Digital technology and data could delivery nearly a third of the carbon emissions required by 2030, according to a report from the Royal Society.
The charity also said the UK has a key role to play as host of the UN COP26 climate conference next year and as a global leader in fields such as machine learning.
Titled Digital Technology and the Planet, the report refers to 2030 as a target date for carbon reduction emissions – citing an Exponential Roadmap Initiative – and says it could be possible to achieve cuts of 50% with digital accounting for 15%.
It identifies four key areas of using digital to reduce carbon emissions, the first being to build a trusted data infrastructure. This would involve national and international frameworks for sharing relevant data and setting up a taskforce to identify priorities across sectors
Second is to optimise the digital carbon footprint, with the Government ensuring that tech companies publicly share data on their emissions – in particular from data centres – the tech sector schedules its computing activities for times of peak renewable supply, and regulators develop guidance on the energy proportionality of digital technology.
Third is to establish a data enabled net zero economy, using COP26 to champion commitment on funding, data, skills and computing facilities.
Fourth is to set research and innovation challenges in the field.
Digital twins potential
Among the specifics highlighted is the potential to use data from digital sensors and networks to create digital twins of real world systems to test and target interventions – even control them in real time.
There could also be trials of ‘heating as a service’ in which consumers play a fixed tariff for hours of warmth.
Professor Andy Hopper, vice president of the Royal Society and chair of the report’s working group, said: “Transparent technology can benefit consumers, the technology sector and the planet. If more people are confident in moving their computing onto the cloud, energy savings are possible using more efficient data centres.
“We must stay alert to digital demand outpacing the carbon emission reductions this transition promises. But this report shows how addressing barriers to innovation and harnessing the potential of our technology can make a sustainable net zero future a reality.”
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