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Mobile industry takes lead on climate change

Updated: May 28, 2020


Climate calculations of CO2 or Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are complicated – and I am by no means an expert in this area. However, due to some announcements last week I thought I would make some comments. Last week the mobile industry though GSMA, joined by key players in the wider ICT ecosystem, announced their climate action roadmap to support the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. The mobile industry is thus one of the first sectors to in the world to agree targets for reduction of emissions – and the GSMA is committed to help the mobile industry achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This ambition is supported by many of the largest mobile operator groups in the world – and the GSMA has also coordinated the initiative with other important organizations in the ICT sector like the ITU, GeSI – and of course the Science-Based Target initiative (SBTi), which forms the basis for the targets. This is a great achievement!

When we put in into perspective, however, many of the CEOs that support the initiative today will not be there in 2050 (after all it is 30 years from now). Therefore, it is also important that interim targets are set with trajectories towards the end goal – and this can be very different for companies in different countries and with different structures. As an example, achieving net zero emissions in my country Norway (which is powered only by renewable energy) is very much simpler than, for example, doing the same in e.g. Pakistan or China.

Interim targets and trajectories are, however, part of the mobile industry initiative. Mobile operators supporting the initiative will thus have to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 – and different operators have started to specify their targets individually. Some examples I have seen so far (I hope they are referred correctly) include e.g.:

  • Telenor (my earlier employer) that has stated that they will be carbon neutral by 2030 in the Nordic countries, however, they will only reduce emissions by 50% in their Asian markets by the same time frame.

  • Another is Telefonica O2 in the UK that aims to be carbon neutral by 2025 “as the first network in the UK”. They will also work with their supply chain to reduce supply chain emissions by 30% by 2025. Vodafone (Group) has similar ambitions for 2025, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% - and to purchase 100% of the electricity from renewable sources. Let us see who wins …

  • Telia has stated that by 2030, Telia Company (group) will be CO2 neutral with zero waste, not only within its own operations, but throughout the value chain.

The above examples illustrate some key points for the mobile sector. Most of the carbon emissions from mobile operators relate to the use of energy – and access to clean energy varies a lot across countries. Telenor states, for example, that Asia accounts for 96% of their CO2 emissions, of which 80% is related to grid energy and 16% comes from diesel generators. Getting access to clean energy in parts of Asia is a challenge and will take time. In addition, developing new technology and sourcing more efficient networks and optimizing the internal operation will be important as well.

So far, partly due to the difficult challenges in some parts of the world, not all mobile operator groups (or their suppliers) have committed to the initiative, but it is a good start. When the operators and the countries with the highest challenges and the highest impacts for the planet will come along, set targets and drive initiatives, then there should be some hope. So far, GSMA Board members covering about only half the global mobile connections are in. The rest need to join in as well! Some of the most notable ones missing are from the country with the highest CO2 emissions, i.e. China. When that is said, China as a nation has promised to step up climate change initiatives with focus on “nature-based” efforts (e.g. expansion of forests, grasslands and wetlands, bio-energy etc), with a target date of about 2030 for a peak in greenhouse gas emissions. Re-forestation is an important contributor not only in China, but across the world – and I could mention in countries like Brazil, Indonesia and many more.

The mobile industry is showing a commendable initiative to save our planet! Now it is up to other sectors to make their commitment and plans as well! This is not only up to nations (although politicians will have the power to enforce progress), but industry initiatives are also needed!

To comment on national efforts, the largest (absolute) emitters in the world in addition to China are USA, India, Russia, Japan and Germany – with the whole of EU more or less on par with India – and all of them need to take action. In the global picture (in absolute terms) it does really not help what my own small country Norway does, although every little bit counts. The big contributors need to act! In relative terms, however, as industrialized nations generally have higher emissions per capita, there is a lot that can be done on CO2 and GHG efficiency.

Finally, and I will probably comment on this another time, sustainability, “ESG” or whatever we call it is much more than climate change – but climate is mostly what the public relate to around sustainability these days – of course very much due to what the media likes to cover. Climate change is critical for our planet, however, so this is fine. For other examples, although not on a global scale and our planet, see e.g. my earlier commentary “From crisis to asset”.

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