Durban can help technology control climate change

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Chris Peddie-Burch of SFW says the IT sector is looking to Durban for agreement on emissions measurement and reporting

With the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference starting in Durban this week, greenhouse gas emission reduction targets will be under discussion from developed and developing nations alike.

One of the main topics to debate is the Kyoto Protocol agreement. Set to expire in 2012, the general consensus is that it will not be extended, but replaced with an international reduction target that is not underpinned by a single mechanism. Instead, parties will be able to select their methods of achieving the target providing flexibility in these uncertain economic times.

Conference participants will also discuss Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), which will hopefully result in a binding agreement on a carbon reduction framework within developing countries. It is hoped this framework will allow developing nations to work towards a low carbon economy and establish processes to help encourage investment.

From an IT industry perspective, the best result from Durban will be a message of certainty and agreement around greenhouse gas measurement, reduction and reporting. This certainty will encourage development, research and investment by government bodies and private sector organisations alike

A world post-Kyoto

With 35 countries, all with various levels of infrastructure in place to measure greenhouse gases, a decision to end the Kyoto Protocol at the Durban conference will be no small undertaking. While negotiations may be an administrative headache, changes to worldwide climate change agreements and procedures present a big opportunity for technology businesses and provide a chance to learn from the challenges and mistakes of the past 10 years.

The first task is for countries to agree on what will happen when the Kyoto Protocol expires. Focusing on the UK and Europe, an opportunity for the consolidation of systems already exists. There are currently 35 separate registries that measure and report on greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. 27 of these comply with the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) regulations, as well as those associated with the Kyoto Protocol.

In January, we will see the consolidation of these registries to a single European registry that supports EU ETS and encourages organisations across Europe to report emissions using standard measurement, reporting and benchmarks. Even with the pending termination of the Kyoto agreement, the EU ETS will likely continue as a standard for emissions measurement and trading, but changes to the standards may occur as a result, requiring changes to the IT systems and an opportunity for further investment.

IT businesses and departments are already helping with this process by supporting registries and measurement processes. For example, the Emissions Trading Scheme Workflow Automation Project (ETSWAP) has so far enabled the 600 Aviation Operators in the UK and 200 in Ireland to report on their 2010 emissions in compliance with EU ETS standards.

Standards for investment

There is also still a huge opportunity to help the developing world implement climate change measures, but a level of commitment and certainty is required to make this an attractive prospect for investors and technologists alike. If Durban conference members are able to commit to a binding agreement around processes for climate change in line with the NAMA framework, it will open the door to more than 150 developing countries including Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia Costa Rica, Ethiopia, India and Thailand, many of whom have already announced their desire to launch CO2 emissions trading schemes and participate in NAMAs.

Processes and validation will encourage outside support and investment from organisations around the world to help these countries develop these schemes and to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Establishing a degree of certainty will also mean that IT systems can be developed to help ensure transparency and report reductions in harmful emissions, making financial investments a safer, more measurable prospect.

As a worldwide issue, climate change presents a wide array of challenges and opportunities. There is always a role for IT to play in helping to automate processes such as measurement and reporting, making them more accurate and less time-consuming. IT systems are only as effective as the processes they support, however, so hopefully COP 17 will yield more certainty and agreements to ensure that technology can help to manage climate change and investment in it.

Chris Peddie-Burch is head of IT service provider SFW's climate change group

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