ICT and climate change: Problem or solution?

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Information and communication technologies can help curb global warming, but the sector is also coming under growing pressure from the EU to lead by example by cutting its own emissions, which are now comparable to that of the aviation sector.

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Overview

Information and communication technology (ICT) firms employ 6.6 million people across the European Union and contribute to more than 40% of overall productivity growth. ICTs are already present in almost every sector of the European economy, but the European Commission is encouraging their wider roll-out to help the economy become more environmentally-friendly.

According to consulting firm McKinsey, boosting the use of intelligent devices and applications could reduce global CO2 emissions by as much as 15% by 2020.

However, increased uptake of such applications also has its drawbacks. ICT usage is responsible for about 7.8% of the EU's electricity consumption, and will hit 10.5% by 2020, according to estimates. Global CO2 emissions for the sector as a whole are set to double by 2020, as a result of increased take-up of ICT and computers in developing countries.

"The rapidly growing carbon footprint associated with information and communications technologies, including laptops and PCs, data centres and computing networks, mobile phones, and telecommunications networks, could make them among the biggest greenhouse gas emitters by 2020," according to McKinsey.

The Commission has therefore asked ICT companies to reduce their own energy consumption, which currently amounts to 2% of global emissions, according to consulting firm Gartner. In return, Brussels is promoting the use of ICT by energy-hungry industries to help them reduce their consumption.

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