By Mark Kinver
Science and nature reporter, BBC News
The global IT sector needs a strong post-2012 Kyoto climate deal if it is going to deliver big carbon savings, a senior businessman has suggested.
IT systems form the backbone of most business operations
IBM's climate change programme chairman Graham Whitney said globally binding targets were needed to ensure companies made "investments in significant ways".
IT equipment accounted for about 2% of the world's carbon emissions, he told delegates at a conference in London.
But he added that the sector would play a key role in tackling climate change.
"I think we have an S-curve problem," he told BBC News during a conference billed as Europe's first green IT summit.
"What I mean by that is that we are at the first flushes of getting low-hanging fruit," Mr Whitney explained.
"If the cost of energy is going up, then you need to reduce consumption to reduce the total cost to the company - it's a done deal where climate change is only a secondary factor.
"But we have not yet come to the next stage, which is spend-to-save; this is where people will have to put their hands in their pockets to make investments in significant ways.
"A lot of the changes that you have seen so far regarding energy consumption in data centres has nothing to do with being green."
Ian Campbell, chairman of the Corporate IT Forum, made up of more than 100,000 IT professionals, presented the findings of a survey that looked at the environmental measures adopted by the forum's membership.
E-waste has been subject to EU regulations for several years
He revealed that although 81% of respondents said green issues were a higher priority within their organisations, 38% admitted that they were not actively introducing an environmental strategy.
The issue was ranked as the eighth most important issue in boardrooms, Mr Campbell said, and it trailed behind things such as information security.
"But it was not even in the top 20 a few years ago," he added.
"About 58% of people said it was difficult to make a business case for green IT; they found it difficult to overcome the 'so what?' factor."
But he added that a growing number of organisations were implementing more efficient practices, such as recycling heat from data centres and installing improved cooling systems.
However, he said the survey revealed that "large-scale changes were not being implemented" because companies wanted signals on the direction of future policies.
"The government needs to be clear on where it is going," he told delegates.
Mr Whitney agreed that regulation could act as a catalyst for change.
"I don't think it needs to be painful, it just needs to indicate clearly that if people do not change then the measures will come in more forcibly," he suggested.
He said that the successor to the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol needed to be the "central piece of legislation to make sure that the whole world is united around a set of clear targets".
"The EU and UK are doing some great stuff on legislation but they can only go so far until other nations come onboard because of national competitiveness."
As well as looking at its own emissions, Mr Whitney said that the IT sector also had a key role to play in helping organisations measure and reduce their emissions.
He said reliable data would become increasingly important because carbon was viewed as currency within emission trading schemes.
"It underpins what happens elsewhere. The measurement of carbon is a new flow of data and information that is coming through.
"How we manage that data and get scorecards from it is going to open up hugely in the future.
He told delegates; "If you are not getting it right then every time you are asked to provide more support elsewhere, you are going to be adding to the overall emissions."