The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) has issued a new paper, “Building a 21st century communications economy,” in which it asserts that greater access to broadband could create a low carbon, low-environmental-impact economy. Given that global oil demand is projected to grow by a fifth by 2030, an investment in advanced communication networks would provide an alternative that would stimulate job creation and increase access to goods and services while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the CDP states.
Paul Dickinson, executive chairman of CDP, explains, "We are at a historic moment where nations will either enter into a contest for finite resources, where everyone is guaranteed to lose, or we can enter into a golden age of economic growth, without the serious threat of climate change, built on the enormous potential of communications. The 19th century saw massive advances in agriculture and the 20th century was defined by manufacturing. We have the opportunity to define economic growth in the 21st century by advanced communication networks where economic opportunity is not limited by time, distance, or geography.”
Increased competition for natural resources creates competitive economies in which only those that generate increased value using fewer resources will survive, according to the paper. Increased access to broadband would develop a better economy along with less pollution. This would have the greatest impact on rural communities and areas that are currently not served or underserved by broadband access, the CDP says.
CDP analysis concludes that the average information communications technology (ICT) company generates over $4,000 of net income per company for every metric ton of CO2 equivalent emitted. This is double that of the consumer staples sector and seven times that of the materials sector, demonstrating a sector well positioned to continue to grow in a low carbon, resource efficient economy.
However, the ICT sector’s greatest impact is likely to be through enabling companies across sectors to become more energy efficient and transform working practices, thereby increasing their net income per metric ton of carbon ratio, the CDP says. The Smart 2020 report showed that ICT could help reduce emissions by an estimated 13 to 22 percent from U.S. business and enable gross energy and fuel savings of $140 billion to $240 billion. Employment in this area is predicted to increase by 450,000 jobs between 2004 and 2014.
Dan Esty, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) affirms, "ICT can help customers and business to become more sustainable. By acting as the platform, ICT can be used to drive emissions reductions...instead of having people fly for a 2 or 3 hour meeting, it is much more cost effective and sustainable to have the meeting via telepresence. Telecommuting enables employees to work from home and reduces the carbon footprint."
To realize the potential greenhouse gas savings, access to broadband is critical - if devices are not reliably connected to the network they will not be adopted. Currently, 14 million people in the U.S. lack access to high speed internet. As U.S. President Barack Obama said in 2010, "This new era in global technology leadership will only happen if there is adequate spectrum available to support the forthcoming myriad of wireless devices, networks, and applications that can drive the new economy."
Robust global accounting of emissions is vital to achieving a successful 21st century communications economy. Danny Quah, from the London School of Economics says, "ICT and broadband can play an important role in helping advanced economies decrease their carbon emissions. But advanced economies also outsource to the emerging economies the production and carbon emission of what they consume. A truly dematerialized economy is not limited by geography and physical boundaries, and therefore neither should the accounting for the associated carbon emissions."
Dickinson concludes, "The world as we know it is changing, to a world that is cleaner, more inclusive and unconstrained by where you live. The key to unlocking the potential of all these technologies is an efficient and reliable communications network. We have an opportunity to grow our economy with less environmental impact, and fundamentally transform the way we live, work and play."