UKRI seeks to ‘eliminate’ carbon footprint

UKRI has invested £1.9m in carbon-neutral ambitions

A £1.9m project, which will analyse UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) digital estate, is set to help the organisation reach net zero by 2040. 

The analysis, which is funded by The Natural Environment Research Council, will create a roadmap for the organisation and support them in providing carbon neutral digital research infrastructure. This comes after a growing awareness of the effects that computational emissions have on the planet. 

A recent study by Lancaster University found that current estimations of global computing emissions only show a fraction of the damage, with actual emissions likely to be around 2.1 – 3.9%, compared to 2% of global emissions caused by aviation. 

The research warns that new developments in computing including blockchain, AI and big data are likely to make IT’s carbon footprint even bigger.

Dr Kelly Widdicks, co-author of the study, said: “Much more needs to be done by the ICT sector to understand and mitigate its footprint, beyond focusing on a transition to renewables and voluntary carbon reduction targets. We need a comprehensive evidence base of ICT’s environmental impacts as well as mechanisms to ensure the responsible design of technology that is in-line with the Paris Agreement.”

There have been growing efforts by universities to cut their carbon footprint, particularly within IT. However, many researchers require the use of faster-than-ever supercomputers to stay at the forefront of cutting edge research, which has a significant impact on global emissions.

We will set a benchmark for a realistic, rigorously evidenced, ambitiously scheduled, roadmap for the full decarbonisation of all elements of significant national infrastructure – Dr Martin Juckes, CEDA

Therefore, UKRI’s net zero ambitions have come at a more relevant time than ever. Data science experts at Centre of Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) will lead the 18th-month study, across all of UKRI, and develop strategies for how data is conserved, analysed and managed.

Dr Martin Juckes, the deputy head of CEDA, said: “We will set a benchmark for a realistic, rigorously evidenced, ambitiously scheduled, roadmap for the full decarbonisation of all elements of significant national infrastructure. The project will look at both the energy consumed by the computers in use and the impact of the supply chain.”

Microsoft is also set to support the project. Brad Tipp, who joins the project from Microsoft, said: “Microsoft are delighted to be part of this new UK initiative to eliminate the carbon footprint of computational research, part of a growing global movement to meet and go beyond the Paris targets.”


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