Linux shares COP27 insights – can software save us all?

1 February 2023

Climate collaboration is beginning to involve software solutions. In November 2022, the Linux Foundation’s not-for-profit Hyperledger Foundation and nonprofit Green Software Foundation attended COP27, having been granted observer status. The invitation wasn’t altogether unexpected — Linux is considered a more sustainable operating software than both Apple and Microsoft OS.

In a blog post from January 25, the Linux foundation’s Sustainability Project Leaders shared their takeaways from the conference. They wrote that it’s “clear to many” that the pace of change needed to take on the climate crisis requires open source approaches to problem-solving and information sharing.

Truman Semans, Executive Director of OS-Climate, shared that OS-C staff spent “a few hundred hours” and USD 90,000 preparing to attend. The aim of OS-Climate it to create an open source collaborative community. That community will then  build a data and software platform to boost global capital flows into climate change “mitigation, resilience, and adaptation that is financially sustainable and high-impact — especially in developing countries.”

Collaboration is key in tackling the climate emergency, said Chris Adams, Policy Working Group Chair at the Green Software Foundation. Despite the carbon footprint of the tech industry, which is comparable to that of the shipping industry, Adams believes technological solutions are the answer. 

Of course, operating systems themselves don’t have a direct environmental impact, but the way they are designed, developed and deployed does. For example, rapid software updates often make older models of the hardware they run on obsolete, meaning more trashed technology and a never-ending demand for more production, with a heavy carbon burden. In this way, software impacts energy consumption; cutting that down is part of what the Green Software Foundation wants to do.

Collaborating across industries to solve the climate emergency.

The technological solutions that the foundation is beginning to implement are also mentioned in the Linux post. Green Software announced “a free, certified Green Software for Practitioners course, as well as the SCI specification, a standardized protocol to measure the carbon emissions of software to achieve wide industry and academic adoption, a pattern library for engineers to adopt in their own software designs, along with a month-long global hackathon, Carbonhack, demonstrating these techniques and the impact they can have in reducing emissions from information technologies.”

According to the Green Software Foundation website, the focus is on carbon reduction, rather than neutralization. Instead of trying to offset emissions to reach net zero, alternative energy and no carbon emitted at all is the goal. The site states that three actions reduce the carbon emissions of software: using fewer physical resources, using less energy, and using energy more intelligently. 

Using energy more intelligently means “either consuming lower-carbon sources of energy or consuming electricity in a way that helps accelerate the energy transition towards a low carbon future.” We want to believe that this is just the realist’s approach, but viewed cynically, this seems a little like carbon neutrality repackaged. 

Again, an approach to solving the climate emergency must be collaborative. Perhaps this is why the oil and gas company Shell is a member of the Green Software Foundation. By funneling some of its (enormous) profit into membership, Shell offsets its own carbon footprint — or at least it appears to.

Hyperledger, a not-for-profit umbrella project for open source blockchain, is a prescient example of open source information sharing. Its case studies show how widely accessible technological problem solving can be effective. 

Bringing the technology sector into conversations about the climate crisis is definitely a step in the right direction — toward climate collaboration. Granting observer status to affiliates of the Linux Foundation at COP27 shows that the impact that tech has on the environment can be a positive one.