IT greenhouse gas emissions to double by 2020... if we're lucky

A new report argues greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the IT sector will grow as the number of network-connected devices increases.

The IT sector needs to become more efficient to curb its unrelenting demand for electricity and ensure greenhouse gas targets are met, a new study has warned.

Global IT usage currently accounts for approximately two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But the research by Bio Intelligence Services, commissioned by Alcatel-Lucent, warned this will double to four percent by 2020 as a result of more people using computers, phones and other networked devices. 

The rise to four percent is a best-case scenario and assumes that energy-efficiency advances are made within the IT sector. If no advances are made, greenhouse gas emissions for the sector could be much higher: the scenario for the highest growth in network traffic envisioned by researchers sees 2020's total worldwide telecommunications traffic reach 400 times its 2007 level.

The report argues that the efficiency improvements possible in current technologies are expected to slow and then plateau by 2017, meaning new technologies and efficiencies will need to be established. 

But IT also helps other industries to be greener - for example, video conferencing can cut air travel, and cloud computing allows multiple businesses to work off the same energy-consuming IT infrastructure.

As a result, IT enables the global economy to operate more efficiently, to the extent that the greenhouse gas reductions it facilitates are five to seven times greater than the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the IT sector itself.


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