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How Digital Technologies Can Enable Other Sectors to Accelerate Climate Action

Bhushan Joshi headshotWords by Bhushan Joshi
Data & Technology
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An International Energy Outlook report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that world energy consumption will grow by 28 percent between 2015 and 2040, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will grow accordingly because fossil fuels still account for more than three-quarters of world energy consumption through 2040. Similarly, in the mobile wireless world, each successive generation (3G, 4G etc.) has brought an increase in energy consumption even as it enables more services and reaches more people.

The exponential climate action roadmap published in late September tells us that global GHG emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest and reduce by 50 percent before 2030. Yet the world is not on track to meet these goals. The good news? The information and communication technologies (ICT) sector is doing its part. The sector is already on its way to reducing carbon emissions.

Digital technology companies only accounts for a small percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the roadmap, the ICT industry’s own footprint has stayed flat for several years at 1.4 percent of overall global emissions in spite of exponential data growth during that same time.

Now, it’s time to focus on the impact the ICT sector can have on other industries. The footprint of digital industries is comparatively small, but the handprint could be huge. Of the 36 solutions identified in the roadmap required to slash greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030, one-third can be enabled by ICT technology, meaning the impact ICT can have on other industries can be far reaching.

As the leading creator of carbon emissions, the energy industry, which currently accounts for two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, would be greatly impacted by ICT technology.  In addition to being one of the largest purchasers of renewable energy to power networks and data centers. The ICT industry is also focused on increasing network performance through energy efficient hardware modernization and software solutions.

5G, the latest generation of mobile wireless, will accelerate the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), which in turn will allow us to better monitor energy consumption through an estimated 4.1 billion cellular IoT connections globally by 2024. When combined with AI and machine learning, this will kick off a fourth industrial revolution, where billions of connections and sensors will provide us with real-time data and remote operating capabilities necessary to make big leaps in energy efficiency and exponential climate action.

But they are not alone, ICT can benefit other sectors, such as benefiting the transportation by empowering smart transportation, optimizing routes and traffic or monitoring performance of vehicles for energy efficiency. It can benefit agriculture by automating practices and utilizing IoT to optimize agricultural practices, such as watering plants and milling soil. ICT can benefit companies across the country simply by empowering smart buildings that monitor and limit energy usage.

The possibilities are far-reaching, and but they must be accelerated, in part by the widespread adoption of 5G, to reach the necessary scale by 2030. A few early success stories:

  • Einride's T-pod: Einride is creating a sustainable transportation ecosystem with 5G providing the connectivity and reliability to safely introduce T-pods onto public roads, paving the way for 90% reduction in carbon emissions and elimination of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.
  • Boliden Mining Automation: Fully automated/remotely controlled trucks (connected by 5G) drive more efficiently, this smoother transport flow, steadier speed and less movement means lower fuel consumption eliminating an estimated 9,400 metric tons of CO2 emissions at Boliden’s Aitik mine.
  • Bladed Disks (BLISKs) Manufacturing: BLISKs are critical components of turbines like aircraft jet engines. Automated production with real time monitoring and control enabled by 5G can reduce manufacturing time, and just a 2% increase in efficiency can eliminate 16 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually.  

Digital technologies can help reduce overall global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15 percent through solutions in energy, manufacturing, agriculture and land use, buildings, services and transportation. If done right, this could account for a third of the GHG emission reduction required by 2030. Enabled by 5G and the IoT, our sector can help support a sustainable future for everyone.

Image credit: Unsplash

Bhushan Joshi headshotBhushan Joshi

Bhushan Joshi is Head of Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility for Ericsson in Market Area North America.

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