IGF 2021 WS #253 Cutting carbon in a digital world - myths and facts

Friday, 10th December, 2021 (14:00 UTC) - Friday, 10th December, 2021 (15:00 UTC)
Conference Room 3

Organizer 1: Private Sector, Eastern European Group
Organizer 2: Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 3: Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 1: George Kamiya, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Steven Moore, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Additional Speakers

Pernilla Bergmark, Ericsson Research

Savannah Goodman, Google


Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

Measuring impact: How can we improve the assessment, measurement and monitoring of the environmental impact of digitalisation and the Internet?
Reducing impact: How can we achieve a net zero impact on climate change of the further expansions of the Internet and its infrastructure? How can Internet standards, governance and policy choices, and standards for device design, development and manufacture, contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of the Internet (e.g. through the adoption of green computing, energy efficient servers and machines/processes, and by policy contributions)? How can we further use digital technologies to better predict and manage the impacts of climate change?

Rapid ICT sector growth is enabling unparalleled increases in economic growth and productivity, human interconnectedness, and information sharing. Tremendous gains in energy efficiency have enabled substantial productivity gains without increasing energy consumption; for example, from 2010-2018, global data center electricity consumption stayed essentially flat while compute output grew 6.5x. Still, questions have arisen about the carbon footprint of digital technologies. This session will explore myths and realities of the carbon footprint of the ICT sector. Companies will outline strategies and commitments to create a carbon-free tech sector, and opportunities for digital technology deployment to help address climate change. Government and civil society speakers will speak to policy actions to complement and accelerate the transition to a carbon-free ICT sector. We’ll also discuss challenges and opportunities for expanding carbon-free energy deployment across the globe, since most efforts to date are concentrated in high income countries. This topic is relevant for policy questions 1-3 above: : Policy maker awareness of ICT sector emissions (and approaches to addressing those emissions) is growing, but often discussions of the issue are based on limited or inaccurate data. We will use this session to build on growing momentum and focus on this issue by sharing the latest data on emissions, discussing how we can continue to monitor ICT carbon footprints, and presenting corporate plans to move to carbon-free operations (addresses policy questions 1&2). By doing so, we hope to achieve the following: (1) help policy makers understand corporate strategies, and devise policies that can support and accelerate the transition to carbon-free energy (addresses policy question 3); (2) convince other companies that it is possible, and even helpful for them, to move to carbon-free energy (addresses policy question 1); and (3) expand the discussion around carbon-free energy to countries where it has so far been less of a focus, and explore how to approach such an energy transition in low- and middle income economies (addresses policy questions 2&3). We’ll start with brief presentations from five panelists on the latest data on carbon emissions across the ICT sector, and include plenty of time for moderated discussion and audience questions.


7. Affordable and Clean Energy
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
12. Responsible Production and Consumption
13. Climate Action

Targets: Measuring and neutralizing carbon emissions from the ICT sector in order to enable a carbon-free global technology and communications industry directly supports the following SDGs (specific targets indicated above): SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy): This session will cover how we can measure and eliminate carbon emissions from the ICT sector around the world, and in particular energy use by the ICT sector. This, in turn, will drive more generation of cleaner and affordable energy for all. SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth): Clean energy deployment promises to deliver new and more sustainable jobs, contributing to more sustainable economic growth. SDG 9 (resilient infrastructure): This SDG emphasizes sustainable industrialization and innovation. More carbon-free energy production is the foundation of more sustainable industrialization, and deployment of innovative technologies will be key to achieving such carbon-free energy. ICT sector action toward carbon-free energy can push other parts of the economy to follow. SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) The session will also explore carbon emissions from producing ICT sector products and components, and discuss how to move toward more sustainable production and reduced consumption of resources. SDG 13 (combat climate change): Neutralizing ICT sector carbon emissions is an important step in combating climate change. SDG 17 (partnership for development): Our session will focus on private sector efforts toward carbon-free energy deployment, and how we need to work with governments and civil society to reach our carbon-free energy goals.


The rapid spread of digitalization and growth of ICT and digital tools and technologies are enabling unparalleled increases in economic growth and productivity, human interconnectedness, and information sharing. While tremendous gains in energy efficiency have enabled substantial productivity gains without increasing energy consumption, questions remain about the carbon footprint of digital technologies. Based on recent research and evidence, this session aims to tackle some of the main questions around ICT carbon footprints and discuss how companies and all stakeholder across the globe can move to carbon-free energy, as well as the main elements of policy environments across the globe that would enable such transformation. The workshop will be led by a panel of academic, industry, and international organization stakeholders who will present recent data on the greenhouse gas emissions from the ICT sector, in particular from electricity consumption by data centers, networks, and end user devices. The group will also discuss approaches to neutralizing these emissions, and how multiple stakeholders can come together at the international, national, and local levels to reduce emissions through policies, regulations, and collaborative action. The discussion will be framed by brief scene-setter presentations and driven by participants’ contribution, following the below agenda: 1. Introduction (5 minutes): the session will start with the introduction of invited speakers and a short remarks by the moderator 2. Setting the scene (25 minutes): invited panelists will briefly present their research, views and perspectives on the latest data on carbon emissions across the ICT sector 3. Moderated discussion with the audience (25 minutes): the moderator will open the floor for an interactive conversation with participants (both online and in person) to further expand on the perspectives provided by the panelists 4. Wrap-up (5 minutes): the moderator will summarize the discussion and ask the speakers and audience to comment on the session’s key takeaways

Expected Outcomes

Attendees will have a renewed and refined understanding of the energy and carbon footprint of the ICT sector. Participants may also publish discussion papers, academic papers, or other information documenting the footprint of ICT and strategies to shift to carbon free operations. The summary of the workshop will capture the research, data and case studies mentioned by speakers and participants and will provide valuable input for further discussions either at the IGF or other fora where these matters are discussed.

We expect a hybrid event, with some participants and some panelists online, and others in person, and will maximize participation in the following ways: 1. We’ll keep the event to 60 minutes, since virtual engagement tends to be higher for shorter events. 2. Integrating online panelists: if possible in the event space, we’ll plan to display virtual panelists on large, individual screens interspersed with in-person panelists, to give the feel of them being there in-person, and we’ll ask all virtual panelists to remain online in Zoom breakout rooms following the event for at least 15 minutes so they can interact with attendees as they might after an in-person session. In-person attendees will also be able to join these breakout rooms from dedicated laptops. 3. Engaging both in-person and virtual participants: we’ll use the Google Slides Q&A tool to take questions during the event. In-person participants will be able to use this tool from their laptop or phone (and we’ll have a laptop available for those who have issues with this), and it will allow all participants to pose (and up-vote) questions on equal footing. Participants will also be able to ask questions verbally, and the moderator will alternate between virtual and in-person questions if applicable. 4. We may also use an online audience polling tool to encourage participation and engage both online and in-person participants (the latter would participate using their laptop/phone).

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool. 


Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

(1) We need a clearer picture on carbon emissions in the ICT sector, so data sharing, transparency, and standardization are key to help track and reduce emissions from the ICT sector (in addition to emissions reduction commitments). (2) Delivering emissions reductions both from operations and supply chains requires partnering closely with other companies, utilities, and governments to facilitate access to carbon-free energy sources.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

(1) The ICT industry should continue to reduce its emissions (including sharing energy use and emissions data to track progress) while also lending expertise and applying digital technologies to reduce emissions in other sectors and services. (2) As we look forward, we will also need to expand efforts to improve the sustainability of the entire supply chain (including energy, materials, water, and waste).