Digitalization is the solution to the climate issue

The Ministry of Transport and Communications has led the creation of an ICT climate strategy since last November. Finland is a pioneer in digital policy, and it comes as no surprise that we are also a trailblazer in creating a climate strategy for the industry. The need to investigate the impact on the climate has been highlighted in Germany and France, but progress is still in the discussion phase in both countries.

The aim is to form a shared understanding of the digital industry’s national impact on the climate and environment, and of related targets and how to achieve them. The strategy also aims to create an understanding of the role of the information and communications technology sector in achieving national climate objectives. The period under review extends to 2035. An interim report into the strategy will be published in June, and proposals for action will be drawn up based on the report’s conclusions next autumn.

When drawing up the strategy, it can be challenging to find sufficiently fresh, comparable statistics and figures. One hazard with a separate climate strategy is that we may not see the wood for the trees. We may focus on things that are interesting to know, but are ultimately of no significance in effectively preventing or mitigating climate change.

One key question is how we produce the energy consumed by the industry: are we consuming electricity produced using fossil fuels, or zero-emission electricity? The electricity consumed in Finland is relatively carbon-free. 35% of Finland’s electricity production is from renewable energy sources, and 27% comes from nuclear power. The majority of imported electricity comes from Sweden.

Data transfer is increasing – energy-efficiency is improving

Technology is developing at a tremendous pace, and the energy efficiency of telecommunications networks, for example, has significantly improved in recent years. The use of mobile data increased six-fold between 2014 and 2018. Over the same time period, the consumption of specific power for data has fallen by 80%.

5G mobile networks further increase the speed of data transfer and are the key to ever-improving digital services. In order to facilitate the creation of new innovations, it is important for Finland to foster an atmosphere that encourages digitalization, as well as to have a digital infrastructure that is of a high technical quality. We are a pioneer: Finland was one of the first countries in Europe to open commercial 5G networks.

Revival investments for climate-positive solutions

As digitalization progresses, the ICT industry will unavoidably consume increasing amounts of electricity. From an industry development perspective, it is unrealistic to aim for a reduction in energy consumption. Instead, we should focus on assessing the actual, realized situation and on controlling the increase in energy consumption. This is hindered by retaining old technology alongside new innovations.

The transition to increasingly energy-efficient solutions requires investments. The revival package designed for the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis should allocate investments so that they can also help us to prevent and mitigate climate change. According to an international study, mobile technology can help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to ten-fold in comparison to the industry’s own carbon footprint.

We need shared data acquisition

In order to obtain an overview of the ICT climate issue, we need a wide range of data, and for this we need jointly agreed EU operating methods. The goal requires commensurate data that can be compared with one another. Instead of global assessments, it would be meaningful to have benchmarking and comparisons among the EU’s leading countries in digitalization (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Estonia).

The problem is global, but the solutions are national. Without a reliable analysis of the situation, no rational solutions can be proposed.