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As European nations ramp up efforts to address climate change targets at the COP26 conference, research from Ericsson is claiming that the accelerated roll-out of 5G connectivity across Europe and the UK will have an immediate and catalysing impact in reducing CO2e emissions.
The report, Connectivity and climate change, draws on data sources and methodologies from the communications technology and service provider’s prior research on 5G use cases, joint research with operators on the environmental footprint of telecommunications networks and the McKinsey Net zero Europe report.
The analysis suggested that implementing 5G technology across four high-emitting sectors (power, transport, manufacturing and buildings) could create 55-170 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) of emissions savings per year – the same saving that would be achieved by removing over 35 million petrol cars from the EU’s roads.
The study also calculated that at least 40% of the EU’s carbon reduction solutions, up until 2030, will likely rely on fixed-line and mobile connectivity. These solutions, such as the development of renewable energy generators, could, suggested Ericsson, reduce EU emissions by 550MtCO2e, which is nearly half of the emissions created by the entire EU energy supply sector in 2017, and 15% of the EU’s total annual emissions in 2017, the year chosen as a benchmark for the analysis.
Added together with the savings from using 5G in four high-emitting sectors – namely power, transport, manufacturing and building – could bring the total emissions reduction to nearly 20% of the EU’s total annual emissions in 2017, the equivalent of the total annual emissions of Spain and Italy combined.
Specifically, the report said that by 2030, sensor-driven improvements in renewable energy generation and deployment could save up to 75 MtCO2e; in transport up to 55 MtCO2e through improved truck utilisation; 35 MtCO2e in manufacturing by use of sensor-driven efficiency improvements in factories; and flexible and remote working enabled by 5G connectivity bringing 5 MtCO2e in building.
Despite the potential emissions savings at stake, forecasting of 5G roll-out from the annual Ericsson mobility report paints a concerning picture for Europe, warning that at the end of 2020, 5G covered around 15% of the world’s population.
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In 2027, just three years before global emissions will need to have halved to stay on track for 1.5ºC global warming, forecasts show global 5G roll-out will still only be at around 75%. North America and North East Asia is estimated to enjoy more than 95% population coverage by 2027. In contrast, Europe is estimated to be significantly behind its economic competitors, with approximately 80% population coverage.
“The EU and UK have set ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions that will require transformational shifts across society,” said Ericsson president and CEO Börje Ekholm.
“This new analysis demonstrates that connectivity, and specifically 5G, is vital to achieving these decarbonisation targets. It is difficult to see how these targets will be met unless the roll-out of digital infrastructure across Europe accelerates to match that of other leading countries and regions in the developed world.
“At Ericsson we view sustainability as a vital responsibility, not an optional extra,” he said. “We will continue to invest heavily, not just for our customers through energy-efficiency products and solutions, but in our own operations, just as we have done at our 5G Smart Factory in the US. It is a great example of the emission saving results that can be achieved through implementing 5G in manufacturing.
“At present, with 5G roll-out, Europe is strolling towards a more digital, low-carbon future, while other regions are sprinting in the same direction,” said Ekholm.
“Policymakers and regulators have a major role to play here by realising the competitive economic, social and sustainable potential of 5G and working speedily together to clear practical, regulatory and financial obstacles so that people, businesses, industries and societies right across Europe can enjoy the benefits,” he concluded.