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RIPE's answer to COP26

2021-11-24 Blog

Guidelines for greening the networks will be on the agenda for the RIPE community in 2022. While this is not a new topic for the address managing body, considerable interest was expressed at the ongoing RIPE83 meeting this week. A RIPE answer to the climate crisis and the steps that were deemed insufficient at the recent COP26 climate conference in Glasgow could be in the making.

All the nicely laid plans in the EU for a greener ICT ecosystem and a sustainable future largely depend on operators of networks, internet exchange points, content delivery networks – the very membership of RIPE, says Michael Oghia, Director of External Relations of the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance (SDIA). Indeed, he has been preaching this to the community for several years now.

Holistic view

Started in 2019 and based in Hamburg and Amsterdam, SDIA is a 65 member alliance which is trying to galvanise cross-sector cooperation on ways to lower the emissions of the growing digital infrastructure. The alliance, which includes energy providers like Vattenfall, research networks like Surf as well as hardware vendors like Dell, organises steering groups and projects to work on issues like the reuse of waste heat in data centres.

During his RIPE83 talk Oghia called on RIPE members to see sustainability holistically. Beside decarbonisation, there is a need to turn by-products into valuable resources (like waste heat) and to reconsider hardware update cycles dictated by the ever faster updating cycles of software. “You have so much power, especially when it comes to how you spend your money”, Oghia said, calling on network operators to ask for sustainability to be prioritised in procurement.

There was interest in the community to write a Best Current Operational Practice (BCOP) document on the topic, RIPE Chair Mirjam Kuehne confirmed after the meeting. The scope of the effort still has to be decided on, she said, but it could in fact focus on procurement. The RIPE Chair underlined that sustainability was not new to the RIPE community. The RIPE Community Projects Fund just awarded a grant to the Green Web Foundation’s Carbon-Aware Internet initiative which puts carbon footprint measurements to nodes along network paths, she noted.

Best Current Practices

A sustainability BCOP could be a very good continuation of the procurement document for IPv6 requirements, named RIPE-554, just for sustainability properties in ICT requirements, writes Jan Zorz, member of RIPE’s Programme Committee. RIPE-554 has found its way into the documentation of an IPv6 Profile for public procurement.

Other BCOP documents so far addressed issues from network hygiene to routing security. Some of what Oghia calls low hanging fruit fit the profile of the BCOP documents: extending the lifetime of hardware by updating, repairing or looking for reuse or looking for sustainably-sourced products and services, for example.

Zorz, who is also Co-Chair of the BCOP Task Force, called on members to get involved in the necessary discussions and drafting process.

How Ambitious?

“The initial idea was to focus on sustainable procurement”, Oghia wrote in an email after his presentation, “and we can easily keep that in the scope”. At the same time he hopes for more: “Another idea is authoring more of a best practice guide for the community on how to address some of the biggest challenges to sustainability within our work”, Oghia proposes.

That way one could address the various communities within the larger RIPE community as well. It could include guidelines for software designers and data center operators who have very different interests.

The RIPE83 meeting is still underway this week and can be followed via different streams

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This article is part of our RIPE83 reporting and was written for CENTR by Monika Ermert. Monika has been working as an IT journalist for over 20 years. She has covered the evolving internet governance landscape, EU and worldwide attempts to regulate and the risks and fun of technology. She holds an M.A. in Chinese/Media Studies from the University of Tuebingen and lives and works in Munich, Germany.