The focus of the March BCS Policy Jam was the Net Zero Review, published by former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore in January. But what does the review mean for Green IT? Claire Penketh reports.
The main thrust of the Skidmore review was that achieving Net Zero is not just about avoiding climate catastrophe. It's also about reaping the economic benefits of green economic growth. The 340-page report looked at the entire UK economy. It made recommendations about how to improve everything from energy, transport, housing and farming, through to the need for regulation, parliamentary scrutiny, data, and research and development.
Where's the tech?
But there seemed to be a few glaring omissions, as far as the Policy Jam panel were concerned. Hosted by the Head of BCS Policy, Daniel Aldridge, the panel consisted of John Booth, vice chair of the BCS Green IT specialist group, Amanda Brock, CEO of OpenUK, the UK organisation for the business of Open Technology including open source software and open data, and the BCS CEO Rashik Parmar.
John said: "It doesn't really talk about tech. It's as if the use of technology is a given, and we will all continue to do technology in the current way.
"As I know from personal experience in the data centre field and wider, we simply can't continue in the same way we have over the last 40-50 years; things have to change."
Rashik agreed: "We need to improve the efficiency of data centres. Artificial Intelligence is a big issue, too, in terms of energy use. It's said to be doubling every three months. With the growth in new innovations like Chat GPT, it will all accelerate and create a significant amount of energy, and we need to be mindful of that."
Recycling is vital
Another point that should have been a focus of the report, the panel thought, was the recycling of e-waste. A survey of BCS members previously said this must be a top priority. John said: "We are extracting more raw materials for tech products, processing them, and sending them worldwide for further processing.
"We're shipping them backwards, forwards, left, right and centre. We use the devices for a short time, then forget about them and move on to the next new fashionable piece of kit.
"Then we just dump them on developing countries. As e-waste is such a problem, we need a radical rethink, from the design and manufacture to the use phase. Plus, the life cycle of tech products should be extended.
Education, education, education
Amanda said: "There is no mention of open anywhere in the Skidmore review. It's the same old conversation as opposed to really understanding what's happening on the innovation front as John says, and actually building an understanding of where innovation is going. We don't have enough of the right future technologists engaging with political and policy leaders in the conversations about this."
Another topic the panel thought wasn’t included was how to use data to inform the path to Net Zero. Rashik said we needed to use the correct data; Amanda said we needed to open up data to make it more transparent with more access to it. John added: "The data is out there and needs to be captured. But accumulating data is not the end of it. It's analysing that data and then deciding what to do next.” So it needs to be open and the right data.
"But we don't have enough people with those skills. We don't have the educational infrastructure in place, especially in the fields I'm dealing with."
John believed tech should be taught as a core skill in schools from the start so there were enough people with the right digital skills for the green economy of the future.
However, Rashik said there had been some progress over the past three years, which had seen an increase in the number of computer science teachers in schools. He also cited the success of the BCS-backed Barefoot Programme in primary schools and a rise in the number of people taking the subject at university.
The audience watching the webinar agreed with John's 'education, education, education' call. They also welcomed his suggestion that there should be planning guidance to make data centres greener.
"We should have a distinct strategy that you should only be able to build a datacentre in the UK if you use the waste heat for some other purpose, such as heating a housing estate or an urban greenhouse," he said. "But there needs to be planning guidance at the central government level for that to happen."
Open source software and open data
For Amanda, the government needed to gain a better understanding of how open source software makes up our infrastructure today and has a considerable role in achieving Net Zero both from a technology and a collaboration perspective.
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She said: "We're at a stage where using open source software widely is a certainty, and a sustainability landscape with open data is an absolute requirement. Yet we're not seeing a recognition of that in this document.”
"I think we have a huge educational piece of work to do, with the Skidmore Review and across government. We need to try and get them engaged in understanding what digital is really about and how it works today."
On the use of open source software, Rashik agreed and said: "Some of the answers are about collaborating in an open space because it's breaking through traditional business models, redefining some of those business models and open is a phenomenal way of trying to do that."
For Rashik, technology leaders also had a central role in encouraging and implementing change in adopting Green IT and best practices to achieve NetZero.
Rashik finished the session with a reminder that we all have a part to play in mitigating the climate catastrophe: "This is a journey that we all have to contribute to. Climate change is an existential crisis for humanity. If we don't fix it, we won't exist as a species in the future. It is something we all have to do something about."