• Home
  • News
  • Cutting industry emissions and fighting the climate crisis
Cutting industry emissions and fighting the climate crisis featured image

Cutting industry emissions and fighting the climate crisis

ITU News

Digital solutions may be renowned for enabling energy efficiency and reducing emissions in other sectors. But information and communication technology (ICT) companies must also put their own house in order.

“We can only earn laurels for helping other sectors get to zero emissions if we achieve net-zero ourselves,” says ITU Deputy Secretary-General Tomas Lamanauskas.

Alongside promoting tech-based climate solutions, the wide-ranging industry needs to tackle its own emissions and energy consumption.

Holding the line on global warming at 1.5°C during the present century means reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net-zero by around 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This can only happen if companies worldwide, in all industries, commit to science-based targets and follow stringent decarbonization plans.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has teamed up with more than 40 companies and organizations aiming to mobilize the whole global digital industry. The Green Digital Action track at the UN climate change conference, COP28, boosts efforts to cut the emissions of the digital industry in line with international standards linked to science-based targets.

To align with the Paris Agreement, the global ICT industry will have to reduce its GHG emissions by 45 per cent from 2020 to 2030.

ITU standard  ITU-T L.1470, developed in collaboration with the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), mobile telecom industry association GSMA, and Science Based Targets (SBTi), sets out the necessary trajectories for the whole ICT sector for the next few years.

Energy-efficient data centres powered exclusively by renewables like solar and wind energy, would go a long way in reducing the sector’s own carbon footprint. ITU and the World Bank offer a practitioners guide for green data centres.

Digital companies accounted for 60 per cent of corporate renewable power purchases in 2021, according to the Greening Digital Companies 2023 study by ITU and the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA). Still, emissions and energy consumption across the industry continue to grow.

Mobile providers taking steps

GSMA is urging mobile operators, particularly, to strive for and uphold global climate goals.

“The mobile industry has a unique opportunity to drive positive change across multiple sectors in collaboration with our suppliers, investors and customers,” says GSMA Director General Mats Granryd. “We are proud that the mobile industry continues to align around the 1.5oC decarbonization pathway, demonstrating how the private sector can show leadership and responsibility in addressing one of the gravest challenges facing our planet.”

José María Álvarez-Pallete López, CEO of Spanish network operator Telefónica, says his company has “very ambitious targets to achieve net-zero emissions and help our customers in their transition to greener energy solutions.”

British mobile and fixed-broadband operator BT Group also cites important steps in the right direction.

“BT Group has led on climate action for more than 30 years,” says Gabrielle Ginér, the group’s head of environmental sustainability. “We’re already purchasing 100 per cent renewable electricity worldwide and have outlined plans to become a net-zero-emissions business by 2031 for our own operations, and by 2041 for our supply-chain and customer emissions.”

The next generation of full-fibre and 5G mobile networks that the company is now building across the UK will help support the transition to a low-carbon economy, she added. “We know that technology will play a vital role in reducing global emissions.”

Yet all this is only the beginning of what companies need to do worldwide.

“The digital and green transitions are gathering speed,” says Pekka Lundmark, President and CEO of Nokia. “But there is still more to do if we want to reach net zero, secure circular supply chains, and combat climate change. In particular, we need to make sure we pursue collaboration – working together to invest in digital infrastructure and digitalized economies.”

Clearing up climate accounting

All this is easier said than done. With more countries and companies setting net-zero targets, transparent global tracking and accountability has become paramount.

“To make smart choices in reducing emissions and managing energy demands for the ICT sector, we need accurate data,” says Guangzhe Chen, Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank. “This information is vital for countries to manage finite resources wisely and to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint.”

While current reporting on energy use and emissions across the sector is inadequate, there have been steps in the right direction.

Vincent Garnier, Director General of FTTH Council Europe, noted: “We are developing a programme to help our members better measure their carbon emissions, share best practices and accelerate their transition.”

How to quantify emissions and reduction

Tracking ICT decarbonization hinges on emission factors. These indicators – describing rates of emission from any given product, service, or activity – are key in calculating carbon footprints.

Green Digital Action partners have pledged to contribute to a publicly open database, hosted and maintained by ITU,with an accompanying dashboard to assess industry-wide progress towards net-zero goals globally, regionally, and by sub-sectors. These promise to become a powerful tool to make informed decisions, promote sustainable practices, and drive progress towards a net-zero future.

As COP28 approaches, Green Digital Action calls on all ICT companies globally to join in a commitment to:

  • Set science-based, 1.5°C -aligned emissions-reduction targets, reduce Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, and publish transition plans outlining decarbonization trajectories to meet net-zero targets. 
  • Report data on all GHG emission scopes and categories yearly in a publicly open database.
  • Help create an ICT-sector database on emission factors, join an implementation working group, and take part in ITU-led environment, climate, and circular economy standardization work (ITU-T Study Group 5).

Green Digital Action sessions at COP28 will launch these and other commitments to reduce the sector’s footprint, leverage digital technologies to ensure life-saving disaster alerts, and facilitate climate solutions across all industries. The aim is to build critical mass action for effective climate action across the ICT sector.

Do you support these commitments?

Learn more about Green Digital Action at COP28.

Header image credit: Adobe Stock

Related content