2009 should have been the year that governments and the market clearly signaled that the transition to a low carbon economy had begun in earnest on a global scale. It wasn't however, and the IT sector will have to do better in 2010 to turn things around.

Copenhagen FAIL

The failure of world leaders in Copenhagen to deliver a fair, ambitious, and legally binding agreement is a setback to global efforts to respond to the urgent threat of climate change--and kick start the low carbon global economy.

While governments have said they will be back to strike a deal at the UN climate summit in Mexico in 2010, Copenhagen's "outcome" clearly begs the question--Which countries will overcome the status quo voices of their fossil fuel industry, and put the necessary policies in place to commit their nation to climate protection and economic growth from a low carbon 21st century economy?

Dirty industry lobby at work

As we have seen throughout 2009, the fossil fuel industry and others benefiting from the status quo have been successful in using the weak economy to question whether we can "afford" meaningful efforts to reduce our emissions in line with what the science says is needed. Make no mistake--the Copenhagen Accord, if defined by current reduction pledges, would result in roughly 4°C of warming, more than doubling the 2°C critical threshold scientists have identified that must be avoided. Humanity surely cannot afford that.

IT engaged in climate debate in 2009

For ICT companies and others who have tremendous business opportunities in a drive toward a low carbon economy--looking back on 2009 and what they did--what are they going to do to make sure we get a different outcome in 2010?

We did see beginnings of important signs of stronger engagement from key IT leaders in the run up to Copenhagen, with Ericsson, Michael Dell, Microsoft, and Nokia calling on world leaders to act.

As a sign of the growing importance of the climate debate to IT industry, influential green tech press also began to pay attention to the UNFCCC in a significant way for the first time. The Guardian newspaper also hosted a roundtable on ICT and climate action from the conference centre in Copenhagen. The roundtable video recording "ICT as a tool to fight climate change" on the guardian.co.uk website is a great 20 minute introduction to where the discussion in the ICT industry is right now.

IT companies also arrived at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in force for the first time, clearly eager to highlight the potential of IT technologies to reduce emissions. However, beyond regularly repeating the Smart 2020 report conclusions (that IT can lead to significant energy savings across the economy), IT companies at COP15 lacked a clear strategy or a common voice for what they wanted or expected governments to deliver from Copenhagen.

New Years Resolution for IT climate leaders

IT companies must engage throughout the year at the national and international level if we expect to get the policies in place to drive the low carbon economy and deliver a meaningful outcome at COP16 in Mexico at the end of the year. If they really believe in their solutions and the businesss opportunities a low-carbon economy will bring them, the ICT companies should speak with much greater authority and a common voice.

Cisco's CEO John Chambers seems to have gotten the take home message to businesses from Copenhagen, when he said simply "make yourself (politically) relevant."

The days when just cutting your own emissions or offering products that are less harmful to the environment was good enough are over. In the climate battle the next step for corporations is to choose sides in the biggest issue facing the planet.