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Mobile industry generates 220m tonnes of carbon emission yearly

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Automatic robot arm with optical sensor working in mobile phone factory. PHOTO: GOOGLE

•GSMA tasks operators on 2050 net zero emission target
Despite the challenges with measurement, the Global System for Mobile telecommunications Association (GSMA) has informed that recent calculations of the mobile industry’s carbon emissions estimate them to be around 220 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) per year, or approximately 0.4 per cent of total global carbon emissions.

This, GSMA said forms part of the carbon emissions of the global ICT sector, which is estimated at 700 Mt of CO2 per year, or approximately 1.4 per cent of global emissions and around four per cent of global electricity use.

The body noted that while total electricity consumption has increased by approximately five per cent since 2015, the carbon emissions of the ICT sector have dropped from around 730 Mt of CO2 due to higher levels of renewable electricity use both globally and from specific investments by ICT companies, including mobile operators.

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GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting more than 750 operators
with almost 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors.

In its “Mobile Net Zero: State of the Industry on Climate Action 2021”, made available to The Guardian , the body said while the mobile industry ambition is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, it is important to know what are the emissions of the industry now, in 2021.

It listed three areas of discussion on constituents of emissions, which are, first, how to define what constitutes mobile operator emissions; secondly, how to measure emissions from mobile operators and third, how to measure emissions from mobile operators’ supply chain and from customers.

On the first, GSMA said many operators have fixed line, data centre, media and other ICT operations. According to it, some are part of multi-sector conglomerate corporations, stressing that it can be difficult to separate which emissions are specifically related to mobile operations.

The global telecoms body observed that while disclosure of emissions has been rising steadily over the last decade, there are still operators with around 30 per cent of connections, which do not publicly disclose their climate impact.

Chief Regulatory Officer, GSMA, John Giusti, said in addressing the climate crisis, the body recognised that the mobile industry has a unique role to play.

Giusti said like all sectors, the telecoms sector must rapidly reduce its emissions and “we are taking significant steps to do so. Beyond the mobile industry’s own footprint, we provide solutions to help other sectors reduce their emissions through digitisation.”

The GSMA CRO reminded that in February 2019 the GSMA Board set an ambition on behalf of the industry to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. He said Mobile Net Zero report is the first yearly assessment of how “we are doing against this ambitious target. We have come a long way since the Paris Agreement, with 80 per cent of the industry now disclosing to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), but we acknowledge there is still more to do.”

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The report revealed that the roll-out of a new 5G network will create upwards pressure on operators’ energy usage to power the new equipment. It noted that data will be transferred using up to 90 per
cent less energy though, and with the use of artificial intelligence to power down networks during quiet periods and the retirement of legacy equipment, it is possible to avoid significant increases in energy consumption.

GSMA said mobile operators are in a unique position with regards to climate risks and opportunities. According to it, on the one hand, as infrastructure businesses, they are at risk of extreme weather events and changing climate patterns. It said these can lead to network service disruption.

“But mobile networks are also vital for communications in the aftermath of natural disasters, to support
humanitarian response. On the other hand, connected digital technologies will enable economies to move towards decarbonisation. The deployment of connected technologies generally leads to greater efficiency and a better use of resources, both of which are vital for the low-carbon transition,” it noted.

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