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Digital footprints contributing 'more and more' to climate change

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By Euronews
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Digital footprints contributing 'more and more' to climate change
Copyright  Euronews

The tech and digital sectors are increasingly contributing towards climate change, according to the European Commission and experts.

Olivier Vergeynst, director of the Belgian Institute for Sustainable IT (ISIT-BE), told Euronews that the more data people use online, the more pollution is emitted.

"Going on a website will emit greenhouse gases. For example, when you go to a media site, just by clicking on the front page you are already consuming large amounts of data," Vergeynst said.

"On average, it's the equivalent of going 20 to 30 metres by car just to visit the website's front page. You haven't even watched a video by this point or read an article, and you're already emitting greenhouse gases.

"It's very, very little at first, but when you multiply that by the number of people who can visit a site, a hundred million people a month for the big French news sites, for example, you end up with figures equivalent to around 80,000 km by car a day just for the front page."

ISIT-BE says that 80% of the data transferred nowadays is used for video. The higher the quality of the image, the more CO2 it emits. The remaining 20% is, on the whole, from websites and e-mails.

With the global COVID-19 pandemic forcing many people to work from home, there have been many digital innovations, but also more emissions.

However, Vergeynst says there are more sustainable ways to work online.

"The tools needed to telework consume energy. For example, by video conferencing, a lot of data will be transmitted. And compared to the amount of data related to a teleconference like this, we just need everyone to turn off their cameras and we will end up using 93% less. As a result, the carbon impact will be 62% less compared to the same videoconference in which the camera is turned on," Vergeynst told Euronews.

According to the European Commission, the tech sector currently accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions and it could reach 14% by 2040 if the sector continues to grow unchecked.

The EU says it wants to lead on digital, but also on green goals. To do that, it must make the industry more sustainable.

If done correctly, future technological innovation will be a part of the solution, rather than the problem.