lessen the environmental load.

Thus, ICT are an essential part of efforts to combat climate change and to mitigate its effects. … Although ICT themselves contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, they help to save much greater amounts emitted by all other sectors of industry. And efforts are being made to reduce the carbon footprint of ICT equipment.

The role of information and communication technologies

Information and communication technologies (ICT) provide us with an unprecedented ability to collect and analyse environmental information that may encompass the entire terrestrial system, from the depths of the ocean to the upper reaches of the atmosphere. They enable us not only to assess the impact of humans on the environment, but also to manage our use of energy and production of greenhouse gases (in the home and in industry). Thus, ICT are an essential part of efforts to combat climate change and to mitigate its effects.

Reducing CO2 emissions

Previous articles in ITU News (most recently in the October 2008 issue, Combating climate change, The enabling effect of ICT) have detailed how ICT can help substantial cuts to be made in emissions of the greenhouse gases that are leading to global warming. The methods by which this can be achieved include, for instance, using computer controls to improve the performance of engines in factories; distributing goods more efficiently through computerized management of transport and warehouses; allowing people to meet or work remotely via videoconferencing, and using sensor networks to control the heating and lighting in buildings so that energy is not wasted.

Although ICT themselves contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, they help to save much greater amounts emitted by all other sectors of industry. And efforts are being made to reduce the carbon footprint of ICT equipment. In computer monitors and television sets, for example, flat, liquid crystal displays (LCD) use half the energy of cathode ray tubes— and do not contain harmful pollutants. Next-generation networks (NGN), especially those based on optical fibre, also need less power. In turn, NGN lead to more efficient communication systems that form the backbone of energy-saving applications (see Next-generation networks will help mitigate climate change)

Keeping watch on the environment

Mitigating the effects of climate change is the other major task in which ICT are involved. The tools that are available are listed in the box ICT tools for mitigating climate change. ICT can be used in a number of ways to study and manage the environment, locally and globally. These come under three broad headings: observation, analysis, and sharing of data.


Satellite-based sensors monitor and provide information on barometric pressure, water temperature and wave action. This is supplemented by data from land-based sensors, relayed by radio telemetry. Other platforms are also used, including commercial aircraft, specialized weather observation aircraft, weather balloons and ships.

Our planet’s land and oceans can be monitored through sensors placed directly on the surface, or remotely by satellite. The condition of the atmosphere can be checked for greenhouse gas emissions and wind currents that may presage a hurricane. Satellite images came into the public domain with the launch of LANDSAT 1 in 1972. However, meteorological satellites were used in the 1960s by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for its World Weather Watch programme — one of the most valued satellite applications, which is used every day throughout the world. WMO also operates the Global Observing System to monitor weather conditions and alert authorities (see Figure 1). 

Free (open access)
International Journal of Sustainable Development and Planning
Volume 11 (2016), Issue 6
Page Range
1064 – 1076
Paper DOI
WIT Press


Society needs information and communication technology (ICT) hardware to produce, process and store highly valuable information. This hardware, of course, affects the environment throughout its whole life cycle, starting with manufacturing, where the necessary scarce and precious resources (e.g. rare earth metals) are often mined under miserable environmental conditions. This leads to pollution of soil, water and air in the present as well as for the future. During the use phase of ICT hardware, energy consumption impacts the environment. At the end of life of ICT hardware, recycling, disposing as e-waste in landfills or disassembling are additional impacts that affect the environment. More and more producers and users, especially companies, want to measure these impacts, which is a complex task. However, approaches to measure the impacts are at hand, either  as single indicators, measuring one specific impact, or as composed indicators, combining different single indicators into one ‘summarizing’ indicator. However, collection of data, measurement, assessment and interpretation are challenging. Unfortunately, guidelines for those who want to measure the impact of ICT hardware are rare. With our research, we aim to shed light on the various approaches to measure impacts of ICT hardware as well as their application in practice. Based on a literature review, we identified different indicators and  them to the attention of experts from companies to assess these approaches in terms of practicability, significance and value for practice. The results show that research investigates and proposes a variety of different more or less complex indicators. However, business prefers single indicators, which are easy to measure and understand.


impact of ICT hardware, measurement, performance indicators

Information and Communication Technologies for climate change adaptation, with a focus on the agricultural sector

