Gala Spasova
Gala Spasova (Senior Research Analyst)

Technology was not explicitly mentioned in the COP26 Presidency Program and yet it remains implicitly embedded across the entire agenda as it plays a central role when we talk about measuring impacts, analysing the emissions data, and facilitating collaboration between governments and private companies.

It’s been over a week since the world’s leaders joined the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (a.k.a., COP26). Throughout these seven days, which started with a display of cautious optimism from politicians and ended with mass protests by eco-anxious youth activists, we scanned through hundreds of messages and announcements to isolate those most relevant to the IT industry.

Sustainable Products from Technology Vendors

Ahead of COP26 many tech companies took the opportunity to announce new features and products or demonstrate their commitment to tackling environmental issues.

Major DX actors such as Capgemini and Atos took part in keynotes, proving that technology is well embedded in many environmental aspects. SAP is also an active participant in COP26, with corporate sponsorship and representation in key sessions and forums focused on digital solutions for environmental action. The OECD hosted a session focused on data tools to track governments’ efforts to phase out fossil fuels. Meanwhile, Xerox took on the support of the conference’s printing needs with devices that have mostly, in the spirit of COP26, been remanufactured and awarded numerous ecolabels.

Among other announcements, Salesforce pledged $300 million in investments for climate justice and ecosystem restoration. This seems dwarfed by Mark Carney $130 trillion Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), making it sound like green private funding is widely available, while less than 50% of European financial institutions have pledged membership to it.

Amazon started powering its UK operational centres with green power from a new 50MW onshore wind farm in Scotland as world leaders plan to make green tech cheaper than alternatives. The UK launched a new initiative to take the Green Industrial Revolution global and UK tech companies commit to playing a part in tackling the climate crisis, including the unveiling of technology for zero-carbon-emission flights.

Faced with public criticism, the Big Five (GAFAM — Google, Amazon, Facebook/Meta, Apple and Microsoft) swiftly amplified messaging about their own carbon neutrality — Apple joined the “First Movers Coalition” pledging to become carbon neutral by 2030 and Google introduced ecofriendly routes on Google Maps.

Meanwhile, Meta came under scrutiny for failing to tackle climate denial on Facebook. Microsoft, positioned as one of COP26’s key sponsors, announced its cloud for sustainability and other datacentre cooling innovations, as well as an updated policy shifting from simply preventing deforestation to planting more trees with a focus on active carbon removal. Amazon, along with the governments of Norway, the UK and the US, as well as other companies, will invest $1 billion to reduce tropical deforestation while protecting tropical rainforests.

The challenge is made possible through the public-private initiative Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF) Coalition. Other companies are also joining this cause, such as cloud vendor VMware, which has pledged to plant and protect a million trees as part of its mission to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Ending Deforestation by 2030

Ambitions to end deforestation within less than a decade will have significant implications on all IT vendors providing supply chain solutions, with commercial agriculture one of the key offenders in terms of forest depletion.

Another market that comes to mind is print. After all, paper is derived from the very trees that COP26 pledges to protect. Despite the accelerated shift to digital, paper remains an important asset for many businesses. However, it is likely that there will be a stronger push to use sustainable paper sources, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified schemes.

Contrary to widespread belief, the print industry has always been at the forefront of sustainability with hardware, supplies and packaging already increasingly recycled or remanufactured. The next step is to place more emphasis on the paper itself: FSC-certified paper comes from responsible ecosystems around the world and is widely available and identical to standard paper. The only question is, why isn’t it being widely used in the first place?

Policy Updates Bring Challenges and Opportunities for IT Suppliers

In the lead up to COP26, over 140 countries — accounting for 57% of global emissions — had submitted new or updated climate commitments, known as National Determined Contributions (NDCs). China’s and India’s release of their new NDC targets last week — aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060 and 2070 respectively — gained international attention, albeit with a mixed reception.

These national commitments have also been augmented by a series of pledges, ranging from a global methane pledge (the effects of which will ripple through all industries) to a declaration on forests and land use. What does this mean for national and local governments?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” — Peter Drucker

When the rubber hits the road and national and local governments need to deliver on these emission and deforestation targets, accurate and transparent measurement of progress will be critical to success. In the lead up to COP26, a number of technology vendors such as Microsoft and Google launched new carbon accounting tools to help organisations with the complex process of recording, reporting and, ultimately, reducing emissions.

Tech solutions have also been discussed in side events related to monitoring deforestation, from Google’s collaboration with the University of Maryland and Nasa to monitor deforestation through Earth Observation Data to Hitachi Vantara’s solution using eco-acoustic data to monitor and predict illegal logging, developed in collaboration with the Rainforest Connection.

Reaching Net-Zero Emissions

The role of cities in reaching net-zero was also an important point of discussion during the first week of COP26. In the words of Cllr Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council, “Nation states pledge, cities deliver.” On November 2, 2021, more than 1,000 world cities committed to halve their emissions by the end of the decade and go carbon neutral by 2050. This will require the implementation of a wide range of investments ranging across energy, transport and housing: there is a significant opportunity for governments to leverage digital technologies to help cut emissions across these sectors.

Initiatives such as the Breakthrough Agenda, designed to support the development and deployment of clean, affordable and accessible technologies and sustainable solutions, are set to be important drivers to scale sustainable city solutions, underpinned by new policy and investment partnerships between government, tech vendors and academia.

Technology Can Help Reach Carbon Neutrality Sooner

Research from WEF highlights that digital technologies could already help reduce emissions by 15%. The challenge is not the availability of technology solutions, rather the gap between understanding and acting. IT professional services providers focusing on building sustainable portfolios to help their customers achieve their carbon-neutrality goals faster can not only benefit from greater demand but also help translate COP26 pledges and agreements into action.

To find out more about the implications of COP26 on the IT industry, register for our free webcast on November 30, 2021, at 14:00 GMT

Meet the team:

Galina SpasovaLouisa BarkerRemi LetempleFilippo Vanara – Phil SargeantMarta Muñoz

COP26: Technology for Sustainability Webcast
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