Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations

In light of the concerted efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) per the so-called Paris Agreement, the Information and Communication Industry (ICT) has received little attention as a significant contributor to GHGE and if anything is often highly praised for enabling efficiencies that help reduce other industry sectors footprint. In this paper, we aim at assessing the global carbon footprint of the overall ICT industry, including the contribution from the main consumer devices, the data centers and communication networks, and compare it with the to the total worldwide GHGE. We conduct a detailed and rigorous analysis of the ICT global carbon footprint, including both the production and the operational energy of ICT devices, as well as the operational energy for the supporting ICT infrastructure. We then compare this contribution to the global 2016-level GHGE. We have found that, if unchecked, ICT GHGE relative contribution could grow from roughly 1–1.6% in 2007 to exceed 14% of the 2016-level worldwide GHGE by 2040, accounting for more than half of the current relative contribution of the whole transportation sector. Our study also highlights the contribution of smart phones and shows that by 2020, the footprint of smart phones alone would surpass the individual contribution of desktops, laptops and displays. Finally, we offer some actionable recommendations on how to mitigate and curb the ICT explosive GHGE footprint, through a combination of renewable energy use, tax policies, managerial actions and alternative business models.


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