. This phase is crucial to understand how climate variations are occurring in a specific (regional/national/local) area. Observation can be carried out through data collection tools, such as remote sensing techniques and sensor-based networks. Data can then be stored in digital repositories and shared among the institutions committed to develop an appropriate adaptation strategy. Analysis and planning. Data is analyzed by scientists and policy makers in a cooperative environment, in order to plan and design sound adaptation strategies. ICT supports the analysis of climate change scenarios through software-based modeling systems, like the ones described in the above paragraph: these tools (e.g. software-based models, Decision Support Systems –DSS- and GIS) facilitate the development of adaptation plans capable to carry out what-if analysis for different sectors on a multi-stakeholder basis. Implementation and management. The nature of adaptation interventions varies depending on a wide range of elements, such as the set of stakeholders, the sector and the scale of application. As a result, ICT support the implementation and management of adaptation strategies with a wide variety of tools: among the others, forecasting tools, early warning system and resource management systems play a prominent role in this phase. Capacity building. In this phase ICT can be employed for awareness raising and advocacy (particularly through the use of the Internet), as well as for providing adhoc on and off-line training for facing climate change challenges. Networking. ICTs play a key role in producing, storing, retrieving and comparing information related to climate change issues. This allows both North-South and South-South knowledge sharing and the development of partnerships aimed at facing climate change challenges in different areas of the world. Monitoring and evaluation. The final stage of every adaptation process is its monitoring and assessment: the performance of the initiative must be constantly verified in order to reach the goal defined during the planning phase. ICT tools provide an effective way to analyse, store and communicate the impact of an adaptation strategy: GIS are likely to be at the forefront of supporting monitoring and evaluation of adaptation strategies, due to their layer-based nature which allows including large geo-referenced information and the related Conclusion At present, the majority of applications and systems on climate change issues within the agricultural sector are related to scenario development, impact assessment and adaptation planning. In many of these cases the systems are the result of single Research & Development efforts, rather than collaborative programmes: one of the side effects is a lack of interoperability among different applications.

ICT Sector Helping to Tackle Climate Change

Major companies in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector are stepping up their efforts to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and to decarbonize the entire global economy, with several firms now demonstrating that the sector is ready to put its money where its mouth is. The UN’s Momentum for Change Initiative is showcasing some of the best examples that show how the sector can be instrumental in making huge impacts to cut emissions in the next 15 years.

Motivated both by consumers who today expect ICT companies to do their best to combat climate change and on common sense economic grounds, such firms are increasingly making use of renewable energy, mostly wind and solar. For example, Google’s multi-million investments in renewable energy include a Swedish wind farm and a solar plant in Chile. Facebook Inc. recently set a goal of running half its operations with clean energy by the end of 2018, with the ultimate aim of reaching 100%. Adobe has pledged to power all its operations entirely with 100% renewable electricity by 2035.

Given its high energy demand, the ICT sector is still a net source of global greenhouse gas emissions. The data centers used to power digital services now contribute approximately 2% of global GHG emissions – on par with the aviation sector.

It doesn’t have to stay that way. According to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), ICT has the potential to slash global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% by 2030 through helping companies and consumers to more intelligently use and save energy.

Luis Neves, GeSI Chairman, is optimistic about the ability of the industry to be fully sustainable. He says: “Our findings show an ICT-enabled world by 2030 that is cleaner, healthier and more prosperous with greater opportunities for individuals everywhere.”

Luis Neves says the emissions avoided through the use of ICT are already nearly ten times greater than the emissions generated by deploying it. As the chart below shows, the sector could help avoid the production of around 12 gigatonnes of CO2 by the year 2030.

Digital-enabled CO2e emissions trajectory towards 2030, compared to IPCC BAU scenario. Image: GeSI, #SystemTransformation report (2016)

 Using ICTs for Sustainability Across Sectors

GeSI’s ‘SMARTer 2030’ report says that as well as increasing agricultural crop yields by 30%, saving over 300 trillion liters of water, and saving 25 billion barrels of oil a year, ICT could generate a staggering USD 11 trillion in economic benefits by 2030.

GeSI’s short video to launch the ‘Smarter 2030’ Report highlights how ICT enabled solutions will drive sustainable growth across the world, with 2.5 billion more people connected to ICT services and 12 gigatonnes of CO2 saved across business sectors.  From SMART monitoring of energy consumption to agriculture apps, the video shows the potential global impact of ICT in the coming decade.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently released  a programme using new Google powered software to tackle problems related to climate change, deforestation and food production.

The online platform uses high-resolution satellite images to monitor the environment including changes in land use and forest cover. The software is open to everyone, from scientists to citizens, and helps users skip the task of intensive data collecting.

