ICT & Climate Change

The role of the ICT industry in climate change

Energy use is the single largest contributor to the carbon footprint of the ICT sector. The ICT industry relies on the increasing use of electricity for manufacturing, distributing, and running equipment, applications, and services. According to the World Summit for an Information Society, electricity demand by the ICT sector for industrialised countries is between 5% and 10% of total electricity demand. An important amount of the electricity used by ICT is consumed when equipment is switched off or is not performing its main function. Today, these standby losses are of the order of 50% of the electricity used by ICT - representing a huge opportunity for change and improvement.

Still, greenhouse gas emissions from the ICT sector are small relative to the sector's share of the world economy. A recent independent analysis by Gartner Consulting estimates the ICT sector is responsible for an estimated two percent of global CO2 emissions. Despite tremendous efficiency improvements in electronic components, demands for new services are increasing, and so is the amount of total electricity consumed by ICT.

ICT solutions for climate protection

The ICT sector has an opportunity to play a leadership role in the reduction of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by:

  • Increasing energy efficiency within telecommunications networks and data centres and producing more energy-efficient products

  • Using renewable energy industry-wide

  • Applying communications technology to stimulate flexible working and conferencing

  • Increasing e-commerce as a way to dematerialize transactions and reduce transportation-related emissions

With a facility for rapid change, the ICT industry can deliver energy savings and carbon reduction in a way that also drives economic growth. The Climate Change Working Group of the Global E-Sustainability Initiative is at the forefront of UNEP's work to harness the potential of the ICT sector for reducing carbon emissions worldwide