The European Green Deal: a digital perspective

A welcome strong EU ambition

With its ambition to make Europe the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050, the European Commission sent out a strong signal to EU citizens, public authorities, and all industry players that the time for climate action is now.
The Green Deal Communication, adopted by the European Commission at the end of 2019, acknowledged that a swift transition that leaves no one behind towards both a greener and a more digitalised society, while crucial, won’t be easy.
While this carries significant challenges, it is now a matter for all of us to contribute to the Green Deal objectives.

The dual challenge of the digital sector

For the digital sector, the challenge is twofold: how can we help other sectors adopt low-carbon digital solutions, while answering to the global growing demand of almost 8 billion people for better services and at the same time reducing our own environmental footprint?
In this sense, the first issue for our industry is diminishing our carbon footprint. According to a 2018 study published in Sustainability Journal, the digital sector accounted for 3.5% of global CO2 emissions. Even though this is a small share, compared with some other sectors, it should not be underestimated.

As Chairman of the GSM Association (GSMA), representing mobile operators that connect 7.8 mobile connections worldwide, I strongly support the industry commitment for more transparency taken during the last UN General Assembly in September 2019. 50 operators, together accounting for more than 5 billion mobile connections, are now publishing their energy, climate and CO2 emissions impact, based on the Carbon Disclosure Project’s international standards. The GSMA has also been contributing, with the ITU and GeSI to set ambitious targets aligned with the science-based target initiative (SBTi) and the Paris Agreement.

The ICT industry has released the first ever science-based pathway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the telecoms sector.

But as important is the contribution of our industry to the other sectors to provide services with less CO2 emissions. There won’t be a global solution for climate transition without the digitalisation of our economy including health, education or financial services.

The digital sector is already enabling the reduction of CO2 across other industries:

  • A recent report produced by the GSMA and the Carbon Trust calculated that, in 2018, mobile technology enabled a cut in CO2 emissions almost 10 times greater than the global carbon footprint of the mobile industry itself.
  • Smart sensors and mobile connectivity are allowing better management of energy consumption for end users or water savings for farmers by optimising irrigation systems.
  • The mobile technology will do much more in the future through the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and 5G. It is estimated that by 2030 digital solutions could help reduce CO2 emissions by 20%.

While enabling others, our sector has to ensure that the expected growth in data generation will go hand in hand with lower CO2 emissions. In other words our industry has to do more with less.

ORANGE’s pathway to net-zero emissions

At ORANGE, we have been reducing our environmental footprint for the past 10 years. Following COP 21 in 2015, we set and achieved two targets: embedding the principles of the circular economy in our processes and reducing our CO2 emissions by 50% per customer use in 2020, compared to 2006. We also curbed our total emissions by 3% between 2016 and 2018, despite increases in digital usages and our customer base.

More needs to be done and quicker. With a long-term perspective in mind, we set new ambitious targets to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 through our strategic plan “Engage 2025”.

This will be done by drastically cutting our current emissions and relying on carbon sequestration only for the remaining unavoidable part. Our environmental policy is based on three pillars: reducing our CO2 emissions, limiting our impact on natural resources, and driving environmentally friendly innovation.

In the shorter term, ORANGE is committed to achieving the following milestones by 2025:

  • Reducing our CO2 emissions by 30% compared to 2015. As infrastructure represents a great part of our CO2 emissions, investing in more efficient networks and data centers is a way to contribute to such a goal.
  • Sourcing more than 50% of our electricity from renewables (vs. 26% end 2019).
  • Ensuring that 100% of ORANGE-branded products follow an eco-design approach.

Recycling is another important aspect. In the past 10 years we have managed to recycle 15 million devices, but more has to be done notably to incentivize consumers. In France alone, as many as 100 million devices are unused at home!

Finally, cutting emissions is also a matter of lower digital consumption. Whether we are citizens, public authorities or industries, all of us need to become more savvy and reasonable users.

The urgent need to transition to a low-carbon economy means that everyone will have a role to play, given the societal and cross-sectoral nature of the challenge.

The telecoms sector fully shares the European Commission’s view regarding the key enabling role of digitalisation, and we stand ready to contribute to the European Green Deal’s objectives.