UN Momentum for Change Initiative Showcases Examples of ICT Climate Action

The UN is keen to showcase innovative solutions in the ICT sector which can play a major role in curbing global greenhouse gas emissions. Momentum for Change, an initiative of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has partnered with GeSI to help do this via its Lighthouse Activities.

The Lighthouse Activities celebrated by Momentum for Change and GeSI range from the Mobisol Smart Solar Homes initiative which combines solar energy, mobile technology and microfinance to bring clean power to rural households in Rwanda and Tanzania, to Fairphone, who build sustainable and conflict-free smartphones focusing on ethical supply chains, workers’ rights and product durability.

Policy and Technology Innovation Critical for Sector to Curb Emissions

Innovation is key to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, both in terms of technology and financial policies. Momentum for Change highlight Microsoft’s Carbon fee as a particularly successful example. The fee acts as an incremental price on carbon emissions associated with the company’s global operations for data centers, offices, labs, manufacturing, and business air travel.

This has helped reduce Microsoft’s country-wide emissions by the equivalent of 7.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through investments in over 10 billion kilowatt hours of green power and through carbon offset community development projects helping over 6 million people around the world.

Greater accountability is also a policy tool that the ICT sector is increasingly deploying in order to go green.  The nonprofit business network BSR has developed a set of principles to help meet sustainability goals, such as providing data on client energy consumption, and disclosing energy sources.

In terms of innovation, Google has taken a slightly different approach in its latest bid to reduce its carbon footprint. Recently the company has begun using artificial intelligence to manage its data centres, decreasing total energy use of the centres by 15% and cutting the energy use for cooling by 40%.

The DeepMind artificial intelligence system uses neural network technology that replicates the human central nervous system through elaborate algorithms. Mustafa Suleyman, DeepMind’s co-founder, says that the level of complexity and number of variables mean the job of managing data centres is one where a machine-learning algorithm could outperform a human.

So whatever the future of ICT holds, in terms of fighting climate change and otherwise, we can look forward to a number of interesting new developments.

Using ICTs to tackle Climate Change

International Telecommunication Union; Global e-Sustainability Initiative, 2011

by: International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can be used in a number of ways to meet the requirements of the three main pillars of the Bali Action Plan arising from COP-13 in December 2007: enhanced action on adaptation, cooperative action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and actions on mitigation of climate change. ICTs can address these and the problems that all countries (particularly developing countries) face with respect to climate change. ICTs can be used to mitigate the impact of other sectors on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to help countries adapt to climate change. These impacts are described in this paper.

Information and Communication Technologies for climate change adaptation, with a focus on the agricultural sector

Using an Open-Source approach could open the road to the creation of a collaborative community led environment, as it happened within spatial technology thanks to the Open Source Geospatial Foundation. In addition, it should be underlined that a gap still exists between global and local applications: promoting the development of an integrated framework for information sciences, agro-environmental sciences and communication at different levels is essential in order to fill it. Information is vital to tackle climate change effects: for this reason, a shift is needed in the agriculture sector to disseminate appropriate knowledge at the right time to the ones who are at the frontline in the battle: the farmers, in both developed and developing countries. At the same time, information per se is not enough, but appropriate communication systems are needed to ensure that information come to farmers in an effective, accurate and clear way. This means that the information provided to farmers must have the following properties: 1. timing: farmers need to access to information on time, especially if it implies a change in production strategy; 2. reliability: information must necessarily be correct and comprehensive, including any degree of probability and/or margins of error, in order to result as transparent as possible to the recipient; 3. clearness: indications, to be properly applied, must essentially be created and processed taking into account the recipient’ peculiarities, thus adapting the content of the message to his own culture. In conclusion, any knowledge transfer should take into account farmers’ point of view, with the aim of building on their knowledge and capitalize it: climate change is a global problem with local impacts, thus information technology, jointly with communication sciences, can play a big role in blending different perspectives. References to background information Molly E. Brown, Christopher C. Funk, 2008: Food Security Under Climate Change. Science; Vol. 319, no. 5863, pp. 580–581. David B. Lobell, Marshall B. Burke, Claudia Tebaldi, Michael D. Mastrandrea, Walter P. Falcon, and Rosamond L. Naylor, 2008: Prioritizing Climate Change Adaptation Needs for Food Security in 2030. Science; Vol. 319, no. 5863, pp. 607-610. J. Bruinsma (editor), 2003: “World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030 – An FAO Perspective”. Earthscan Publications Ltd, London. Mohammed Boulahya, Macol Stewart Cerda, Marion Pratt and Kelly Sponberg, 2005: Climate, Communications, and Innovative Technologies: Potential Impacts and Sustainability of New Radio and Internet Linkages in Rural African Communities. Climatic Change, Vol. 70, pp. 299–310. J. Schmidhuber and F.N. Tubiello, 2007: Global food security under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science; Vol. 104, pp. 19703-19708. J.S.I. Ingram, P.J. Gregory, A.M. Izac, 2008: The role of agronomic research in climate change and food security policy. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment; Vol. 126, pp. 4–12 IPCC, 2001: “Climate Change 2001:

