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Last week I was in London speaking at an event hosted by the Aldersgate Group exploring the practical outcomes that business leaders would like to see governments agree to at RIO+20. The Aldersgate Group invited nine major businesses across a range of sectors to pitch one such idea (in 100 seconds) to an audience of NGO, business and governmental representatives (each armed with a voting terminal) and a panel of judges including UK Environment Minister Caroline Spellman and WWF-UK CEO David Nussbaum.
A lot has changed in 20 years since the last gathering in Rio. Information technology (IT) represents a new tool that can help us reach a lower carbon future. As World Wildlife Fund has noted in years past, “There is probably no other sector where the opportunity to provide solutions with dramatic emission reduction potential is as significant as in the IT sector.” The last 20 years has taught us that IT can help address a number of significant issues underlying our pressing energy and climate challenges. That’s particularly true at Microsoft, where we see IT as an important tool to help address the energy and climate challenges the world faces.
In my 100 seconds I made the case that IT can help address a number of significant issues underlying our pressing energy and climate challenges. Individuals and organizations frequently lack insight into how their actions affect the environment and how they can reduce their impact. Many businesses lack the ability to track energy use across complex operations and supply chains. Scientists and policymakers often have immense amounts of data from multiple sources but have difficulty making sense of it or translating it into practical solutions. IT is unique in its ability to enable individuals, communities, organizations, scientists and policymakers to assess and understand the impact of their actions across complex systems and take action to reduce effects on society and the planet.
Ideally, we'd like to see meaningful and actionable results from the "Rio Outcomes Document" that puts forth plans for a green economy and offers a new governance structure for sustainable development. But with so much at stake, and the urgent need for society to move to cleaner, reliable and more secure energy sources, we recognize that as a company, we need to move faster.
IT is the foundation of our efforts at Microsoft to reduce our own footprint. Our recent carbon neutrality commitment and implementation of an internal carbon fee is underpinned by an enterprise-wide carbon management solution from CarbonSystems automatically captures and extracts data from a myriad of sources. Information technology is unique in its ability to turn this data into actionable information, uncovering even more opportunities to understand the impact of our operations and identify areas where we can improve.
Christiana Figueres, who leads the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, cited our carbon pricing model in a video interview last week as an example of business leading the way in finding solutions to reduce carbon emissions. We agree that the private sector has an important role to play in addressing climate change and look forward to advocating for the role of IT next month at Rio +20.
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This situation is no longer deniable. During my lifetime, many have understood the Global Predicament we are facing now, but only a few 'voices in the wilderness' were willing to speak out loudly and clearly about what everyone can see. It is not a pretty sight. The human community has precipitated a planetary emergency that only humankind is capable of undoing. The present 'Unsustainable Path' has to be abandoned in favor of a "road less travelled by". It is late; there is no time left to waste. Perhaps now we will gather our remarkably abundant, distinctly human resources and respond ably to the daunting, human-induced, global challenges before us, the ones that threaten life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. Many voices, many more voices are needed for making necessary changes.