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Tech Companies Want to “Hack” Climate Change

Cassettes and turntables have become obsolete as new digital innovations emerged. Now, strange as it may sound, Microsoft and other technology companies want to do the same but with climate change.

These tech experts presented their sustainability plans on November 9 during an event held in Bonn, Germany, as part of the COP23, UN climate change meeting.

“For us it’s very simple. Technology is the only thing that can scale up, in the time we need, to address the challenges we face, “said Michelle Patron, director of sustainability at Microsoft.

How? Well, new technologies made available something that wasn’t very easy to get a couple of years ago: quality data. With this data, our emissions can be traced with much greater certainty and, thus,  can force us to take actions to reduce them.

Whether by means of sensors, using cell phone data or monitoring emissions from cities, these technology companies want the same thing: to reduce our emissions.

For them, having much higher quality databases represents an opportunity that must be reflected in more political actions. “We need courageous decisions,” said Leonie Klass, an analyst at Telefónica Next.

“Today we are very enthusiastic about technology and we believe that it can be hacked, but could we hack demography? Can we hack urbanization? I hope that technologies can have an exponential effect on climate issues, “said Victor Gancel of Climate-KIC.

The key: quality data

The case of Microsoft is a very simple case with very positive results. They managed to use technological resources to collect better databases and, with them, make key decisions.

“We put sensors in the 125 buildings of our campus and so we collected a lot of different information in real time to devise ways to optimize our energies,” Patron explained.

The results speak for themselves. Analyzing information such as the use of lighting, traffic patterns and the use of air conditioning, Microsoft managed to reduce its emissions by 15%, an achievement that now saves them $9 million dollars per year.

Telefónica’s Next is another of these climate/technology initiatives. They use mobile data to understand the population’s movement patterns and, thus, calculate their transport emissions.

By comparing their results with previous data, Next researchers realized that the new databases gave them much more complete and accurate information.

“Collecting this data is a complex and costly process for communities. They do it through surveys or manual traffic counts. With this project, what we are trying to do is provide better databases,” explained Leonie Klass from Telefónica.

Innovate legislation

For experts, these databases need politicians who make “bold decisions” and who dare to “go all in” to reduce emissions.

“We believe that these technologies make humans better at what they do. So I think we’ll have better and less expensive data but still we need the process and we definitely need the negotiator,” said Patron.

For Ingo Puhl, strategy director of the environmental consultant South Pole Group, this is a moment of opportunity.

“When we started, the world was a very different place. (…) We are not living in a world of assuming burdens. The Paris Agreement is designed as a treaty to assume opportunities,” Puhl stated.

Certainly that is the case for solar energy (which expects a global price drop of 22% by 2020) or for electric cars (according to a Bloomberg report, they will cost the same as combustion cars by 2020.)

“If you’re a policymaker and you fail to see this as an opportunity, you will be left behind. The issue is not climate change. The issue is industrial competitiveness”, concluded Puhl.

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