As countries, businesses and individuals reflect on the events of COP26 we ask ourselves how important innovation in technology must be to creating a more sustainable digital infrastructure and ultimately meet our global climate goals?
Following the 26th COP or Conference of the Parties climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021 the official communication (advanced and unedited) “Expresses alarm and utmost concern that human activities have caused around 1.1 °C of global warming to date and that impacts are already being felt in every region” and “Reiterates the urgency of scaling up action and support, as appropriate, including finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, for implementing approaches to averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to these effects;”.
The communique also points to the need for “strengthening cooperative action on technology development and transfer for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation action, including accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation, and the importance of predictable, sustainable and adequate funding from diverse sources”
COP 26 Glasgow
The conference which dominated media headlines, was the opportunity for counties to publicly update their plans for emissions targets especially in line with the Paris agreement of 2015, their NDC’s as we probably know them best. For any of us that need reminding the Paris Agreement saw a collective commitment to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5° and both funding and policy making bought in line with this objective.
Whist the conference, like most before it, dominated the press for its duration - but COP26, unlike many before has demonstrated an urgency for action and with it innovations, EU Vice President Frans Timmermans stated “If we fail [my one-year-old grandson] will fight with other human beings for water and food. That’s the stark reality we face. So 1.5C is about avoiding a future for our children and grandchildren that is unliveable.” This need for urgency is demonstrated with the Glasgow Climate Pact’s draft decision to “request(s) Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances”. This important request in the official documentation is driven, not least by, the findings that emission levels are estimated to be 13.7% above 2010 levels by 2030 – fundamentally failing in this, the critical decade.
The need for urgent innovation in data centers
The UK, as the host of COP26, reported significant progress against emissions targets, claiming that “Between 1990 and 2019, we achieved record clean growth. In that time, our economy grew by 78% and our emissions decreased by 44% over this time, the fastest decline in the G7”. The UK government plan to end direct government support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas, end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030 will be planting 30,000 hectares of trees annually (the equivalent of 46,000 standard football pitches) this coupled with a legal, policy led approach to de-carbonisation enforces new legislated that mandates the UK’ net carbon zero emissions by 2050. Within the UK’s climate leadership pledge is a note to “make climate-related disclosures mandatory across the economy by 2025, with most requirements coming in by 2023.”
The TCFD or Taskforce on Climate-related financial disclosures aligned legislation will come into force in April 2022 with over 1300 UK registered organisations including many household names as well as financial institutions falling under the new regulations. The final TFDC roadmap focuses on seven different categories of company:
1) Listed commercial companies
2) UK registered large private companies
3) Banks and Building societies
4) Insurance companies
5) Asset managers
6) Life insurers and FCA regulated pension schemes
7) Occupational pension schemes
For many this will be a tardy but welcome sign of accountability from government towards what is still largely voluntary disclosure but whilst mandatory reporting will of course ensure that many organisations find and address climate risks and opportunities it’s a far cry from immediate, drastic action. What’s more the TFDC measures are only set to address 1300 companies, that’s 1300 companies from 5.6 million operating in the UK, many of which have neither the time, resource (insert finances) or technical skillsets needed to assess or redress energy wastage and carbon emissions. Many, if not all of these organisations will be reliant on technology, with many operating from a combination of on premise, hybrid and cloud data centers. So whilst the immediate regulatory action might be directed at the few it’s in the many that we really have an opportunity to innovate, reshape and ultimately drive impact.
We know that progress and sustainability must go hand in hand. Gaia Edge designs and builds sustainable data centers, supporting organisations by driving measurable performance whilst reducing environmental impact.
For that we might look to extracts from the UK’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener – this 368 page document, published in October 2021 covers a plethora of topics but interestingly makes this comment on innovation;
“Innovation can significantly reduce costs of the technologies, processes, and systems needed to reach net zero. This goes beyond just developing technologies. It also means exploring new business models, approaches to financing, the regulatory environment and how consumers respond.”
It's a critical subject and one that, in our opinion, doesn’t go far enough in standard technology circles, especially where data centers are concerned. Many technology leaders will be under immense pressure to deliver availability, connectivity and speed from their infrastructure, whether on prem, hybrid, cloud or edge. As technology evolves and estates become more complex, intricate and compute heavy – so too do applications and enterprise architecture become more intense and inefficient, so programmed are we to add capacity and add resilience to our fundamental cores that we lose sight the opportunities that are right before us.
Innovation is or at least should be at the heart of everything we do as both technology and sustainability leaders, indeed it’s widely recognised that the ICT sector is “responsible for 5-9% of the world's total electricity use and more than 2% of all emissions.” a sad statistic that as we increase reliance on the digital in our lives and business is set to grow. So if we are to grow we must ask ourselves at all sizes and scales of industry, what can we do to innovate right now that will truly impact our future?
We asked Gaia Edge’s Associate Director John Booth and Enterprise Architect Mark Dickinson for their thoughts on innovation and what we can all be doing to drive forwards today.
John Booth on innovation for more sustainable technology;
“The best thing any data centre operator can do, right now, is to download the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres (Energy Efficiency) Best Practices document and look to adopt them as time/finance allows, they can also seek assistance on the code from various organisations including ourselves. The other important thing is to calculate or facilitate the calculation of your ISO30134 metrics as they apply to PUE, REF, ERF, WUE/WUEs, and CUE
A lot of innovation isn't all that innovative. Often the best solutions are actually removing things from bad processes. So it should be a warning signal if you need more power to do something truly innovative, unless you're on about colonising another planet, of course.
With regards to innovation, it's important to look at what's going on today, and try to understand it at a physical level. i.e. if you're trying to produce an innovative selling solution, then map out what is physically going on. That way you can easily spot the things that don't need to be there.
If the goal of innovation is to leverage some novel technology, then, again, you should be looking to understand what that new tech will add to the picture. You should always ask (in any enterprise architecture situation) if there isn't something already there which will do the job perfectly fine without over-engineering the solution
As countries and people reflect on the events of COP26 we ask ourselves how important technology must be in creating a healthier, more sustainable future for our world, perhaps innovation is not the only key then to achieving net zero, perhaps in our Race to Zero we, as technology leaders, data center experts, mothers and fathers we need to come together to collaborate better, see the opportunities through a new and non-traditional framework to ultimately impact immediate, drastic change.
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