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November 11, 2021updated 19 Nov 2021 6:28am

The UK lacks the data and digital skills to achieve net zero, say IT pros

BCS survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals reveals low confidence in government and industry to harness technology effectively against climate change.

By Afiq Fitri

IT professionals doubt that the UK has the data and digital skills necessary to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a survey by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT has revealed. The survey reflects concerns by the UK’s professional body for the IT industry about the government not having access to “better, richer” emissions data to monitor emerging environmental hotspots in real time.

net zero digital

Seven out of teb IT professionals are not confident the UK government has the data it needs to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. (Photo by Daniel Balakov/iStock)

Out of the 1124 respondents surveyed, only 12% are confident policymakers have the data required to understand and achieve net zero. And just 16% believe that the private sector is using IT and digital technology effectively to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The ability to monitor and control emissions in real time has long been recognised as a key plank in tackling climate change. “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,” says Alex Bardell, chair of BCS Green IT Specialist Group. “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.”

Creating this data is one ambition of the UK's National Digital Twin programme (NDTp), which launched in 2017. One of its initiatives is the Climate Resilience Demonstrator (CReDo), developed in partnership with Anglian Water, BT and UK Power Network, which will “provide a practical example of how connected-data and greater access to the right information can improve climate adaptation and resilience".

A short film about the project, illustrating the need for institutions to share data to achieve a national digital twin, was launched at the COP26 summit earlier this month.

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Survey respondents are also doubtful that the UK has the digital skills necessary to achieve its net zero aims, with only 15% confident it does.

Last year, a report from BCS found the UK's energy sector has an ageing workforce – 120,000 engineers will retire in the next five years – and has to date required specialist training from its employees. "As we move into the future and specifically towards greater digitalisation, there are huge opportunities to look at the transferability of skills from other industries such as IT," BCS said.

Earlier this week, Harvey Nash's Digital Leadership Report revealed that the global power and utilities sector ranks last out of all industries for its ability to retain top-quality digital talent.

Bardell said the BCS survey findings reveal a need for renewed investment in data and digital skills. “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."

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