Technology is vital to Europe's efforts for tackling climate change but it also poses problems, Commissioner for Information Society Viviane Reding said in a video blog posted Monday.
She called on the information and communication technology (ICT) sector to "lead the way" for others by reducing its carbon footprint by 20 percent as early as 2015.
The European Commission, meanwhile, launched an online public consultation in all European Union member states to gather ideas and suggestions for a new policy instrument the Commission could adopt in the autumn to stimulate the use of ICT for enhancing energy efficiency.
"I see from the response of European ICT companies to the Commission's ongoing work that Europe is already well ahead in using ICT to green the economy," she said.
Companies and households are increasingly turning to ICT for ways of cutting their emissions. Video and teleconferencing are frequently used as an alternative to traveling to meetings. RFID (radio frequency identification) technology is increasingly used to improve the efficiency in product distribution channels.
On the home front, people are starting to use smart metering to optimize energy use.
These efforts put greater energy demands on computer systems, Reding said, but she added she is confident the industry can respond to this. "Some ICT companies are already voluntarily working to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 to 80 percent," she said.
However, more needs to be done, Reding said, warning that the measures in place so far to meet the E.U.'s objective of cutting overall energy use by 20 percent by 2020 will only improve energy efficiency by 13 percent.
In her video message, Reding asked the ICT industry to intensify efforts for tackling climate change.
"We clearly need a 'New Green Deal for Europe', in particular in view of the present economic downturn," she said. "Putting the emphasis on energy-saving technology could give a very welcome boost to Europe's economy. After all, Europe's economy is leading in ICT, and is leading in green technologies."
Reding cited buildings and transport as sectors where ICT-enabled energy efficiency could have the greatest impact. Recent studies suggest that better use of ICT could reduce energy consumption of buildings in the E.U. by up to 17 percent and to reduce carbon emissions in transport logistics by up to 27 percent.
Two years ago the E.U. adopted an energy and climate change package targeting a 20 percent increase in the use of renewable energy and a 20 reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2020.