Government and industry need better and richer data to deliver on their COP26 pledges to combat climate change, according to a survey of IT professionals.

Seven out of ten tech experts (71%) were not confident key departments and policy makers have the right data to achieve net zero, according to a survey by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

Hitting the deadline for net zero will mean gathering detailed, real-time data on everything that generates CO2, from vehicles, to homes to offices, the professional body for the IT industry said.

The recent UK Government Budget announced record investment in research and development; but there is a need for clarity on how government plans to use this to fund the software, infrastructure technology and growing the data science industry to the levels needed to understand the data, the Institute added.

A similar number (61%) said that industry as a whole was not currently using IT and digital technology effectively against climate change.

Huge potential in existing digital technology

Alex Bardell, Chair of BCS’ Green IT Specialist Group said: “There is huge potential in existing digital technology to cut carbon emissions and reach vital targets - but we need better, richer data and far more qualified data scientists to do this.

“Reaching net zero in time will involve gathering data about every single process on the planet that generates CO2, including in cars, trains, homes and in every office.

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“The trends and spikes in that data are essential to decide the best way to save the planet as quickly as possible whilst building a sustainable economy and quality of life. Otherwise, the only way we’ll know what’s going on is when the next extreme weather event wipes out our towns and countryside.”

The UK Government’s National Data Strategy and the recently published AI Strategy are right to aim for a thriving, fast-growing digital sector in the UK underpinned by public trust, BCS said. Now Government and Industry leaders should make clear how they intend to build that confidence in data driven services, data science and AI which are essential to achieve and measure the necessary progress to net zero.

According to The Royal Society’s 2020 report, Digital technology, and the planet: Harnessing Computing - to achieve net zero nearly a third of the 50 per cent carbon emissions reductions the UK needs to make by 2030 could be achieved through existing digital technology.

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Note: This report was generated on 11/10/21. Overall, 1124 BCS members completed this questionnaire during the period 4–11 October 2021. The survey was conducted online.