MWC 2024: Mobile Network Operators Achieve 6% Reduction in Carbon Emissions

Mobile network operators globally have achieved a significant reduction in carbon emissions, with a 6 percent decrease recorded between 2019 and 2022, according to the latest Mobile Net Zero report released by the GSMA at MWC Barcelona.
Telecom tower of Virgin Media O2The report highlights notable regional variations in the reduction of operational emissions, with Europe leading the charge with a remarkable 50 percent reduction.

Meanwhile, North America, Latin America, the Middle East, and North Africa collectively saw emissions decline by 20-30 percent. However, Greater China and the Asia-Pacific region witnessed a rise in operational emissions despite being the largest and second-largest mobile markets globally, GSMA said. Nonetheless, the overall global emissions decreased, demonstrating progress in sustainability efforts despite increased data usage.

The mobile sector’s ambition to achieve net zero by 2050 hinges on cutting emissions to 45 percent below 2020 levels by 2030. This calls for an annual reduction rate of around 7 percent across all emission scopes, including Scope 1, 2, and 3.

Encouragingly, recent progress indicates that this target is within reach, as operational emissions in Europe, North America, Latin America, and the MENA region have surpassed the target reduction rate over the past three years. However, the report underscores the need for enhanced data and analysis to understand trends related to Scope 3 emissions, particularly those emanating from operators’ supply chains.

The reduction in operational emissions has been primarily driven by advancements in energy efficiency and the adoption of renewable energy sources. Notably, over half of the emission drop in 2022 was attributed to improved energy efficiency measures across networks, data centers, and offices, along with the increased use of renewable energy. The report also highlights the significant role played by renewable energy, which accounted for 33 percent of the electricity purchased by operators in 2022, marking a substantial increase from 14 percent in 2019.

However, achieving net zero emissions by 2050 necessitates collaborative efforts from industry stakeholders, supported by conducive policies and investments from governments. The report concludes by providing recommendations and action points for operators, suppliers, and policymakers to accelerate climate action progress.

John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA, emphasized the importance of government engagement in supporting the mobile industry’s decarbonization efforts, particularly in encouraging investment in renewable energy. He highlighted the necessity for collective action, stating that the race to net zero is one that requires everyone’s participation for success.

The other key findings of the report include: increasing number of operators committing to science-based targets and disclosing their climate impacts. Moreover, efforts to increase the circularity of mobile phones and network equipment are deemed critical in reducing Scope 3 emissions.

GSMA, which announced new circularity targets aimed at minimizing environmental impact through reuse, refurbishment, and recycling, said 15 operators have signed up to these targets, representing a billion mobile connections as of January 2024.