Information and Communication Technologies for climate change adaptation, with a focus on the agricultural sector

Simone Sala

Università degli Studi di Milano, Crop Production Department


Climate change is widely recognized as one of the most complex challenges that humankind has to face in the next decades. As agriculture is likely to suffer the biggest impacts, sound adaptation processes are required to sustain agricultural production and food system as a whole. IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, stressed the ability of decision-makers to manage information as an important factor determining the chance for a community to adapt to climate change. This is one of the reason why the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can play an important role in this challenge. This paper summarizes the main categories of information systems applied in this field, particularly referring to the adaptation dimension and the agricultural sector. Introduction: the challenges of climate change in Agriculture Climate change is one of the most complex challenges that humankind has to face in the next decades. As the change process seems to be irreversible, it became urgent to develop sound adaptation processes to the current and future shifts in the climate system. In particular, it is likely that the biggest impacts of changes will be on agricultural and food systems over the next few decades (M. E. Brown, C. C. Funk, 2008). Some scientists (Lobell et al., 2008), thanks to the application of crop modeling tools, have pointed out that climate change is likely to reduce food availability because of a reduction in agricultural production. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, IPCC, a committee of the United Nations that every five years collects and reviews the most important scientific contributions to this issue, put in evidence that higher frequency and diffusion of climate fluctuations is likely to produce more severe and frequent droughts and floods, which already are the main causes of short-term fluctuations in food production in semiarid and sub-humid areas. Sub-saharan Africa and South Asia occupy the majority of these lands, meaning that the poorest regions of the world are going to face the highest degree of instability in food production (J. Bruinsma, 2003). J. Schmidhuber and F. N. Tubiello (2007) included investments in communications as an effective mean to address future climate change. Within this framework, it is crucial to identify information and communication systems that the farmers need in order to cope with the new conditions. This is particularly true for poor smallholder farmers, as in Africa where the majority of African farmers do not have access to the scientific and technological advances that support agricultural decision-making because of the lack of reliable communication networks (M. Boulahya et al, 2005). With regard to agronomic research, one of the major challenges will be to study how to fill the information needs of policy makers, and how to report and communicate research results in an effective way for supporting the adaptation of food systems to climate change (J.S.I. Ingram et al, 2008). To the same aim, in 2001 the IPCC underlined the local conditions that could determine if a community is likely to be able to adapt to changes: among the others, the ability of decision-makers to manage information was particularly stressed (IPCC, 2001). Information systems on climate change at local to regional level At the present time it is possible to recognize three major categories of information systems developed to study the issue at local to regional level. The three categories of information systems are the following: 1. comprehensive systems and methodologies for institutions; 2. downscaling tools for working at national and sub-national level; 3. systems and tools for specific sectors (e.g. agriculture, forestry, etc.). The first category comprises essentially theoretical methodologies based on different assumptions and approaches, developed to identify and quantify climate change impacts (e.g. IPCC Guidelines, UNEP handbook), assess vulnerability to climate change (e.g. UNEP Adaptation Policy Framework, APF) or do both kind of analysis (e.g. Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change, AIACC; UNFCCC Guidelines for National Adaptation Programmes of Action, NAPA) at an institutional level with a systemic approach. The second category includes all the tools needed to produce climatic data at an appropriate scale for impact modeling and scenarios development at local to regional level (e.g. the ‘Statistical Downscaling Model’, SDSM; the ‘Country Specific Model for Intertemporal Climate’, COSMIC; the ‘Providing REgional Climates for Impacts Studies’ tool, PRECIS). Downscaling tools are applied in order to develop climate information at high resolution through the processing of global climate models built with General Circulation Models (GCM): these global models cover areas of 150-300 kilometers, so cannot be used to study climate impacts at local levels. Two different downscaling techniques do exist: the dynamic and statistical one (Patz et al, 2005). The former is the most complex and expensive method, and it’s the result of the application of high-resolution and regional climate models: it’s particularly useful in data-poor regions, but it requires high computing power and expertise. Statistical downscaling (often used jointly with atmospheric/weather generators) is a two-step process, which starts from the definition of statistical relationships between GCM-scale variables (assumed constants) and observed smallscale variables; the second step is the application