Every EU country needs a climate strategy

In Finland the Minister of Transport and Communications has set up a working group to prepare a climate and environment strategy for the information and communication technology sector. The goal is to reach a consensus on the national climate and environmental impacts of the sector and recommend means of bringing them under control. A further aim is to examine the role that the ICT industry can play in reaching the national climate goals. The period under review extends until 2035, and the work is due to be completed in one year.

The group includes representatives from businesses, research institutes, associations and the state administration. FiCom is also involved in the working group. In our view, the working group’s brief is very important, and we are taking a very ambitious approach to its targets.

The climate and environment strategy must be easy for everyone to understand, and it must focus on the essentials. The key question concerns how the energy consumed by the sector is generated: is the sector consuming electricity from fossil fuels or emission-free energy? Technological developments will give rise to new, zero-emission energy generation methods, but one clear solution for the coming decades is to invest in nuclear power. It is inconceivable for the European Parliament to propose a strategy of decommissioning nuclear power while, at the same time, considering how to accelerate positive climate actions.

As digitalisation advances, it is indisputable that telecommunications infrastructure, such as base stations and data centres, will consume more and more electricity. From the perspective of the development of the sector, it is, therefore, unrealistic to aim for a reduction in energy consumption. Instead, the focus should be on reining in the increase in consumption. For example, the energy efficiency of mobile data traffic has improved dramatically over the last five years. In this time, the specific electricity consumption of the transferred data has decreased by as much as 80 per cent.

The strategy must strike a balance between climate-related challenges and the positive aspects. Society is more energy intensive as it becomes increasingly digital, but the advancements in technology and electronic services will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions in other sectors. For example, traffic emissions will decrease when remote working and remote health care services reduce the need to travel. Using smart solutions to optimise manufacturing will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions due to production, while correctly-timed actions will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from logistics.

The difficulties facing work on the climate and environment strategy include how the strategy will be delineated and the lack of comparable data. Finland is a pioneer of digital policy in the EU. It is, therefore, no surprise that we are also at the forefront of sectoral impact assessments. Climate impact studies require data, which is why every EU country should have a corresponding strategy. Hopefully, the new European Commission will work towards this objective in its programme. The problem is a global one, but the solutions are national. Without a fact-based overview, it is not possible to propose sensible solutions.