How might COP27 change things for data centers?

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As this is written, the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, referred to more commonly as COP27 is being hosted by the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt. The overall mission statement is stated “to [build] on previous successes and [pave] the way for future ambition to effectively tackle the global challenge of climate change.” This is set to be delivered in a world where global warming since 1850 has increased by 1.1 degrees C [The World Research Institute] and the IPCC Climate Change 2022 reports indicate that at the current trajectory an increase of 1.5 degrees C will be passed by 2040. That’s just over 17 years away and well within the longevity of a data center built today. So, do we need to rethink radically from today where, how and why data centers are built?

The invitees to COP27 are largely the same 194 countries who signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. At COP26 last year the world’s two largest sources of emission – the USA and the PRC – agreed to boost climate cooperation in line with the Paris Agreement. It’s unlikely that an announcement of that magnitude awaits at COP27 although the USA/PRC agreement came as a surprise to most observers. Whatever is decided at COP27 will need to be looked at in the context of the G20 Summit held in Indonesia this month also and the weight that the key economies put on sustainability in the midst of a number of economic, political  and social pressures. 

There appear to be a changing emphasis of the global conversation perhaps in recognition of the lateness of the hour. The balance has shifted from strategic persuasion [‘why?’] to tactical execution [‘how?’] and there is an increasing recognition that even stopping the rates of increase now would leave irreversible damage. Consider the current state of Kiribati, the Maldives or Vanuatu. Thus a new source of tension is emerging between ‘developing’ nations seeking compensation from funds specifically designed for that purpose and established economies who are wary of facing considerable pay outs over a long periods of time.

There are only a handful of references to data centers through COP27, mostly European and dated. But the seeds for a more active industry role are sown in references to science and (clean) technology support to assist emerging nations in improving energy security and consumption. While the references do not provide any particular insight as to the problem or the role in solution, it is evident from the past couple of years that the Internet world and the data centers that make it possible indicated a way forward where virtual contact and transaction could replace many aspects of everyday life and some in business life as well. While the pandemic was never intended as a blueprint for the future, it may indicate future paths for more efficient ‘hybrid’ delivery of healthcare, education, retail, leisure, business services etc.  Cloud represents the key to delivering and managing the future evolution of such shared services and to ensuring access as widely and as sustainably as possible.   


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