Video conferencing part of “Zero Carbon Vision” for UK

A new study exploring how the UK can cut back on its annual carbon dioxide transmissions by focusing on the transport sector has been published, predicting how the use of technology such as video conferencing as well as financial and behavioural changes could help create a near 100% reduction in CO2 emissions from transport.

“Towards a Zero Carbon Vision for UK Transport”, written by researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute, looks at what steps can be taken to cut back on the 27% of the UK’s CO2 emissions that stem from transport. This number is predicted to grow faster than any other sector of the economy with increased use of cars, road freight and aviation.

The report compares the predicted outcome for carbon reduction by 2050 under a “business as usual” scenario, where little to no changes are made, with that of a “Maximum Impact (MI)” scenario. This is a slightly implausible scenario where all possible interventions are made to achieve a target goal of “near zero carbon” transport system for the UK.

Whilst many aspects of the report are concerned with freight and local travel, section 4.4 “Aviation” details how the substitution of information technology can help contribute towards reducing the 14% of all travel conducted by business, in turn reducing the amount of overall air travel.

One report cited, Pamlin & Szomolanyi 2008, suggests that if European companies cut their business travel by 20% and used video conferencing in its place, “We would save 22 million tonnes of CO2 each year, equivalent to taking one third of the UK’s cars off the road.”

Another survey cited, ‘Travelling Light’, by the WWF-UK found that many companies have a “green” corporate policy that incorporates the use of telepresence and video conferencing services in place of business travel. This same survey indicates that the major obstacle to greater use of video conferencing is a lack of interoperability between different systems and a need for investment in broadband infrastructure.

In the “Maximum Impact” scenario detailed by the researchers based on these previous reports, aviation business travel activity is assumed to have fallen by 20% by 2050. 2.8% of this – a statistically significant figure equivalent to 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 – is due to video conferencing being used in substitution of air travel.

Also, though the report is clear that video conferencing and other technological substitutions could only lead to a small reduction in CO2 emissions from the aviation industry in and of themselves, they are an important part of an overall strategy. When taken together with other measures such as railway substitution, air traffic management and improvements in aircraft technology, the overall reduction in the MI scenario is -56% relative to the 59.9 CO2 emissions seen in the 2050 ‘business as usual’ scenario.