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17 Dec, 2007

Telecoms Target Aviation Over Greenhouse Gas Emissions

BALI — Already under fire from environmentalists for its greenhouse gas emissions, the aviation industry is set to come under direct assault from telecommunications and I.T. companies targetting the business travel market.

At the UN Framework for Climate Change Conference here last week, executives of Climate Risk Pty Ltd were publicising a report prepared for Australian telecoms company Telstra saying that multinational organisations and companies could save billions of dollars in costs and cut millions of tons in GHG emissions by replacing long-haul, short-duration business travel with videoconferencing.

Dr Karl Mallon, director of science and systems at Climate Risk, said the same factors which revolutionised mobile phones would apply in the case of videoconferencing as improving technological quality, higher bandwidth and lower costs would make it an increasingly feasible option for any company or institution in a globalised, inter-connected world.

He said that in Australia, a company setting up a videoconferencing room for A$250,000, plus the time-charges, would soon find that investment being recouped both in actual costs as well as increased productivity by staff members being able to avoid time wasted on aircraft and in airports.

It would also allow executives to maintain a better work/life balance and help countries meet their national targets for cutting GHG emissions, he said.

Telstra is marketing this service along with other I.T. giants Cisco and HP which will be providing other components of the videoconferencing system. Both have offices all over the world and a highly mobile workforce.

Cisco is cited in the report as saying that, since adopting the technology internally, it has set a worldwide target of reducing its own air travel by 20%. The Australian division of Cisco has already reduced air travel by 16% in less than one year.

Aviation is just one sector looked at in the report where telecommunications could provide a “solution” to both costs and GHG emissions, along with buildings, road transport and renewable energy production.

Dr Mallon said, “Transport today is about air travel, car use, freight movements, commercial fleets. At the same time, telecommunications go to every building, every office, house and they’re going potentially to every vehicle and every person.

“That’s an unparalleled level of access. So if you can find a way to deliver an emission abatement solution down that conduit, you know that the level of penetration is potentially exceedingly high.”

The report notes that Australia has the highest emissions per capita of any OECD country with the equivalent emissions of 26 tonnes per person carbon dioxide per year, as against China which, on a per capita basis, is responsible for about 2.5 tonnes per year.

At the same time, it says that aviation emissions are amongst the fastest growing in the Australian energy sector.

“Domestic aviation in Australia alone produces 5.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year and international aviation using fuels procured in Australia give rise to approximately twice these emissions,” the report says. “Yet because aviation emissions occur at altitude the warming effect is as much as 2.7 times higher. Based on international studies about 50% of short-haul air travel may be for business.”

It adds, “Business air travel can be exceedingly time inefficient. High-value executives spend valuable hours and sometimes days in transit, a significant waste of human resources with a direct dollar value to their companies.”

Says the report, “Long-distance, short-duration travel can be effectively replaced with ‘in-person’ high-definition, high fidelity, online conferencing that is significantly more efficient in cost, time, energy and emissions.

“The emissions saving of (such) services in avoided domestic and international air travel is 2.4 MtCO2-e per annum through direct fuel use reduction (equivalent to 6.5MtCO2-e per annum when the increased warming effect of aviation emissions at altitude or ‘up-lift’ is included). Excluding up-lift, the avoided emissions are equivalent to 0.43% of total national emissions.

“The financial value of the avoided spending on air travel is $2.2 billion and the value of the carbon credits are in the range $24 million to $12120 million.”

Although aircraft are slowly becoming more efficient, “this is outweighed by increased demand, and as a result, aviation greenhouse emissions are rapidly increasing,” the report says.

“In the medium to longer term, the high growth rates of 4% forecast by the (Australian) aviation sector are likely to be unsustainable, given fuel supply costs and expected carbon constraints.

“Currently bunker fuels are excluded from restriction under the Kyoto Protocol. This is expected to change in the next commitment period, foreshadowed by emergent regulation in the EU. As regulatory risks increase overseas, this may impact on inbound and outbound long-haul travel as well as pricing structures in Australia.”

Entitled “Towards a High-Bandwidth, Low-Carbon Future: Telecommunications-based Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions”, the report was originally released in Australia in October 2007 but is now being promoted worldwide. Download free: http://www.telstra.com.au/abouttelstra/csr/docs/climate_full_report.pdf.pdf

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