Exponential growth in the use of computers, smartphones and other networked devices could cause the environmental impact of the ICT sector to increase dramatically between now and 2020, according to a new report.
The ICT sector is currently responsible for approximately two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this is expected to increase to four percent by 2020, according to the study carried out by BIO Intelligence Service on behalf of Alcatel-Lucent.
Meanwhile, total network traffic could be 35 times greater than today's levels by 2020. If network traffic continues to grow, but energy efficiency advances are not made, then the GHG emissions of the ICT sector will be 10 times greater than all other emissions sources combined.
The use of ICT products and services is currently increasing more quickly than energy efficiency achievements. The report states that the current generation of core network technologies is expected to reach its maximum energy efficiency by 2017.
However, the ICT sector and its products and services also enable the global economy to operate more efficiently, resulting in the reduction of greenhouse gases that are five to seven times greater than the GHG emissions from the ICT sector itself.
Public policy makers and the ICT industry therefore need to work together to deploy smart infrastructure, support energy efficient mobile network access and maximise the benefit of the cloud, in order to reduce environmental impacts while spurring economic growth.
They also need to encourage and support advanced research and support industry efforts to harmonise impact assessment methodologies, according to the report.
"There is a common interest in making sure that the benefits of ICT are not outweighed by its environmental impact," said Eric Labouze, Founder and CEO of BIO Intelligence Service.
"That is not the case today, and so long as public policy makers and the ICT sector continue to work together in the future, we can be quite certain that the benefits will increase dramatically, while the negative impacts remain manageable."
The results of the study will be presented and discussed at the BIO Intelligence Service headquarters in Paris on 28 March 2013.