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Tim James (South Africa): After COP 17, Where Now for Green IT?

If you were present in South Africa towards the back end of November and early December 2011, you would have heard about COP 17.  If you didn’t you were clearly marooned in a part of the country without access to any contact or form of media interaction.

COP 17 was the seventeenth meeting of the congress of the parties (COP) since the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force in 1995.  For the layman, the parties meet annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change and are supposed to put plans in place to both prevent and mitigate the effects of global warming.

So what happened?

In reality the talks in Durban did not really yield much in terms of a meaningful deal to replace the Kyoto protocol, which is the framework that governs carbon emissions at the moment.  What was agreed was an agreement to agree in the future.  Yes this was a cop out (no pun intended), but in reality nobody really expected a deal to be finalized anyway.

The agreement reached in Durban extended the Kyoto Protocol, agreed the format of a fund to help poor countries tackle climate change and mapped out a path to a legally binding agreement on emissions reductions in the future.

SA Government response

At face value, the impact of COP 17 on South African business is probably minimal.  What is apparent however is that business is becoming more involved at the highest levels and is engaging with government to map out solutions to the problems we face.

At COP, the number or peripheral events was quite overwhelming and one certainly left with a positive sense that change was in the air and that solutions were in the offing.

Probably the most important aspect for South African businesses was delivered by the government just prior to the event starting.  In October the government released its National Climate Change Response White Paper in which it chartered its plans to tackle climate change and the effects thereof.

Some key aspects of this paper that are relevant to business are as follows:

1.    The implementation of carbon budgets for significant GHG emitting sectors and/or sub-sectors will be drawn up and adopted within two years.

2.    Company-level desired emission reduction outcomes will be developed and implemented within three years for companies above a minimum emissions threshold.

3.    Appropriate pricing of carbon and economic incentives, as well as the possible use of emissions offset or emission reduction trading mechanisms for those relevant sectors, sub-sectors, companies or entities where a carbon budget approach has been selected.

4.    Establishing a national system of data collection to provide detailed, complete, accurate and up-to-date emissions data in the form of a Greenhouse Gas Inventory and a Monitoring and Evaluation System to support the analysis of the impact of mitigation measures.

The net effect is that climate change is now squarely on the agenda and the government has clearly articulated its plans.

Where now for Green IT?

Sustainability is now at the forefront of the minds of many a CEO, particularly with the events that happened in November and December.  What these leaders are looking for are solutions to reduce their emissions and remain competitive in an ever volatile financial environment.

For the average CIO this represents a wonderful opportunity to transform the IT department into a value creating and cost reducing department, increasing both shareholder value and competitive advantage in the process.

In the short term, the focus from an IT perspective is going to be simply on cost reductions, compliance and reporting.  Data in the low carbon economy is paramount and government has already provided some indicators on what to expect.  Over and above this reducing your energy reduces your carbon risk and this is still a low hanging fruit when it comes to Green IT.

In the medium to long term the focus will clearly shift to what we call Green IT 2.0.  Simply put, how does technology enable emission reduction in the operations of the business?  The opportunity here is enormous as most organizations need to learn to walk before they can run and many have not even started to crawl yet.

The time to start acting on Green IT is now.   It is a market imperative.

By Tim James, Director, sustainableIT 

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