Posted by Rob Bernard 
Chief Environmental Strategist

Next week, I and a dozen of my Microsoft colleagues will be in Copenhagen as a delegation of issue and technology experts supporting the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP15).We are participating in a series of briefings, events, and partnership launches to showcase the power of information technology to help address the daunting energy and climate challenges the world faces.

Solving these challenges will require dramatic gains in energy conservation and broader use of renewable and zero-carbon energy sources. Microsoft envisions a clean energy ecosystem where information technology:

  • Empowers people and organizations with software tools that help increase energy efficiency.
  • Accelerates innovation and deployment of clean energy sources through research and software development.
  • Provides government decision makers with tools to better predict the impact of climate change through the aggregation of large amounts of scientific data, including on-the-ground information provided by local citizens.

Microsoft believes climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate, worldwide attention, and we are acting accordingly. We are pursuing strategies and taking actions that demonstrate our  strong commitment to reduce our own environmental impact and the impact of our products.   We have adopted abroad policy statement on climate change that expresses support for government action to create emissions reduction frameworks to address climate change. While world leaders have indicated they won’t reach a final agreement in Copenhagen, COP15 and subsequent climate negotiations are  important opportunities to advance these frameworks on a global scale.

A growing number of governments and scientists have endorsed a goal of limiting global average temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. According to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in 2007,  meeting this goal will require a 50 to 85 percent global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions  by 2050. The scale of those proposed reductions is ambitious, but we see many ways information technology can help achieve those targets. A report by The Climate Group found that by 2020, deployment of existing IT applications -- ranging from virtual meetings energy management tools for buildings and homes -- can cut global carbon emissions 15 percent, eliminating more carbon emissions annually than are currently released by all sources in the United States.

 

The greatest contribution Microsoft can make to the fight against climate change is our expertise on the role software and technology can play in reducing carbon emissions.  To this end, we are  working to advance public policies that promote the use of IT solutions to advance energy efficiency, spur innovation and economic opportunity, and contribute to practical strategies for mitigating climate change. Policymakers can accelerate these actions and optimize the contribution IT can make to a sustainable energy economy in several ways :

  • Lead by example 
    Governments can help save energy by applying power management and virtualization technologies in  their IT infrastructure and promoting telework. These initiatives can yield significant cost savings and efficiency gains while demonstrating best practices and helping build the market for technologies that reduce energy use.
  • Invest in basic research, enabling infrastructure and new technologies. 
    Governments need to adequately fund basic science and research into renewable and sustainable low-carbon energy sources.  Additionally, to unlock the potential of  cloud computing-based energy applications, businesses and citizens need affordable, high-quality access to the Internet. Government incentives should ensure that broadband reaches remote areas and underserved populations, with a particular focus on schools, libraries and hospitals.
  • Reform energy regulations to foster demand-side management. 
    Regulators who oversee energy generation and distribution should promote real-time pricing policies that open the market for demand-side management. Ensuring that individuals and third parties have access to energy usage and pricing information, subject to appropriate privacy protections, will spark innovation as businesses compete to use this data and drive reductions in energy use and carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Promote intellectual property rights. Governments can incentivize private-sector investments in a clean energy ecosystem by ensuring that well-functioning intellectual property protections are in place.  Such protections provide the private sector with the confidence to invest in innovations and share breakthroughs that can help solve the energy and climate problems confronting us.  For many countries – especially the poorest and most vulnerable developing countries – intellectual property protection alone will not be sufficient to address the climate challenges they confront. Developing countries will require support to identify and prioritize the technology solutions and opportunities available for climate change mitigation and adaptation and will require capacity-building to adopt and deploy appropriate solutions.
  • Promote broadly accessible solutions. 
    A sustainable energy ecosystem should harness the power of widely available technologies such as cell phones and PCs. Policies to promote connectivity and broadband access can help enable wide participation in a sustainable energy ecosystem. To foster innovation, policymakers should ensure that “smart grids” and other energy and environmental IT applications promote security, privacy and interoperability without mandating the use of specific technologies.

We welcome the chance to work together on these solutions with our partners, customers, suppliers, policymakers and other key stakeholders. We encourage policymakers to adopt policies to stimulate the technology innovation needed to sustain healthy economies in an increasingly carbon-constrained and energy-hungry world. For more on our work on this topic, please see www.microsoft.com/environment, which will include a special COP15 section next week.