What are the missing links to step up whole-of-region efforts to reduce our carbon footprint before it is too late?

The pressure for climate action is on. With the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) around the corner, it is time for the Asia Pacific region (APAC) to take stock.

The region is home to about 60% of the world’s population, making it one of the most populous regions with a significant environmental impact.

Despite global interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, countries in the region have been ramping up efforts for climate action, including introducing 111 measures to initiate a ‘green recovery’. But are these efforts enough?

Despite accelerated efforts, APAC is currently not on track to meet the targets set for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Meanwhile, the region is rising as one of the fastest developing data center regions globally.

Given the massive role big tech plays in the climate crisis, are these developments bringing us forward or setting us back?

A sustainability Catch-22 situation

When the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks, technology emerged as the game changer. It circumvented many physical restrictions, maintained vital human connections, and most importantly, kept the economy on its feet.

Now that our environment needs a similar jolt to get up to speed, can technology do the same for our planet? The simple answer is yes—but it comes at a cost.

The tech industry is infamous for being resource-intensive. According to estimates, digitalization engines—especially giant data center or blockchain technologies—already account for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, numerous smart home applications in private households could drive more than 20% of global energy use by 2025.

Some tech companies are choosing to help through carbon offsets. However, climate activists note that these offsetting efforts are inadequate, as they do little to change and redefine the systems companies utilize. Ultimately, carbon offsets do not reduce carbon emissions, only delay them.

Great power demands great responsibility

For all that technology is capable of, its impact rests ultimately on the way it is used. Tech can be a formidable force for climate action—but only when sustainability is at top of mind. According to a report from the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations organization, digital technology could help reduce the world’s carbon emissions by about 17%.

When the public sector and enterprises in the APAC moved their workloads from on-premises data center to the cloud, they reduced energy consumption and associated carbon emissions by nearly 80%, which is five times more energy-efficient than traditional setups.

How tech companies power their technologies is also the heart of green digitalization. For example, the switch from on-premises infrastructure to software-as-a-service models only exploits the full savings potential if renewable energies also power the technologies used.

Asserting the sustainability influence

Tech companies have the power to drive a positive impact on the natural environment: they can switch to more sustainable energy sources to power their operations. For instance, Amazon Web Services plans to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025.

Also, data centers can be consolidated to create more energy-efficient IT architectures, and cut costs and energy consumption. Micro Focus has learned this through our own experience: we recently went through a data centre consolidation exercise to reduce energy consumption by 510KW and US$3m in annual energy costs. All of our sites in Bangalore currently run on 80% solar energy, with a mix of hydro and thermal power to support the remaining power needs.

Finally, organizations that use technology to gain an in-depth understanding of their IT systems can reduce disruptions and redundancy, so inefficient equipment can be identified easily and decommissioned to support green objectives.

By moving forward with a positive narrative, the tech industry is also exerting pressure on the public sector to get other industries to follow their examples.

Lowering the bar

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that by 2050, only 90% of the Paris Agreement climate goals can potentially be attained, but only if the world doubles down on plans and accelerates the deployment of renewables and energy efficiency.

That is a big “if”, considering the potential consequences that could ensue, the effects of which can already be felt with the weather anomalies occurring in recent years. But there is no other way.

Going from 100 to 90% could be seen as lowering the bar, but with the innovation leaps that technology has made in the last 10 years, we should be hopeful that we have the means to bridge the remaining gaps.

The fight for sustainability will be long, but we should remain cautiously optimistic. The fact that the technology is already here should give us hope.