What is the impact of digital technology on the environment?

A bill aimed at reducing the digital ecological footprint must be studied in the National Assembly on Thursday. But what is the real impact of this sector on the environment?

While the health crisis has accelerated the digital transformation and increased the use of digital tools, a bill to limit the ecological footprint of this sector must be examined at the assembly this Thursday in public session after having been adopted. by the Senate. According to a fact-finding mission from the Upper House, the share of digital technology in greenhouse gas emissions in France was 2% in 2019. And above all, these emissions could increase by 60% by 2040 reaching 6, 7% of total emissions in France (by comparison, the share of air transport is 4.7%).

In detail, where do these emissions come from? “Digital users often forget that so-called digital exchanges «dematerialized» can only exist by relying on a material good sector composed of terminals, data centers and networks“, Note the senators.

First of all, the majority of these programs that cannot be seen come from terminals (cell phones, computers, televisions, game consoles, connected speakers, etc.). The production and use of these digital objects are at the origin of 81% of French emissions in the sector. This significant share in the environmental impact of digital technology is mainly explained by the manufacturing phase which requires operations that consume a lot of energy, such as, among other things, the extraction of minerals. In France, this single manufacturing phase represents 70% of the digital carbon footprint while in the world, it corresponds to a little less than 40% according to a study by the think tank The Shift Project. This difference is due to the fact that the manufacture of products used in France is largely outsourced to countries in Southeast Asia where the carbon intensity of electricity is much greater. While the lifespan of a smartphone today is twenty-three months, “limiting the renewal of terminals is essential», Concludes the Senate report.

Particularly energy-intensive data centers

Then come emissions linked to computer centers for hosting data, the famous data centers. Although less important, they nevertheless represent 14% of the sector’s emissions in France. Data storage requires a high consumption of water. It is also particularly energy intensive. It reaches 30% of digital electricity consumption worldwide. This time again, the hosting of French data is largely outsourced. While some large digital companies have announced that they want to green the electricity consumption of their storage centers, French senators would like “encourage the installation of data centers in France»Where energy, with the large share of nuclear power, is low in carbon.

Finally, computer networks produce 5% of digital greenhouse gas emissions. A significant figure which includes the production of equipment (routers, relay antennas, servers, etc.) as well as their electricity consumption.

50 billion connected objects in 2025

The real issue of digital pollution is therefore essentially in the manufacture of our everyday tools. According to a study conducted by Green.it published in September 2019, if the number of conventional equipment in the world will continue to increase over the next five years, it is above all connected objects that will experience a sales boom in the world, from 20 billion in 2020 to more than 50 billion in 2025. Other everyday objects could also increase their share in the digital carbon footprint, such as televisions for example, note the authors, with a significant renewal of the park for an enlargement of the screen size – 50 cm diagonals in 2010 to 1.6 m in 2025.

The second issue is that of digital energy consumption. According to ADEME figures published in January, the new technology sector alone represents between 6 and 10% of global electricity consumption. The explosion in the volume of data with in particular the exponential growth of video streaming contributes, among other things, to this high energy consumption. It is also necessary to know where this energy comes from, whether it is French or not and the degree of its carbon footprint. The Senate information mission thus notes that 80% of digital-related programs are produced abroad.

The bill adopted by the Senate contains two major priorities in this regard. The first objective is to extend the lifespan of our phones, computers and other digital tools. “To do this, we need to strengthen the refurbished sector and reduce software obsolescence.», Details Vincent Thiébaut, deputy (LREM) rapporteur of the law. In a second time, “we have to do a work of pedagogy on digital sobriety, in a word, learn to disconnect“, He continues, to limit energy consumption. This law will constitute, if adopted by the National Assembly, a very first legislative framework in the matter.

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