China’s internet firms must commit to clean power, says Greenpeace
Image credit: Denys Nevozhai | Unsplash
Electricity consumption from China's data centres and 5G base stations could almost quadruple from 2020 to 2035, putting the sector under pressure to commit to clean energy sources, according to environmental group Greenpeace.
Combined electricity consumption by data centres and 5G base stations stood at more than 200 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2020, with more than 60 per cent of the energy required sourced from coal-fired power stations.
That is expected to rise to 782 billion kWh by 2035, Greenpeace estimated, making the sector one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions.
China's internet sector has become one of the country's biggest electricity users and its energy consumption is forecast to exceed the whole of Australia's use by 2023, for comparison's sake, Greenpeace said in a previous report.
China has pledged to bring total greenhouse gas emissions to a peak before 2030 and many industrial sectors are expected to plateau or decline as early as 2025. However, carbon dioxide from the internet sector could continue rising and reach 310 million tonnes a year by 2035, Greenpeace said.
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Ye Ruiqi said tech firms could make a difference by investing in clean power: "Explosive growth in digital infrastructure does not need to mean growth in emissions."
So far, two major data centre operators – Chindata Group and AtHub – have pledged to source all their energy from renewable sources by 2030.
In a sector action plan published this week, China's industry ministry said it would urge data centres to make full use of renewable energy. It said it would also encourage data centres to build their own clean power plants, including "distributed" rooftop solar and wind installations.
Earlier this month, a report from think tank Rhodium Group, which provides emissions estimates and forecasts, found that in 2019, China’s greenhouse gas emissions outstripped those of the OECD and all EU countries combined.
In April, at a virtual summit of world leaders hosted by US President Joe Biden, aimed at driving greater climate action, Chinese president Xi Jinping called for a “people-centred” approach to the climate crisis, saying, “We must treat nature as our root, respect it, protect it and follow its laws; we should protect nature and preserve the environment like we protect our eyes.
President Xi said that China would “continue to prioritise ecological conservation and pursue a green and low-carbon path to development”, aiming to “peak” its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, in accordance wIth the country's future 14th and 15th five-year plan periods.
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