Digital technology has a huge carbon footprint. However, speeding up the development of green technologies would help to reduce overall GHG emissions.

Cleantech development must quicken to reduce carbon footprint

Computing accounts for some 2% of power consumption worldwide. Thierry Leboucq, Chairman of Greenspector, a firm that specialises in software eco-design for developers, points out that “every Google search uses as much power as a light bulb that’s on for an hour.” The environmental impact of technological development is of course not negligible. However, green technologies could be a key problem-solver for our environment.

A study carried out by environmental engineer Gabriele Manoli, a former postdoctoral associate at North Carolina Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, demonstrates that speeding up the development of green technologies such as electric cars and solar panels on a global scale, and at a much higher rate than has been the case to date, could significantly reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are driving climate change. “Based on our calculations, we won’t meet the climate warming targets set by the Paris Agreement unless we speed up the spread of clean technology by a full order of magnitude, or about ten times faster than in the past,” warns Manoli.

Graphics showing the growth in GHG emissions and the acceleration in the rollout of innovations required to achieve the Paris Agreement climate goals

The study draws on historical trends coupled with projections of future global population. It shows that CO2 emissions per inhabitant have increased by 100% every 60 years since the Second Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries – a surge in emissions which has been aggravated by rapid demographic growth. The researchers then compared this pace to the speed of new innovations in low-carbon-emitting technologies. The conclusion is inescapable. In 30 years’ time, we can expect the world’s population to have grown to 9 billion. We therefore need to roll out green technologies on a far greater scale than today in order to reduce the carbon footprint of our activities by breaking the historic link between technology and GHG emissions.

By Laura Frémy