Notes from Copenhagen

All the sustainability action this week is, again, in Copenhagen. It’s the final week of the conference, with pressure to produce some sort of agreement by the end of the week, so the political, technical, and entertainment celebrities have arrived or are en route. Also there is our contributing editor Nina Kruschwitz, who reports (so far) on …

… a talk by Steven Harper …

“Harper, the Global Director of Environment and Energy Policy for Intel, sounded positively evangelistic when he spoke on Saturday about the role that ICTs (information and communication technology) can play in meeting the climate challenge. Calling them the “98% solution,” Harper said that while ICTs are responsible for 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the real power of computing is in their ability to improve energy efficiencies in other sectors, including automation (think logistics for transportation, robots, smart motors); substitution (video conferencing and the long touted “paperless office”); and “de-materialization” (e.g. on-line banking, which it’s hard not to make a joke about). Quoting Scientific American’s assertion that “IT investment is the greenest investment,” Harper also cited the U.S. addendum to the Smart 2020 report, prepared by the MIT Sustainability Initiative’s partner Boston Consulting Group, that ICT strategies could reduce carbon emission by up to 22 percent by 2020. Of course realizing this potential requires a mix of aggressive public policies, getting rid of barriers to implementation, and incentives for investing. Harper called on the government — whom he pointed out is the biggest landowner, employer, etc. — to lead by example, and when asked what might come out of Copenhagen that would improve incentives to use ICTS, Harper replied that most incentives would have to be at the national level in terms of subsidies, tax structures, and a new national strategy to guide policy. We certainly won’t hear anything about those possibilities until after this week.”

… Steven Chu …

chu“Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, spoke to a packed room at the Bright Green expo, a parallel conference hosted in partnership with COP15, a short metro ride away from the Bella Center, echoed some of Harper’s points. Focusing on the need for efficiency to reduce energy consumption, he also highlighted the large amount of money stimulus package investments that have already been made, and the research into truly transformative “high risk, high reward” technologies that the government is underwriting. Some of this “crazy stuff”—liquid batteries, and a carbon capture technology inspired by an enzyme the human body uses to get rid of carbon dioxide—may sound like sci-fi, but as Chu said, displaying a picture of the earth taken from Apollo 8 in 1968, if we don’t act aggressively to decrease greenhouse gas emissions “there’s no where else to go.” Some of those actions may include funding to spread new and existing technologies to developing countries, a plan that the secretary is due to announce on Monday.”

… and the folks outside in the cold …

“Well-dressed demonstrators outside the Bright Green trade expo calling themselves “Lobbyists for Profitable Climate Solutions” chanted “Stop global whining” and sipped champagne as they skewered businesses who “love green, the color of money.” Inside, attendees schmoozed their way through the booths of more than 150 companies, cities, and countries who were touting “the solutions of tomorrow [that] are already here” and handing out oranges and apples, alongside the usual eco-friendly totebags and water bottles.”

Meanwhile, back in the States, for more on sustainability and business, see our editor-in-chief Michael S. Hopkins talk about his recent talk at the Opportunity Green conference:

For more on that special report, see the business of sustainability.

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