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Global Goal 13 and the ICT industry’s role in reducing carbon emissions – part 2 (2/3)

There are two natural questions when it comes to ICT and how it can reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The first is: “What is the carbon footprint of the ICT sector?” and the second is “How can ICT be designed and used to lower GHG emissions, not only in the ICT sector itself but also in all other sectors?”

Global Goal 13 and the ICT industry’s role in reducing carbon emissions – part 2 (2/3)
Jens Malmodin

Senior specialist Env Impacts and LCA

It's really the last part of the second question that interests me and many other people working in the ICT sector – how can ICT be used to help society reduce its GHG emissions? We must, of course, continue to try to lower the GHG emissions from ICT itself but the main focus should be on all opportunities to reduce GHG emissions ICT bring to the table. We call this the enablement effect of ICT.

The term ICT was coined around 2000, and it reflects that IT and telecom have merged into one sector. The next natural step is for ICT to be built into more and more products and services. At Ericsson we call this the Networked Society.

The ICT sector has been growing faster than other sectors and so has its carbon footprint. But that footprint is still rather small compared to the value ICT brings to the world. As I stated in my last post, I have now worked with these issues for about 20 years. And the ICT sector has in these 20 years nearly tripled its carbon footprint, from less than 1 percent to about 1.6 percent of the global footprint. However, the carbon footprint per subscription (subs) is today only about 1/3 of what it used to be 20 years ago, even as the number of subs has grown about 10 times and typical use has changed from ordinary voice calls to using all sorts of applications and services on smartphones, tablet or laptop PCs.

This small footprint per user is mainly thanks to improvements in mobile technology that make it possible for most people on the planet to own a mobile phone and have access to all applications and services ICT can offer. The mobile subsector makes up only one quarter of the total ICT footprint even though it connects the majority of users.

It has been shown that a top smartphone model has only a carbon footprint of about 50 kg (CO2-equivalents), which is 25 kg per year if used for only two years (the average phone is used >3 years). A more average mobile phone – used for a longer time – can have a carbon footprint of around 10 kg per year.

The network side has a footprint of a similar size for each phone, and together the total is in the range of 20-60 kg for a mobile subscription, depending on how advanced the mobile device and its usage are (network resources required). Even persons with low incomes add only one to two percent to their footprint when they become a mobile subscriber. Mobile ICT is far from a luxury product/service, and while the footprint of mobile is small, we are able to do nearly unlimited things with it!

For more information, please read Part 1 and Part 3 of this series.


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