The climate impact of ICT: A review of estimates, trends and regulations [article]

Charlotte Freitag, Mike Berners-Lee, Kelly Widdicks, Bran Knowles, Gordon Blair, Adrian Friday
2021 arXiv   pre-print
In this report, we examine the available evidence regarding ICT's current and projected climate impacts. We examine peer-reviewed studies which estimate ICT's current share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be 1.8-2.8% of global GHG emissions. Our findings indicate that published estimates all underestimate the carbon footprint of ICT, possibly by as much as 25%, by failing to account for all of ICT's supply chains and full lifecycle (i.e. emissions scopes 1, 2 and fully inclusive 3).
more » ... Adjusting for truncation of supply chain pathways, we estimate that ICT's share of emissions could actually be as high as 2.1-3.9%. There are pronounced differences between available projections of ICT's future emissions. These projections are dependent on underlying assumptions that are sometimes, but not always, made explicit - and we explore these in the report. Whatever assumptions analysts take, they agree that ICT will not reduce its emissions without a major concerted effort involving broad political and industrial action. We provide three reasons to believe ICT emissions are going to increase barring a targeted intervention, and we note that in light of these, it seems risky to assume that ICT will, by default, assist in the attainment of climate targets. Based on our analysis, we find that not all carbon pledges in the ICT sector are ambitious enough to meet climate targets. We explore the underdevelopment of mechanisms for enforcing sector-wide compliance, and contend that without a global carbon constraint, a new regulatory framework is required to keep the ICT sector's carbon footprint in alignment with the Paris Agreement. We further contend that a global carbon constraint should be viewed as a significant opportunity for the ICT sector, as efficiencies within and enabled by ICT would be even greater enablers of productivity and utility than they are today.
arXiv:2102.02622v1 fatcat:faxoh7mo4jcrjbhz6jjgnzkv7e