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5G to play key role in meeting sustainability targets across industries

Study from Mobile UK highlights crucial role that 5G and wider mobile connectivity will have in assisting national efforts to mitigate climate change

Research from Mobile UK, the trade association of the UK’s mobile network operators, has revealed how 5G infrastructures and interconnected 5G systems deployed at scale can collectively contribute to reaching the goal of net zero carbon across the UK.

The report, Connectivity and climate change: how 5G will help lay the path to net zero, set out recommendations for policy-makers to help speed up 5G’s roll-out and cut emissions faster just as the UK was hosting the COP 26 environmental conference.

The report noted that the UK has some of the most ambitious environmental policies in the world, designed to meet the government’s target of reaching “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The report set out the potential emissions reductions that are possible with the enhanced connectivity provided by 5G technologies, existing mobile networks and the internet of things.

In particular, the focus is on how 5G can enable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the energy, transport, manufacturing and agricultural sectors. While 5G will have a transformative impact across the entire economy, the report said it is these sectors that are expected to benefit particularly from the next generation of mobile connectivity. The study added that they are also crucial to efforts to reach net zero, collectively accounting for about half of all the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The study predicted that in the energy sector, 5G connectivity could save more than 250 million tonnes of CO2 emissions globally by 2030 by accelerating the move to wind and solar energy. It said other research has calculated that 5G-enabled use cases can reduce carbon emissions in the energy industry by almost 1% between 2020 and 2030. That is the equivalent of half of all Canada’s emissions in 2018.

The report said transportation was responsible for 24% of direct CO2 emissions globally from fuel combustion. 5G and wider connectivity was said to offer the potential to reduce annual emissions from transport by 6.6-9.3 million tonnes of CO2e annually.

While Industry 4.0 has long been seen as being empowered by 5G infrastructures, Mobile UK noted that 5G-enabled technology could help the combined G7 manufacturing sectors reduce their total carbon emissions by 1% during the period 2020-2035. By way of comparison, a reduction of 1% equates to about 182 million tonnes of CO2e or roughly equivalent to 75% of the annual carbon emissions of France. In all, 5G could reduce combined G7 manufacturing emissions by 182 million tonnes of CO2e by 2035.

The agricultural industry could also be transformed with drones and sensors, connected to 5G and other networks, supporting low-carbon farming practices. This would help to reduce UK emissions in agriculture by as much one million tonnes of CO2e by the year 2035 and reduce combined G7 manufacturing emissions by 182 million tonnes of CO2e at the same time.

Commenting on the report, Gareth Elliott, head of policy and communications at Mobile UK, said: “Our report highlights the crucial role that 5G and wider mobile connectivity will have in assisting our efforts to mitigate climate change. What is important is that governments recognise this early and work with industry to enable the rapid deployment of 5G and mobile networks. By doing so, we will be in a stronger position to realise our goals more quickly.” 

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