Information technology and sustainability

Federal agencies trying to meet tougher sustainability mandates can make significant progress toward their goals by taking advantage of more efficient data storage and other information and communication technologies.

At the NextGov Prime 2013 conference, Scott Renda of the White House Office of Management and Budget and I outlined some of the ways these technologies can lead toward a greener government that saves energy – and money.

Slow progress on limiting HFCs

Those encouraged by the recent high-level pronouncements by President Obama and China's President Xi at the G-20 favoring action to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol came away from the 25th Meeting of the Parties last week in Bangkok disappointed. 

A number of developing countries led by India blocked efforts to establish a formal “contact group,” an important step toward negotiating an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs, which are highly potent greenhouse gases.

Instead, the parties opted to continue exploring the issue in a less formal “discussion” group. They also asked their Technical and Economic Advisory Panel (TEAP) to prepare a report on the technical, legal, and financial management of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, and agreed to hold a workshop on HFCs in the margins of the next negotiating session in 2014.

Efforts to limit aviation emissions advance at ICAO

The United Nations’ body that oversees civil aviation has reached an important milestone in international efforts to craft effective and equitable solutions to climate change from this fast-growing sector. And this success last week in Montreal should send a hopeful signal to other UN organizations as they grapple with the challenges of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

At the 38th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), governments endorsed a comprehensive set of actions aimed at achieving an aspirational mid-term goal of zero carbon emissions growth for the aviation industry beginning in 2020. The October 4 accord brings together a number of measures being developed by ICAO, including: a certification requirement for a global CO2 efficiency standard for aircraft; support for an updated, more efficient air traffic control regime; continued development of sustainable biofuels; and updating national action plans laying out country strategies to reduce emissions.

Smart technologies aid federal agencies' sustainability efforts

In his speech on Tuesday laying out a national climate action plan, President Obama called on federal agencies to lead by example in taking actions to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.

In a new report today, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) highlights one area where the federal government is making progress, and can achieve much more.  It’s called Leading by Example 2.0: How Information and Communication Technologies Help Federal Agencies Meet Sustainability Goals.

Faced with declining budgets, federal agencies are looking for innovative ways to cut costs while meeting a growing list of sustainability mandates.  Expanding the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) – metering and energy management systems for buildings, GPS-based tools for fleets, teleconferencing, e-training, teleworking, and cloud-based data storage – offer agencies new ways to reduce their energy use, cut greenhouse gas emissions and enhance productivity.

We estimate widespread deployment of  ICT could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent, roughly half the amount called for under a 2009 executive order, and could save an estimated $5 billion in energy costs through 2020.

China and U.S. agree to cooperate to reduce powerful greenhouse gas

The informal summit between the presidents of China and the United States last week yielded one very one important climate-related agreement.  After years of opposing international efforts to restrict hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs - a potent family of greenhouse gases), China has now agreed to cooperate with the United States and most other nations in moving forward to phase down the use of these chemicals under the Montreal Protocol. 

The Montreal Protocol is the international treaty agreed to in 1987 that restricts the production and use of ozone-depleting substances with the goal of restoring the earth’s protective ozone layer. Widely hailed as the most successful international environmental treaty, it has been ratified by all 197 states. While not its primary objective, the treaty has also played an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and now appears on track to play an even larger role.