As much as connectivity tech is the beating heart of changing the future, it is also a double-edged sword. On one hand, the sector is deeply engulfed in vast energy consumption, massive e-waste and raw material depletion for manufacturing purposes.

On the other hand, the sector continues to deliver innovative solutions that enable significant emissions reductions across sectors, as well as better climate change adaptation. And this market opportunity will only get bigger, as the need for new breakthrough climate change solutions rises. But to tap into the many opportunities requires bold leadership and long-term strategies – and the sector will have to rethink its role in society. It will have to become a much more visible social actor and actively take part in mitigating climate change, as well as helping the world’s most vulnerable people adapt to the effects of climate change.

The Risks Of Growing

Overconsumption is a growing pressure confronting the connectivity tech sector. As the deployment of connectivity tech is experiencing dramatic development, and connectivity between humans as well as between devices (Internet of Things) increases almost exponentially, the energy consumption of the entire connectivity sector is expected to have a steep yearly growth rate of six to nine percent in a business-as-usual scenario. At this rate it is estimated to make up for well over 10% of global electrical energy consumption in 2030.

Data centers alone consume more than two percent of the world’s electricity.

The increased global online activity is already having effects on the climate. Today, it accounts for more than two percent of anthropogenic carbon emissions. To put this into perspective, if the sector’s total energy consumption was a country, it would be the third largest energy consumer, only surpassed by China and the US.
Data centers alone consume more than two percent of the world’s electricity. As consumers, companies, and governments’ demand for data increases in the coming years, an additional 290 hyperscale data centers will be constructed between 2016 and 2021 worldwide – making the sector an even bigger electricity consumer.

The sector is experiencing pressure from a growing political and consumer demand for more socially responsible and ethical use of data…

On the manufacturing side, there are also risks of overconsumption. One example: The production of one smartphone uses at least 62 different raw materials, many of which are precious and scarce. The sector is thus a great contributor to the depletion of scarce natural resources.

Even though stronger regulations have not yet hit the sector in terms of energy and material use, it must be expected within the coming years, given the sectors current and rising consumption level. Furthermore, the sector is experiencing pressure from a growing political and consumer demand for more socially responsible and ethical use of data and digital technologies.

A Force For Doing Good

The human and natural worlds are changing radically due to climate change. Connectivity providers must understand they have a key role in driving connectivity-dependent climate mitigation and adaptation solutions. In particular, when it comes to providing data that can help communities vulnerable to climate change, connectivity providers have the capabilities to provide data for mini-grids and blockchain solutions in communities without internet access. Access to weather information through telecommunications, for instance, can help farmers use smarter farming methods. Mobile technology can provide access to financial services for unbanked populations. And the list goes on.

It is estimated that connectivity solutions will generate over $11 trillion in sustainable economic benefits across sectors per year until 2030, while also enabling a 20% reduction of global CO2 emissions by 2030

This is not only a moral or social obligation for the connectivity sector. It is a great market opportunity. When it comes to achieving the 17 SDGs and responding to the climate change challenge, the possibilities of using connectivity solutions and data seems almost endless. There is thus an estimated $2.1 trillion revenue opportunity for the digital industry by 2030 by delivering solutions with positive SDG impacts – a figure that is 60% higher than current levels.

Roughly $400 billion of that potential is coming from increasing connectivity, while the remaining $1.7 trillion lies in deploying digital solutions, such as e-commerce, e-work, tele-health, smart buildings, e-government and e-learning. Other substantial benefits for the sector include increasing agricultural crop yields by 30%, safeguarding over 300 trillion litres of water and saving 25 billion barrels of oil per year.

Connectivity tech could be the key to decoupling economic growth from emissions growth.

It is estimated that connectivity solutions will generate over $11 trillion in sustainable economic benefits across sectors per year until 2030, while also enabling a 20% reduction of global CO2 emissions by 2030. In essence, this means that the negative trade-off between economic prosperity and environmental protection can be avoided, and connectivity tech could be the key to decoupling economic growth from emissions growth while empowering the vulnerable.

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