Green MEPs urge Commission to ensure digital transition ‘does not hamper’ green one

Cormand and his colleagues in the Greens/European Free Alliance group are calling on the European Commission to "take measures to limit the environmental impact of the ICT sector". EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT [EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT]

EU lawmakers from the Greens/European Free Alliance group have called on the European Commission in an open letter to “ensure that the digital transition promotes and does not hamper the green transition”, just before the Commission was due to present part of its green taxonomy proposal on Wednesday (21 April). EURACTIV France reports.

According to Green MEP David Cormand, who was contacted by EURACTIV France, the Commission’s assumption that “digital innovation naturally goes hand in hand with the ecological transition,” is wrong and “even the opposite could be the case.”

In the open letter sent to several EU Commissioners, Cormand and his colleagues in the Greens/European Free Alliance group are calling on the Commission to “take measures to limit the environmental impact of the ICT sector”.

While the European Commission estimated last year that the digital sector consumed about 5% to 9% of the world’s electricity and 2% of all energy consumption, Cormand is urging the EU executive to address this “blind spot” and take its fight against such “extremely harmful negative externalities” up a notch.

The Commission is due to present its proposals for a green taxonomy on Wednesday, whereby it should set out the criteria for what can be considered sustainable.

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Non-financial reporting, Data Act and data centres

The open letter draws particular attention to the issues of non-financial reporting, the so-called Data Act expected in 2021, and data centres.

The Green MEPs have called on the EU to revise the directive on non-financial reporting, which requires companies with more than 500 employees to report on “the performance, situation and impact of their activities, relating at least to environmental issues”.

In the letter, the MEPs criticised the directive for not providing a sufficient framework on what elements should feature in the reporting. “Currently, environmental reporting is often vague and fragmented, with different companies using different methodologies,” the letter said.

According to Cormand, objective and standardised assessment criteria are needed, because it is the “Wild West” these days as “each company does a little bit as it pleases.”

A harmonised evaluation grid would make it possible to identify virtuous practices and mean there would be consequences for companies that do not respect certain criteria, he added. “We need to start by assessing the impact of digital technology on the environment,” he said.

MEPs also want the so-called future Data Act – which aims to foster business-to-government data sharing for the public interest, support business-to-business data sharing, and evaluate the IPR framework – to allow all stakeholders in the green transition to have access to “all private and public data sets essential to the Green Deal, accessible, standardised and interoperable” in order to support “sustainable innovation”.

The MEPs also highlighted the considerable environmental impact of digital infrastructures, such as data centres.

“The operation and cooling of data centres require a significant portion of our energy resources, while the heat produced by data centres can be reused for other circular purposes, such as heating homes,” the letter’s signatories noted, insisting that such a “promise of circularity is currently not often fulfilled”.

The group would like to see clear mandatory standards when it comes to data centres and demand that the first draft of the taxonomy presented today must “at least meet the standards of technical expert groups”.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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