Renewables responsible for a quarter of mobile industry electricity

The latest GSMA annual Mobile Net Zero report has revealed that the mobile industry is making tangible gains in the drive towards net-zero, with nearly a quarter of the industry’s electricity globally now being purchased from renewable sources. This represents a meaningful uplift from 14 per cent in 2020 and 18 per cent in 2021.

The report, published annually by the GSMA to track the mobile industry’s progress towards net-zero, also demonstrates how operators are working to improve energy efficiency across their footprint, investing in 5G – which enables higher bandwidths with lower power usage per bit delivered – retiring power-hungry legacy networks and investing in electric vehicle fleets.

In addition, the report details the intent shown by players across the industry, including major handset and equipment suppliers such as Apple and Samsung, to make supply chains more sustainable by using recycled content, more renewable electricity in manufacture, extending the lifetime of devices and supporting repair and recycling. Such actions from the ecosystem are essential, as the majority of mobile operators’ emissions come from their supply chain. 

To date, in a unique industry-wide move, 62 operators, representing 61 per cent of the industry by revenue and 46 per cent by connections, have committed to science-based targets intended to rapidly reduce their direct and indirect carbon emissions by 2030; an increase of 12 operators since 2022.

Such commitments are significant as they require operators to transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity, move away from use of diesel generators, electrify their vehicle fleets and engage their suppliers. A large proportion of operators have also committed to net zero targets by 2050 or earlier, accounting for 39 per cent of mobile connections and 43 per cent of global revenue.

“The environmental and financial benefits of climate action are clear to the mobile industry. Mobile operators are staking a leadership position on climate, and with nearly 25 per cent of all electricity used by our sector now coming from renewable sources, moving beyond target setting to demonstrable action,” John Giusti, chief regulatory officer for the GSMA, said.

“The digital transitions is a powerful enabler of a more sustainable economy. Achieving it will require stronger collaboration between governments and the private sector on all fronts. It is important to recognise the impact that government policies and regulations can have on operators’ ability to invest in and deploy more energy efficient networks. Moreover, there is clearly a role for governments to play in accelerating the transition to clean energy in their markets by creating suitable frameworks for businesses to access renewable electricity at a competitive price.”

The report illustrates significant regional variation in the adoption of renewable electricity, with gaps present in the global south and east where access and, at times, policy constraints make the shift to renewables more challenging. European operators are purchasing the most renewable energy, at more than 70 per cent on average, with North American operators achieving around half that, although they are widely expected to close the gap with new energy purchasing contracts.

To better understand current emissions and begin to reduce them, the mobile industry is also improving its climate reporting, in both quantity and quality. Sixty-seven operators, accounting for 79 per cent of mobile revenue and 66 per cent of global connections, disclosed to CDP – the global disclosure system – in 2022; an increase of seven operators on the previous year. And a record 36 operators received an ‘A’ score for their disclosures, up from 22 the previous year.

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