Protection of our Environment

Proposal 12

Reduce the massive electricity consumption caused by digital communication technology, e.g. by prioritizing wired solutions and low energy solutions in the action plan for the European Green Deal.

Detailed explanation

According to Directive 2012/27/EU on energy efficiency, the Union places energy efficiency and the need for decoupling energy use from economic growth at the core of the Union energy strategy. But many devices breach this directive:

  • many Wi-Fi Routers, because the default transmit power level is set to maximum and they are used in several frequency ranges at the same time: 2.4 / 5 / 6 / 60GHz
  • Many wireless smart meters, because they needlessly consume energy by constantly monitoring devices and cause dirty electricity. Electrical/Phone and Fibre Cables can all be used to transfer smart meter data.
  • Energy consumption forecast for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) devices and services: smartphones, computers, data centers, antennas, internet, etc. would represent in 2025 up to 20% of worlwide electricity consumption. In addition Green House Gases from ICT would exceed 14% in 2040.

Far from being a solution to climate change, the ecological footprint of the digital economy would reach its peak with 5G, aggravating the global eco-social crisis with no return.

The European Economic and Social Committee has published the opinion called Secure 5G deployment– EU toolbox. Point 4.1 states:
"...The EESC considers it essential that 5G is oriented to achieve a better circular use of resources and to reduce the large energy-related CO2 footprint. ..."

According to The Shift Project: "The energy consumption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is increasing by 9% every year. It is possible to limit this growth to 1.5% per year by moving to sober digital practices. The digital transition as it is currently implemented participates to global warming more than it helps preventing it. The need for action is therefore urgent."

According to Frédéric Bordage, a French expert in green IT and digital sobriety, the Environmental footprint of the digital world could be improved by using low digital technology: "the idea of a low digital technology is to use robust, simple, low-impact and very widespread digital technologies such as 2G, SMS, etc. to meet daily needs. Most feedback gathered over the last 10 years shows that this approach is not considered as a regression but is instead well-received by users and it creates economic value. Radical eco-design aims to coordinate the use of low- and high-tech digital resources to best meet the needs of humanity while significantly reducing our digital footprint. To conclude with a simple example, it is not necessary to have a latest-generation smartphone connected in 4G or 5G to access weather forecasts. A simple SMS allows the forecast to be transmitted on a 2G mobile phone. On the other hand, calculating weather forecasts requires the use of advanced technologies."

Miguel Coma, an engineer in telecommunications and an Information Technology architect, argues in his article Green 5G or red alert? that 5G will not contribute to a sustainable future as Huawei claims in Green 5G: Building a sustainable World. “For today, I want us to realize how much energy 5G would consume: over three times the total amount of energy that Sweden uses for industries, transportation, electricity, residences, schools, etc., combined. Powering 5G globally would require building 36 new-generation nuclear reactors, 7800 massive offshore wind turbines or equivalent power plants using other energy sources.

5G would increase CO2 emissions by 250 megatons (Mt CO2). This is seven times Sweden’s total CO2 emissions, or one fourth of the emissions generated by aviation worldwide (before Covid-19). It would most likely compromise our targets for carbon neutrality and reduced emissions.

Huawei states that information communication technologies (ICT) could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in other industries by 15% in 2020. This claim is based on an old (2008) report that examined most aspects of worldwide ICT. Regarding broadband mobile networks (3G, 4G, 5G), it actually reported soaring greenhouse gas emissions, and no potential CO2 savings in other sectors.

5G antennas will need much larger batteries than 4G antennas, only adding to global energy use. Manufacturing larger batteries will increase ore extraction and greenhouse gas emissions.

5G is also expected to shift data traffic from existing, wired networks toward much less efficient mobile networks. Given the huge amounts of energy (three times Sweden’s footprint) that 5G will need, mainly from fossil fuels.

According to the Aarhus convention EU citizens have a right to ensure that the most up-to-date scientific data is taken into account when the EU adopts policies for the protection of the environment. Citizens have a right to access environmental information, to public participation in environmental decision-making processes and to access to justice.

Regarding the rollout of 5G the EU citizens have not been asked whether we want this ubiquitous wireless digital development which apparently will have huge increase in energy consumption as well as a rising carbon footprint. Very important issues our politicians do not talk about!

Legal arguments for our proposal are:

  • Article 3 of the TEU, where "The Union shall establish an internal market. It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance."
  • Article 21 (f) of the TEU: "help develop international measures to preserve and improve the quality of the environment and the sustainable management of global natural resources, in order to ensure sustainable development"
  • Article 4 (i) of the TFEU about Energy
  • Article 191 of the TFEU about the precautionary principle and environment protection.
  • Article 194 (c) of the TFEU: "promote energy efficiency and energy saving and the development of new and renewable forms of energy."
  • Article 37 of the CFR about Environmental protection: "A high level of environmental protection and the improvement of the quality of the environment must be integrated into the policies of the Union and ensured in accordance with the principle of sustainable development."
  • Aarhus convention
  • According to Proposal for a regulation on amending Aarhus regulationThe EU institutions need to engage with members of the public if the European Green Deal is to succeed and deliver lasting change. The public is and should remain a driving force of the transition and should have the means to get actively involved in developing and implementing new policies.

(Updated in January 2023: New study published with the title 5G network deployment and the associated energy consumption in the UK: A complex systems’ exploration.

"Network densification may cause some environmental and economic problems. Take a medium demand scenario as an example, it is found that the electricity consumed by the 5G radio access network will account for more than 2.1% of the total electricity generation, and indirectly lead to 990,404 tonnes carbon emissions in 2030.")

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