Metastudy on opportunities and risks of digital technologies
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Climate protection by digital technologies

Digitisation is fundamentally changing the economy and all areas of social life. Digital technologies affect the environment in two ways, directly and indirectly.

Direct environmental impacts include resource consumption and emissions caused by the production, use and disposal of hardware.

Indirect environmental effects are changes in consumption and production patterns induced by the application of the technology and the resulting ecological effects of these changes.

Both direct and indirect effects have been scientifically investigated and discussed for about two decades. Since the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) caused by digital technologies have also attracted media attention in the course of the climate debate, public interest in corresponding results has risen sharply.

Based on previously conducted studies from science and practice, this short study on behalf of Bitkom pursued two goals:

  1. Evaluation of the current state of knowledge on the GHG footprint over the entire life cycle of digital hardware. Derived from this, findings are gained on key approaches to reducing these climate impacts (Green ICT).
  2. Identification of fields of action for digital technologies that can contribute to reducing GHG emissions (Green through ICT). Taking into account the question of what climate-damaging effects digital technologies can have and how they can be reduced.

Short and sharp

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from ICT: About 1.8 to 3.2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to the manufacture and operation of digital devices and infrastructure. Data centres and communication networks are each responsible for around 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of emissions (70 percent) are caused by terminal equipment in households and companies.
  • Savings potential through digitisation: Digital technologists could save large amounts of global greenhouse gas emissions – some studies calculate savings potential of up to 20 percent. Digitisation also leads to increasing greenhouse gas emissions through new products and more growth. What the overall effect will be will depend to a large extent on the development of the economic and regulatory framework. High climate protection potentials of digitisation are seen in the energy, building, mobility and transport sectors.

The study is available here for free download.

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