Green foot print

Better data needed to green the digital transformation

Casey Torgusson, Global Program Manager for Digital Development, World Bank
Cosmas Luckyson Zavazava, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU

Artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies have piqued global excitement with their promise to drive economic growth and opportunity, unlock scientific breakthroughs, and build better services. But as we race to close the global digital divide, we must also ask ourselves some tough questions.

What does all this digital progress mean for the planet? Can we have digital transformation that is also sustainable?

The rapid expansion of digital technology has already resulted in a major rise in energy consumption. This underscores the urgent necessity to address the environmental consequences associated with this sector.

Furthermore, approximately 2.6 billion individuals, primarily in lower and middle-income nations, still do not have access to digital technology and need to be connected. This will add to the environmental strain.

It’s hard to address the problem without first having a way to measure it. 

A new report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Bank, ‘Measuring the Emissions & Energy Footprint of the ICT Sector: Implications for Climate Action,’ attempts to do just that. The report presents a comprehensive analysis of the energy and emissions landscape across 30 countries.

The report examines connectivity networks, data centres, and consumer devices, offering insights into the current environmental impact of the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. It also explores policy and regulatory implications through detailed case studies from France, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Rwanda.

Key findings:

Emissions, electricity consumption, and policy implications – Countries like France, Rwanda and Brazil are taking important steps to measure the emissions from digital production and services.

France, for instance, requires emission data from the digital sector, which it publishes through its electronic communications regulator. Rwanda publishes energy consumption data from telecommunications infrastructure. And in Brazil, a voluntary programme allows companies, including those in the ICT sector, to publish their climate data online.

Policy and regulatory implications – The report also emphasizes the critical role of data in shaping effective policies for emissions reduction. Cross-sector collaboration between digital and energy providers is vital to meet global climate objectives.

Regulatory and financial incentives, as seen in South Africa and Brazil, can promote sustainable energy use and contribute to greening the ICT sector. South Africa’s energy market liberalization, for example, facilitated’s investment in a solar farm to power a massive data centre. Brazil’s distributed power-generation regulation has spurred significant investments in renewable energy.

The importance of data-driven interventions – The lack of comprehensive, country-based data on emissions remains a glaring gap in the ICT sector. Precise tracking of sub-sectors is paramount for effective climate action. ICT regulators are crucial in compiling and disseminating climate data.

The Green Digital Action track at COP28, held in Dubai in 2023, underlined the need for companies to measure and report their emissions. Looking ahead to COP29, we advocate for proactive policy measures, collaborative initiatives, and investment, including to drive data transparency.

We urge companies to commit to setting science-based targets aligned with the 1.5°C climate pathway. This means reducing Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, as well as producing transition plans that outline how decarbonization trajectories and net-zero targets will be achieved.

We urge more countries to ensure transparency about ICT-sector emissions and to monitor progress in relation to national climate targets.

To this end, ITU’s next Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-24) includes a dedicated session, ‘Harnessing digital for climate action,’ for countries to share their experiences in monitoring greenhouse gas emissions in the sector, highlighting how regulators and the private sector can work together to foster a sustainable and environmentally responsible ICT sector.

Governments, industries, and all stakeholders must balance rapid technological advancement with environmental stewardship. The World Bank and ITU stand ready to assist.

  • Standardized data on emissions and energy usage enables governments to craft informed policies, set realistic emissions reduction targets, and monitor progress effectively. Collaboration among ICT, energy, and environmental agencies enhances the impact of these efforts.
  • Effective management of ICT-sector emissions requires transparent data disclosure and analysis. ICT regulators, with their sector expertise, are key in this process, though capacity building is essential to overcome current data limitations.
  • ICT-sector technology transitions can lower emissions but must be inclusive, ensuring no disadvantaged groups are left behind.
  • Revised regulations and intensified cooperation between the ICT and energy sectors will be crucial to cut emissions and foster energy sustainability.
Previously posted at :