Telecom operators committed to the global battle against climate change

The 24th United Nations conference on climate change - is being held this year in Katowice, Poland. It is an opportunity for hundreds of experts from a variety of industries to agree to implement projects, each more urgent than the next. Of course, the ICT sector plays a key role. What progress has been made by the digital industry in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
Let's take an inside look at those who work behind the scenes to deliver on the Paris Agreement commitments. An interview with Victoria Sukenik, Chairwoman of the Study Group Environment, Climate change and Circular Economy in the International Telecommunication Union*, Standardization Section.

*The ITU is the UN Agency in charge of the Information and Communication Technologies – Geneva headquarters above  (printscreen ©Google Maps)

How does the ITU-T make a commitment on the question of the climate change?

Firstly, I would like to underline that the ITU has been working on environmental problems with regards to ICT for years; it is a very important issue for us.

The Study Group which I lead performs for instance studies on the best ways to assess the effects of ICTs on climate change. Our most recent work is related to Recommendation L1450, on the methods to assess the greenhouse gas emissions of the sector. The wor has started to establish potential trajectories to be reached by the ICT sector in 2030 and 2050, in order to comply with the Paris Agreement. We also propose recommendations to help companies to reduce their GHGs.  

How do telecom operators position themselves in terms of reduction of their GHGs?

With changes to technologies and the significant increase in digital use, mobile data traffic has multiplied by 18 in 5 years! But in the next 5 years this traffic will be multiplied again by 7, boosted by the growth in devices and video use. We need to understand that in a context of continued growth in digital demand, operators are facing a major, unforgiving challenge in the form of a contradiction: continuing to offer better connectivity and faster speeds whilst reducing their carbon footprint. Companies are aware of their responsibility to the planet, and several have already stabilised or even reduced their greenhouse gas emissions, as shown by the results obtained by Orange (1). To appreciate this effort, if the telecom operators hadn’t implemented extremely proactive energy policies, CO2 figures would have exploded! However we need to continue this effort and make even greater progress...

What are your recommendations?

To optimise the energy efficiency,  to renewable energies, to develop recycling and the circular economy. Among actions to be favored: I would quote in particular the use of renewable energies to feed networks and data centres (2). But also, the development of new methods to extract raw materials and the eco-conception of electronic equipments. And of course the development of reuse manufacturing and recycling of equipment.



Is not the digital technology in itself a solution to fight global warming?

Of course! It carries by nature useful solutions for the ecological transition. We work on the development of smart cities, in particular fostering the role that ICTs can play in the collection of data and analysis for the implementation of innovative services in transport, energy, various industrial and commercial sectors, farming, etc. We have established, together with other UN Agencies, an open Platform U4SSC (United 4 Smart Sustainable Cities)  to all the experts to exchange and adopt common recommendations and standards to help develop an environment-friendly world system of communications for the future generations. It is an extensive and time-consuming task which requires everyone’s involvement. We are determined. And in any case, we don't really have an alternative...


(1)Between 2006 and late 2017, Orange halved its CO2 emissions per customer use

(2)Orange is firmly committed to renewable energies, notably for the Africa-Middle East zone through the ESCO (Energy Services COmpany) programme, with a goal to reach 100% renewable energies by 2030. Solar farms are being studied, with the 1st electrical self-sufficiency goal achieved in Jordan. In Europe, the Group deploys PPA (Power Purchase Agreements) to be supplied with renewable energies.