Tuesday 14 September 2021 6:30 am

Vodafone: We need to focus on the tech we already have to tackle climate change rather than gambling our future on innovation

Andrea Donà is the Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK

The United Nations Climate Change conference – better known as COP26 – has forced us all to keep climate change at the front of mind. The world is awash with public and corporate pledges to be net zero. But in order to do this in a fair and equitable way, there will need to be global cooperation – especially among the biggest emitters.

Addressing the reality of global climate change will also require national leadership. The UK needs to deliver emissions reductions that are as impactful, rapid, and cost-effective as possible. Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan outlines an initial roadmap to net zero, charting a way towards well-paid green jobs in a thriving economy, and a future that is clean, green and sustainable.

An ambitious plan which focuses on developing emerging technology, such as carbon capture and storage or the use of hydrgen, is rightly at the core of Britain’s journey to net zero. But to reduce emissions today, it cannot just focus on technologies still in their infancy – no matter how promising they may be. We need solutions which work today. The single biggest lever currently available to us now is to optomise our energy and research consumption. Existing tech, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G can enable use to monitor and reduce our emissions, including in some of the sectors which have proved the most challenging to decarbonise.

Digital technology has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 17.4m tonnes a year across manufacturing, agriculture and transport, according to a recent report by Vodaphone. That’s the equivalent of the entire annual emissions output of the North East of England. Crucially, every single part of the UK would benefit, rural and urban.

In farming, for example, technology-enabled precision agriculture minimises the use of water, fertilisers and pesticides by monitoring soil quality, temperature and moisture. This would help improve and increase yields, while reducing resource waste and land use.

In manufacturing, increased use of industrial digital technology such as 5G, AI, machine learning, and 3D printing, will not only deliver efficiency gains but also cut overall emissions , while improving productivity and creating jobs as well.

And in transport, telematics and intelligent traffic management systems responding to real-time data can reduce fuel use, congestion and accidents. All of which help cut emissions. 

These sectors are central to the green industrial revolution and will lay the foundation for the UK’s transition to net zero. Substantially reducing emissions in these areas will be a defining challenge of the next decade. Without material action now, we risk the opposite: a continued spiral of emissions which pushes us further away from our net zero target.

The speed at which we need to drive down our emissions requires the Government and business to work together effectively. The net zero strategy should include targets for the adoption of those digital technologies that reduce emissions today. Schemes such as the super deduction or the digital schemes included in this year’s budget should be harnessed to incentivise the adoption of IoT and 5G technologies in key sectors and accelerate their transition to net zero. Minister should also increase the weighting of carbon reduction technologies – and business carbon reduction targets – in its procurement processes.

The path to net zero will not always be straightforward; it requires both creative thinking and collaboration. It is therefore crucial that the COP26 summit in Glasgow this November finds practical ways to support business and society as a whole in taking the next steps towards net zero. The summit needs to be a landmark moment in our efforts to decarbonise: a net zero legacy for future generations.

At Vodafone, we have committed to reducing our global carbon emissions to net zero by 2040. In the UK, we will go faster and eliminate all carbon emissions from our own operations by 2027. To help achieve this, every area of our UK business, including our network, data centres, retail stores and offices, is now 100 per cent powered by electricity from renewable sources. In addition, we want to enable business customers to reduce their carbon emissions by a total of 350 million tonnes globally by 2030.

But if the world is to avert climate catastrophe, then governments, business and society must all play their part. In the UK, we now need to accelerate our efforts around sustainability. The sooner we implement available solutions, the sooner we will all see the benefits.

A net zero future, supported by digital technology, is within reach. 

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.