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Telecommunications and Climate Change: African and European Experiences and Requirements

Ewan Sutherland
LINK Research Associate

Paper presented to the 4th Euro-Africa Cooperation Forum on ICT Research, Cape Town, 14-15 November 2011. 


Climate change is recognized by both the African and European Unions as a significant challenge in terms of mitigation and adaptation, requiring technological advances and transfers. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are believed to contribute around 2.5% of global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), with increased demand, essential for economic growth and social cohesion driving up those emissions. Current estimates of emissions are probably incomplete and understated, lacking data from many companies. Forecasts of future emissions often contain unconvincing efficiency gains. These need to be revised using standardized life cycle analyses (LCA) combined with forecasts for a set of realistic scenarios for business leaders and policy-makers.

Growth in emissions for telecommunications are from the geographic expansion of mobile and FTTx networks, the dual operation of GSM and UMTS networks, the more intensive use of networks and handsets for mobile broadband (3G and LTE).
At locations without grid electricity, there are trade-offs between use of renewable energy, network upgrades, expansions and improvements that involve both commercial and public policy decisions.

While there will be significant mitigating savings in GHG from the application of ICTs (e.g., telepresence), these belong to the companies implementing them and not to their suppliers. Business customers need to know the emissions they are buying for their own GHG calculations. Individual consumers need to be told about emissions in order to make informed decisions (e.g., the emissions from using Facebook).  

Recommended citation
Sutherland, E. (2011). Telecommunications and climate change: African and European experiences and requirements. Paper presented to the 4th Euro-Africa Cooperation Forum on ICT Research, Cape Town, Africa, 14-15 November.