This is the first posting of an interview series with representatives of global IT brands, who are in Cancun this week at COP16, the international climate conference. I’m talking with them to find out what’s on the agenda while they’re here, what they are doing to drive stronger government leadership during the negotiations and beyond, and how they plan to enable the low carbon economy with IT solutions.

The first company I spoke with is Microsoft. Microsoft’s performance on our Cool IT Leaderboard has historically not been in line with what we’d expect from the company founded by innovator Bill Gates, a philanthropic leader of industry. In fact, the company’s score fell five places (from 7th to 12th) in Version 4, which was released yesterday.

As other brands pull forward with strengthened performance on IT solutions, energy footprint, and advocacy, Microsoft has shown relatively little improvement. The company receives a negative lobbying penalty for its membership in Business Europe, which opposes an 30% greenhouse gas reduction target for the EU.

However, Microsoft has representatives at COP16, and they’ve attnded many events this week to raise awareness about IT’s role in solving the climate crisis. I caught up with Ray Pinto, Microsoft’s Senior Government Affairs Manager in Europe, to ask him about Microsoft’s objectives in Cancun and to get a sense of whether we will see a higher degree of leadership from Microsoft in the coming year. Here are some of the things he had to say:

Jodie Van Horn: Why are you attending the climate negotiations in Cancun? 

Ray Pinto: I’m attending as Microsoft, but I also represent TechAmerica Europe, a UN observer, and GeSi. The number one objective is to have negotiators, people working with government, NGOs and IGOs, understand that [IT] could contribute to major carbon abatement and provide some solutions.

Our industry, Microsoft, and these associations (TechAmerica and Gesi) really want a positive outcome at these negotiations. We were told last year when we first showed up [in Copenhagen] that if we show our face and speak out openly, it would help the process. This is what we signed up for when given UN observer status last year.

Our company and many other companies down here are signing declarations, attending meetings, trying to meet with delegations. In our view, priority number one is that a framework should happen, but failing that, keep this process going and try to see how the technologies can accelerate the end-goal objectives of what negotiators are trying to do.

The committee responsible for technology transfers has decided that there should be a creation of an advisory group that can consult to all the different countries involved where and how technology can play a role. This is automatically something that we would encourage and want to be involved in.

Ray sent the following description of the proposed groups:

They are proposing to set up a Technical Executive Committee and Climate Technology Centre and Network. The functions of both bodies will be to advise and accelerate ICT adoption, create roadmaps, regulatory frameworks and best practice guidelines, remove barriers and stimulate private sector cooperation.

JVH: How many COPs has Microsoft previously attended?

RP: Copenhagen was the first. Microsoft was involved in previous COPs, but there was never really a clear roadmap of how to engage with the delegates, so participation was ad hoc. Copenhagen was communicated as a possibility for real integration and an opportunity to help the process. At the time it really did seem that our presence would help strengthen the resolve of governments to seal the deal. So the [IT] industry came down in force.

On site we realized that the process is a very complex one and though governments were open to engage with us, there wasn’t really a clear track focused on [IT]. It looks like now the negotiators are understanding that technology can play a major role. Technology needs to be transferred to developing countries. And the creation of [a Technical Executive Committee and Climate Technology Centre and Network] should help promote private sector engagement.

JVH: What does the IT sector need to do to have its solutions better understood and be looked to by governments as an essential part of the policy making process?

RP: Microsoft and the members of TechAmerica Europe and GeSi are holding a CEO roundtable with ministers from India, Mexico, and South Africa to do exactly that – to see how can we build greater awareness of what [IT] can achieve.

The priority clearly remains in having measurable [IT solutions] and verifiably proving that they can take the carbon out. We need to have live projects up and running quickly. There are already today best practices and pilot projects that are being monitored, and we will hopefully soon have benchmarking results. That’s a priority focus for industry.

What would be encouraging is for industries to recognize that there are serious cost savings for them. Governments can lead by example, like the UNEP, in creating sustainable industries and buildings. The IT industry needs courageous leaders, like the European Environment Agency, who want to set up communication platforms like Eye on Earth. That, I think, will firmly speed up this process.

JVH: What do you see as the biggest hurdle to the adoption of IT solutions?

RP: Lack of awareness. General lack of awareness of what the ICT potential is. And lack of data that can prove the enabling power of [IT solutions]. Imperial college is currently investigating in the U.K., Germany, France and Sweden, how exactly and which technologies can lead to how much abatement. We need to accelerate that process. And that will help build trust with governments and prove [IT’s] enabling power.