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China’s energy guzzling digital sector may disrupt country’s plans of peaking climate carbon emissions by 2030

China’s carbon neutrality goals are under stress on account of soaring carbon emissions by its digital sector fueled by high power consumption.

A Greenpeace report release Friday said, electricity consumption from China’s data centres and 5G base stations could almost quadruple from 2020 to 2035, which will increase the carbon emissions. The report said, combined electricity consumption by data centres and 5G base stations stood at more than 200 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2020, which is expected to rise to 782 billion kWh by 2035. This shot up in power consumption will produce a lot of carbon emissions, as 61 percent of its present electricity generation comes from coal, the report added. 

Rather than reducing the carbon emissions, China’s internet sector has become one of the country’s biggest electricity users and one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions. 5G sector is one of the main drivers of the increase, the report said. By 2035 it will emit 310 million tonnes of carbon, which is more than three times Guangzhou’s total carbon emissions in 2019.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to bring the country’s climate-warming emissions to a peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, committing the country to an accelerated transition to renewable energy. The report, however, said that carbon emissions from China’s internet industry are projected to continue to rise through 2035, long after its targeted 2030 national emissions peak, creating complications for the country’s carbon neutrality commitments.

In April, at a virtual climate summit of world leaders hosted by US President Joe Biden, 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 prioritize 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.

“Internet companies in China must commit to achieve 100% renewable energy and carbon neutrality across the supply chain by 2030. At the same time, policymakers can help enable this transition by mandating the use of 100% renewable energy and providing financial incentives for companies to shift to wind and solar.” “Digital technology should be a solution to the climate crisis, not a growing source of emissions,” experts said.

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