of this relationship to the results of GCM experiments. Compared to the former technique this method is cheaper and simpler to use, but it needs large quantity of data and therefore it can be applied in data-rich areas only. The third and final category is composed by all the information tools through which it’s possible to investigate climate change issues within specific sectors: economy, human health, coastal protection, agriculture, water management, forestry, and so on. The range of systems and tools which belongs to this category is extremely wide, covering (or at least trying to cover) all the information-based issues of such a crosscutting phenomenon. The next paragraphs briefly describe the ICT dimension within climate change linking it to the single agricultural sector, as well as looking at development steps of an adaptation strategy. A focus on ICT for climate change within the agricultural sector In the intersection between climate change and agriculture there are several tools available, because of the high number of crops and because of the complexity of replicating the same conditions across different regions. Every tool allows analyzing different processes of the agricultural sector, from local crop modeling under climate change conditions to the management of economic impacts of climate change on the agriculture sector (soil value variations, demand and supply, production, etc.), and so on. As many tools exist, it’s interesting to focus on their common aspects rather than their specific peculiarities. Some of the tools allow simulating the growth of specific crops, verifying their variations under different climate change scenarios. Usually these tools are sitespecific, but they can be applied at national and/or regional level through a link to an appropriate Geographic Information System (GIS). The first step of the applications happen with the definition of boundary conditions (which include data on crop calendar, soil status, etc.) and input climate parameters and data (such as: temperature, precipitations, wind speed, global radiation, soil moisture, air humidity, water flows…); some of the tools include also data related to crop management conditions. The second step is the development of the growth simulation in a specific state of potential crop production (e.g. with a certain fixed amount of water resources and nitrogen production) for different management options and for a chosen climate change scenario, through the link to an appropriate GCM or an ad hoc expert system. The general output of this kind of software is the assessment of crop production under given scenarios, facilitating decision making at farm level up to a whole crop system. Examples of these tools are: • WOFOST, developed by the Centre for World Food Studies, CFWS, in cooperation with the Dutch University of Wageningen: it can be applied on several different crops, such as barley, field bean, maize, potato, rice, soybean, sunflower, wheat, etc. • GOSSYM/COMAX, developed by the Universities of Clemson and Mississipi and the Agriculture Department of United States: it is the merge of the GOSSYM model, used to simulate cotton growth, with COMAX (CrOp Management eXpert, an expert system), GCMs and weather generators to study the effects of climate change on cotton production. • APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems SIMulator), developed by a consortium of universities and departments of the Australian state of Queensland named Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit (APSRU): it can be applied on more than twenty crops and plants, such as alfalfa, barley, chickpea, cotton, eucalyptus, lupin, maize, peanuts, sugarcane, sunflower, tomato, wheat, etc. Another class of information tools is applied at a higher scale, up to the regional level, with the aim of supporting decision-making in the agricultural sector from a broader perspective. These systems can focus on a variety of factors that can influence climate change and related responses, which can be either exogenous (e.g. government policies, economy, etc.) or endogenous (e.g. location, scale, etc.) in relation to a specific farming system. As a result, these systems facilitate the planning of adaptation responses into a set of actions at farm and regional level, starting from comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change and different farming techniques on crop productivity and agro-ecological systems sustainability, up to support the adoption of appropriate agronomy techniques or setting up an agro-technology transfer system. An example of these systems are: DSSAT (Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer), developed by the International Consortium for Agricultural Systems Applications (ICASA);CENTURY, developed by the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory of Colorado University (NREL); and MAACV (Model of Agricultural Adaptation to Climatic Variation), developed by the Canadian Universities of Guelph and Carleton. ICT for climate change adaptation: the application process In relation to the application of ICT for climate change adaptation, different strategies are being developed according to local conditions and following the main steps of every adaptation process: Observation.

Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)”. Cambridge University Press, UK. James J. McCarthy, Osvaldo F. Canziani, Neil A. Leary, David J. Dokken and Kasey S. White (Eds.) Jonathan A. Patz, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Tracey Holloway and Jonathan A. Foley, 2005: Impact of regional climate change on human health. Nature; Vol. 438, pp. 310-317.

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