The UK government is launching a Green Shift taskforce to move people away from PCs and towards dumb terminals with a broadband link to a network of green data centres.

Under the proposals, small business and home users will access office applications and email and browse the internet via a green PC service based on these data centres. The home devices will use 98% less energy than standard PCs and be built with 75% fewer resources. A pilot service is expected in early 2007 with full rollout in late 2009.

It is an initiative by Ruth Kelly's Communities and Local Government department and involves now-popular public/private partnership financing. Phil Woolas, the Local Government Minister said: "Cyber-warming is a massive issue and that is why we have taken decisive action with the appointment of the taskforce. The new taskforce is the first of its kind in the world and is a sign of how serious the UK is about tackling this issue. Innovative proposals like the green PC service are essential if we are to tackle climate change. Only if all of our communities are engaged in action to tackle climate change will we be successful."

It has been calculated that PCs in the UK might contribute around 6% of UK CO2 emissions, hardly a 'massive issue' when set against power station emissions.

But the government announcement says IT equipment is thought to generate 35m tons of harmful CO2 gas each year, supposedly equivalent to airline industry emissions in the UK. It does not say what proportion of that is generated by home PC users at whom this green PC service is aimed. Nor does it say how this Green Shift task force's goal of reducing IT carbon emissions is related to plans to expand Stanstead and Heathrow airports and thereby increase airline industry emissions.

The green data centres will be built and operated according to low carbon-emission principles, using energy from non-fossil fuel sources for example.

Manchester City Council is leading the task force. Its leader, Councillor Richard Leese said: "The green PC service is part of a package of proposals that has the potential to make a fundamental contribution in meeting the challenge of climate change. Critical to our approach is that sustainability and inclusion go hand in hand. It's no use developing solutions that most people cannot afford."

Neither Phil Woolas' Local Government ministry, nor its parent, Ruth Kelly's Communities and Local Government department, nor Manchester City Council were able to cast any more light on the Green Shift taskforce. Its public and private members are unknown. The number and size of the green data centres are unknown. The type of broadband link to consumers is unknown, as are the hardware details or how consumers of the service will store their information in the green data centres.

There is no information available on green PC service device or service pricing. The actual persuading of existing PC users to ditch their PCs for dumb terminals is not addressed.

The Green Shift taskforce seems to be content-free.

However, according to a Green Shift programme document produced by the Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA), this is part of a European Union (EU) 7th Research Framework Programme (RFP).

The document states: "Engagement of users will be through a new Utility Computing service suitable for the household and SME market that provides a practical substitute for the typical household PC. The major environmental and financial savings over the conventional PC will create an incentive for take-up, generating the user base for the new network environment."

The partner consortium in the MDDA document is described as 'a pan-European mix of urban regions, academic institutions, research institutes, SMEs and multinational enterprises'; not a U.K.-specific program, as the government announcement implies, at all.

Bonny Campbell, deputy head of the MDDA, said that Manchester and other cities were interested in the idea of reducing IT carbon emissions and had thought about a program to do so under the EU's 7th RFP: "I wasn't aware it had turned into a taskforce we are leading." She added: "We decided we weren't going to pursue European funding until later in the year in the light of central government changes (the accession of George Brown and an expected re-shuffle). If Phil Woolas isn't the minister involved later on then we would have to start all over again."

The government and Phil Woolas have rushed out a press release to highlight their green credentials without laying the groundwork to justify them.