Telecommunications are a tool for development, but it must be sustainable: they can and must contribute to preserving the environment and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in particular CO2, thus reducing air pollution and protecting the layer. ozone. A second benefit is energy savings that can be fostered by the adoption of clean technologies, including digital ones.
During the recent 2021 Climate Change Conference in the United Kingdom (COP26), countries are asked to present ambitious emission reduction targets by 2030, achieve a net zero for most countries by 2050, accelerate the elimination of the carbon, protect and restore ecosystems, and mobilize finance to achieve these goals. Some 450 financial organizations, which control $ 130 trillion, agreed to support clean technologies, such as renewable energy, and financing for those moving away from fossil fuel industries like coal.
The telecommunications industry contributed 2.6% of the world’s total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020. In financial terms, energy occupies between 20 and 40% of the total costs of a telco provider. Although it varies in each case, 73% of the operators’ energy is consumed in base stations and 9% in data centers.
Linked to the electrical reform being debated in Mexico, in general for a telecommunications operator 46% of total energy consumption was supplied by renewable energies, 43% by the traditional electricity grid (as is the case of the Federal Electricity Commission) and 11% for diesel, especially in developing countries (GSMA).
As the electricity reform of President AMLO is proposed, only for the telecommunications industry would the consumption of renewable energy be reduced and dependence on the CFE’s electricity (generated mainly by fossil fuels) and the consumption of diesel would grow.
Telecommunications are paradoxical because new generations of wireless have achieved greater energy efficiency of kilowatt-hours per gigabyte (kWh / GB). However, while the new 5G technology also offers a significant per-gigabyte energy efficiency improvement over previous technologies, it will require more towers, antennas, and data traffic-consumption will also be exponential. This leads to the network being more efficient in terms of energy, but it will also require more energy consumption due to the density of the network.
Furthermore, during the pandemic we found that the need to travel and commute can, if not be eliminated, at least substantially reduced through online banking, e-government, teleworking, telemedicine and distance education. This requires an optimal level of development of the telecommunications infrastructure that allows the use of these and other applications.
A mobility platform such as DiDi’s Smart Transportation, which allows analyzing and improving road congestion in cities, has a positive impact of 247 kg of CO2 saved per day, which is equivalent to 90 tons of CO2 that are no longer emitted into the atmosphere , thanks to the data collected by the platform that allows a more efficient management of mobility in cities.
Collaborative mobility platforms also reduce the unnecessary movement of vehicles in cities, due to the supply and demand of travel, not to mention other totally ecological mobility options such as deliveries by bicycle or electric transport.
Thanks to satellites, remote sensing has long been used to study the Earth’s surface and atmosphere using the properties of electromagnetic waves. Space remote sensing consists of using data collected by Earth observation satellites to extract physical, biological and human information.
The global telecommunication system serves three main functions: it connects world, regional and national meteorological centers; collects observational data and disseminates it; distributes analyzes and forecasts produced by data processing centers. All this thanks to telecommunications to detect meteorological phenomena and prevent natural disasters. Without them, the environmental impacts and effects would be even more devastating for the population.
Another sector that can benefit from digital technology is agriculture. Better access to the information needed to develop methods of growing, marketing and distributing agricultural products could help stem the migratory tide to cities, keep the population settled in their original environment, encourage them to work the land and therefore , alleviate congestion in cities, often overcrowded, with its corresponding environmental pollution. The digitization of the countryside can accelerate the growth of the rural economy and improve the living conditions of the population in these communities to prevent their migration.
A study carried out by the GSMA and Nokia reveals that four industries (manufacturing, electrical, transportation and building) account for 80% of global CO2 emissions. The adoption of digital technologies could generate CO2 savings for each industry. Altogether, the savings favored by the technologies amount to 40% (equivalent to 11 gigatons of CO2) by 2030, when global commitments call for a 50% reduction in polluting emissions.
The study reveals that the shift to smart manufacturing could lead to a 1.2 gigaton reduction in CO2 emissions over the 10-year period to 2030, roughly 15% of the CO2 reductions for the manufacturing sector. This equates to 24 million cars taken off the road.
There are coincidences that the digitization of industries and their decarbonization are possible through technologies such as broadband connectivity, Artificial Intelligence, sensors for the Internet of Things, The Cloud, Big Data and robotics to drive the increase productivity, make it more efficient and sustainable with the environment. This will be possible as the tech industry is one of the first to advance to its net zero for the 2050 targets.
President of the Mexican Association for the Right to Information (Amedi)
Media and telecommunications analyst and academic at UNAM. Study the media, new technologies, telecommunications, political communication and journalism. He is the author of the book The media presidentialism. Media and power during the government of Vicente Fox.