Saturday, June 3

«80% of the carbon footprint of mobiles is generated when you start using it»

Steven Moore, head of climate action at the organizer of Mobile World Congress. / Jose A. Gonzalez

GSMA head of climate action

GSMA (MWC organizer) climate action head Steven Moore puffs up for tech sector’s climate work but calls for “more action”

Jose A. Gonzalez

The ICT sector is responsible for between 2% and 4% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a low percentage compared to other industries, but which, given its strength, can rise to 14% in 2040 just 10 years before the much-quoted barrier in the middle of the 21st century. A concern that is reflected in the sustainability plans of the technology giants, in the launches of new devices and, also, in large fairs such as the Mobile World Congress. In this latest edition, the GSMA, organizer of the event, has puffed its chest with its latest edition ‘Mobile Net Zero’ which reaffirms its goal of reaching zero emissions by 2050, although many companies have not even set a goal. “We have to be the progressive voice and push them forward,” says the head of climate action at the GSMA. The levers to decarbonise the sector, for the moment, are renewable energies and recycled mobile devices, but the total emissions are not yet quantified. A job for which Steven Moore already has a date “in the coming months.”

-The Mobile World Congress has evolved over the years. First there were the presentations of devices, then 5G arrived with connectivity and now, more and more, there is talk of sustainability. Is this change caused by companies or driven by the GSMA?

I think it’s a combination of both. Governments talk more about it and customers, above all, want to know what companies are doing in this area. At the GSMA we have worked with our partners for many years. First of all, I looked at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and already in 2019 our board of directors put on the table their goal for the entire industry to have net zero emissions by 2050. After that, we created an action working group and which already has more than 60 members with companies from all over the world. We are currently working in several areas and one of them is climate information and how you can report on your climate impact. This year, 36 of our partners scored highest in disclosing their climate actions, this is a very important step because it shows that they are collecting a lot of information but also incorporating climate into their strategies. Another way of working is that we are seeing how they align their climate objectives with the net zero vision of 2050. More than 60 operators have already established them to drastically reduce their emissions by 2030, now we are monitoring how it is being done. This year we have published the third revision of the Mobile Net Zero where we have collected all the data and we can say that many operators buy around a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources, although there are large variations around the world. We have gone from 14% to 18%. We have demand in our sector, but we need greater access to the energy market to be able to buy it and for this we need help from governments.

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-So, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see energy companies on Mobile in the future, right? It would be interesting to invite them…

-I think so. Also, I think that as more renewable energy is introduced, it becomes more digital and more connected. Before there were very large gas or coal power plants. Now we see a lot of renewable energy generation and in a very small way, here you can see solar panels with which you can charge your electric car. But, I think that in the future, the energy system has to be a two-way exchange in which, sometimes, you can charge your car and other times that energy from the car can be used for your home because it is cheaper. We must wait and see how the energy sector advances towards a more intelligent system that will be supported by digital connectivity. It is an opportunity for the ICT sector to talk more with the energy sector and, also, vice versa.

You talk about the world of telecommunications, but how sustainable is the mobile phone sector?

-I would say that, for the moment, seeing the level of climate objectives and commitments, mobile phone operators have taken a big step forward in this regard, but there is still a lot to be done. We talk about access to renewable energy and also making networks as energy efficient as possible. Energy efficiency has been at the center of the development of 5G and it already is in 6G, which is already being talked about; data centers are more efficient. But there are more things we can do and, above all, mobile devices.

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-On this point, mobile devices, the big brands speak at this Mobile World Congress about recycled smartphones… Is this the ideal solution for the sector?

-It is certainly an important part of the solution. We have to move towards a model that uses more recycled content and we have started to discuss this with the industry and have done some research from the GSMA side. In November of last year we published a strategic document in this regard where we had a vision of a sustainable mobile device with the longest possible useful life, made with 100% recycled content, using 100% renewable and 100% recyclable energy.

-But… is a mobile with 100% recycled material possible?

-At the moment there is no mobile device that meets all these characteristics. But as you say, we’re already looking at some of the manufacturers, including recycled content, and I think we just have to do more research and innovation to see how far we can go and maybe we can get very close to 100% and that’s important. But not only this, because we also have to use renewable energy in manufacturing and that the devices are used for as long as possible. 80% of the footprint of a device occurs before taking it out of the box. We have to make sure that that device has a second life, a third life or a fourth life.

-Speaking of the carbon footprint of mobile devices, that is part of Scope 3. In your latest report you only talk about the direct and indirect ones, that is, 1 and 2. Why?

-Scope 3 is difficult to measure, because you are looking to measure your entire supply chain. What we’ve been doing over the last year is working with a group of our members on developing a methodology to measure Scope 3 emissions. We want to make sure that these emissions are measured consistently across the sector. We’ve pretty much finished developing this methodology and were planning to release it in a couple of months, which I think will help start to make sure we have more consistent scope three data. I think once we have that, we’ll have a better idea of ​​what the industry emissions are.

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-In the latest report on climate action, they talk about the fact that 61% of the sector is aligned with the zero network. What about the remaining 39%? Don’t you have that concern?

-Many operators are working and seeing how they can commit to these objectives. We find that it can be difficult in some countries because the government itself doesn’t have a net zero target or it’s after 2050 and may be 2060 or even 2070. That makes it quite difficult for operators in that country to commit to a target based in science. However, we do have some members that go faster. and many of them are in Europe where they have set it at 2040 and some at 2030. I think that although maybe a third of the industry is not aligned, another third is going much faster and this will also help us reach zero emissions net by 2050.

-Where are these stragglers from? The report says that Asia is the one that has increased its CO2 emissions the most, does it have something to do with it?

-We are seeing a great growth of subscribers in the Asian markets and also in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Latin American markets, because more people are subscribing using mobile phones. We have to understand how we can engage with the governments of those countries and encourage them to set targets. We are delighted to invest in renewable energy and also talk more about the circular economy and e-waste. We can be the progressive voice for business, but we also need businesses in other sectors to ask for it too, because we’re still really a small part of the global economy.

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