Net-zero targets from mobile operators growing, but emissions are on the up

Data traffic was up 31% last year, leading to a 5% increase in electricity usage and a 2% increase in carbon emissions

The GSMA, which consists of mobile operators and manufacturers, has this week published research based on its membership and how those firms – which includes the likes of BT and Telefónica – are approaching efforts to decarbonise.

The 2022 Mobile Net Zero Report reveals that 49 operators representing 62% of the industry by revenue have now committed to rapidly cutting emissions over the next decade. This, the report reveals is an increase of 18 operators since 2020.

The report finds that 50% of mobile network operators by revenue have now committed to net-zero targets by 2050 or earlier.

However, the research states that these emissions targets are being introduced during a period of “double-digit growth” in data traffic, as the global expansion of 5G networks takes shape.

Data traffic was up 31% last year, leading to a 5% increase in electricity usage and a 2% increase in carbon emissions.

Businesses within the sector are exploring how technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning can optimise power use in equipment, centralise network resources and avoid unnecessary heating or air-conditioning.

There is also an ongoing effort to procure more renewable energy to power these energy-hungry facilities. The report found that 18% of total electricity consumption from members came from renewables in 2021, a 4% increase compared to 2020.

GSMA’s director general Mats Granryd said, “We are proud that the mobile industry continues to align around the 1.5C decarbonization pathway, even in the face of double-digit growth in demand for mobile services. We have far more to do to achieve our net zero ambitions, but mobile will undeniably play an essential role in helping industries and individuals across the globe reduce their carbon impact.

“The connected solutions we underpin, such as remote working, IoT and automation, are key enablers in reducing travel, cutting emissions in other industries and transitioning to a lower carbon future. We also take our responsibilities seriously, with greater disclosure and strict targets to reduce our own emissions, as we show in our annual Mobile Net Zero report.”

Disclosure drive

The GSMA report also shows that climate disclosure is on the up in the industry. In total, 66% by connections and 82% by revenue globally disclose their climate impacts.

Back in 2019, the GSMA got its business members to commit to disclose their energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints and wider climate impacts through CDP.

The GSMA said in a statement that it had urged the companies to begin disclosure as a first step towards co-developing a sector-wide roadmap for reaching net-zero carbon by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious 1.5C trajectory. A year later, the GSMA unveiled the roadmap, in partnership with GeSI and the ITU.

A joint report produced by the GSMA and the Carbon Trust found that mobile technology use enabled a global reduction in emissions of more than 2,100 million tonnes in 2018 – savings that were almost 10 times greater than the global carbon footprint of the mobile industry alone.

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