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GSMA’s Mats Granryd explains that the agreement by 50 operators to report their climate impacts to the CDP is the first step towards an industry-wide roadmap in line with the Paris Agreement
We have recently seen an acceleration in the number of countries, regions and cities committing to net-zero carbon emissions targets. According to data from Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, 15 countries, 11 states and at least 23 cities have set targets of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. Together, these regions account for about one-sixth of global GDP.
The private sector is being required to do similar. More than 30 companies with annual revenues above $1bn have already set net-zero targets. This is encouraging. But what if entire industry sectors – not just single corporations – could also take a lead on target setting? Could this approach drive positive climate action progress on a scale with a major economy?
This is the ambition of the mobile industry, a sector that generated 4.6% of GDP globally last year, a contribution equal to about $3.9 trillion – that’s roughly the GDP of Germany.
A new GSMA-led initiative is bringing together mobile operators from around the world to develop an industry climate action roadmap in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
As a starting point, more than 50 mobile operators, which together account for more than two-thirds of mobile connections globally, are now disclosing their climate impacts, energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions via the internationally recognised CDP global disclosure system. This is an important first step as it will ensure full transparency for both investors and purchasers.
Investors, for example, are increasingly looking at environmental disclosures as they assess the carbon footprint of their portfolios, particularly in jurisdictions where disclosures are not mandated, notably the US. Whether these disclosures show companies making strong progress, or highlight that more work needs to be done, the scores will be there for all to see and will encourage positive action.
The second phase of the initiative will focus on an industry-wide net-zero target. Although many mobile operators have already committed to science-based targets, there is not yet an agreed framework for a sector-specific approach under the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).
More than 5 billion people today are connected to a mobile network, equivalent to roughly two-thirds of the world’s population
We hope that by next year we will have in place a decarbonisation pathway that will set the parameters for achieving net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. Developed in line with the International Telecommunication Union and Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), this pathway will consider the uniqueness of the mobile sector, including its potential to mitigate its carbon emissions and projected growth. It will provide a framework for the world’s mobile operators to set their own targets, safe in the knowledge that these are in line with science and a global warming trajectory of 1.5C.
More than 5 billion people today are connected to a mobile network, equivalent to roughly two-thirds of the world’s population. This number continues to grow as mobile operators develop solutions to extend affordable service to some of the lowest income and most remote populations.
And yet the power required to run this vast global network – and the emissions that occur as a result – is perhaps lower than you think. It is estimated that mobile networks account for approximately 0.6% of the global electricity consumption and 0.2% of global GHG emissions. Add in the emissions attributed to mobile phone use – both via their manufacturer and use – and the GHG emissions contribution doubles to about 0.4%.
Telefonica’s energy savings attribution in 2018. (Credit: Telefonica)
The mobile industry is improving energy efficiency, sourcing renewable energy, and working with stakeholders to decrease value-chain emissions. Telefonica, for example, claims to have avoided close to 1.3 million tons of CO2e emissions since implementing an energy efficiency plan in 2010. Last year, it saved 181 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy across a broad range of initiatives (see graphic above).
However, while getting our own house in order is important, mobile’s greatest positive climate impact lies in its potential to enable other sectors of the economy to reduce their own emissions.
This is achieved by providing the connectivity for digital solutions that reduce emissions from energy use, travel and transport. Examples include connectivity for buildings to support energy management, for vehicle telematics that can reduce fuel consumption – as well as the more traditional areas of remote and mobile working. There’s also significant potential for future emissions reductions in areas such as agriculture, health, the sharing economy and smart cities, all made possible by the coming together of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and big data, underpinned by next-generation mobile technology.
The mobile industry will form the backbone of the future economy and therefore has a unique opportunity to drive change across multiple sectors and set ambitious targets. Both the goal of net-zero mobile networks and the opportunity to enable emissions reductions across other sectors are best advanced by an industry-wide approach, allowing us to set common goals and show leadership and responsibility in addressing one of the gravest challenges facing our planet.
Mats Granryd is director general of the GSMA, which represents the interests of more than 750 mobile network operators worldwide.