IGF 2023 WS #21 Internet's Environmental Footprint: towards sustainability

Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (08:45 UTC) - Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (09:45 UTC)
WS 3 – Annex Hall 2

Sustainability & Environment
Digital Technologies to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals
Environmental Data
Existing and New Technologies as Climate Risks
Existing and New Technologies as Climate Solutions

Organizer 1: Monojit Das, Ongea na Demokrasia
Organizer 2: Gabriel Karsan, 🔒Ongea Na Demokrasia
Organizer 3: Annett Onchana, N/A

Speaker 1: Yawri Carr, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 2: Lily Edinam Botsyoe, Technical Community, African Group
Speaker 3: Innocent Adriko, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 4: Ihita Gangavarapu, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 5: Monojit Das, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 6: Gabriel Karsan, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 7: Annett Onchana, Civil Society, African Group


Monojit Das, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Online Moderator

Monojit Das, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Annett Onchana, Civil Society, African Group


Birds of a Feather - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

A. What are the implications of the growing energy consumption of the internet for greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and global energy demand, and what steps can be taken to mitigate these impacts? B. What are the potential long-term ecological and social consequences of the environmental impacts associated with the internet, and how can governments, industry, and civil society collaborate to address these issues and promote sustainable development? C. How can the environmental impact of submarine cable installation and internet satellite deployment be minimized, and what are the current best practices in place for these activities?

What will participants gain from attending this session? The workshop aims to enhance participants' knowledge of the environmental impact of the internet and related digital technologies and educate them about strategies that can be implemented both at individual and societal levels to mitigate this impact, including the notion of "internet pollution," the environmental effects of emerging technologies such as 5G and 6G. The workshop will explore techniques for making the internet more sustainable, including the adoption of renewable energy sources and energy-efficient technology. Furthermore, attendees will discover ways to reduce their carbon footprint and promote clean energy and climate action via their internet use. Lastly, it will emphasize on importance of ensuring equitable access to the benefits of the internet, especially with regards to environmental sustainability and addressing climate change. Ultimately, the workshop will provide a holistic comprehension of the intricate relationship between the internet and the environment and how to make it more equitable and sustainable.


The internet has become an essential tool for communication, education, employment, and leisure activities. However, its widespread use has resulted in significant environmental costs, as devices, servers, and networks consume large amounts of energy and resources while emitting greenhouse gases. The internet's carbon footprint accounts for around 3.7% of global emissions, comparable to the airline industry. This figure is expected to rise exponentially with the rapid deployment of 5G networks, which will require more infrastructure, energy, and resources, leading to greater extraction of rare earths and minerals, with the potential for geopolitical consequences and unequal distribution of wealth and costs. As the world faces a climate emergency and exceeds planetary limits, there is a critical need to reconsider the idea of unlimited data for user consumption. Not only do the main mediums for data transfer (submarine cables and low earth orbit satellites) bring environmental damage, but the massive data centers hosting our data also make significant environmental impacts due to their high energy consumption. Technical stakeholders are working to introduce effective sleep modes that reduce energy usage to a minimum during periods of inactivity and provide quick wake-up times when needed. However, civil society must also raise awareness that an unlimited data pack does not mean it should be turned on all the time, even when not in use. The internet's transformation into an influential tool has brought about significant environmental costs and with the world facing a climate emergency, it is essential to find ways to reduce the internet's carbon footprint while still providing access to its benefits. This requires collaboration between all stakeholders particularly with technical stakeholders and civil society to develop solutions that balance the benefits of the internet with the need for sustainable environmental practices.

Expected Outcomes

The participants would be educated on the carbon footprint of the internet, which includes emissions from data centers, servers and end-user devices. Secondly, such a workshop should enhance participants' understanding of the challenges and opportunities for reducing the environmental impact of the internet which could help in identifying opportunities for innovation and collaboration towards developing environmentally sustainable practices. The workshop could further facilitate the identification of best practices and recommendations for improving the sustainability of the internet. Thirdly, the workshop could also help to establish a network of experts and stakeholders interested in advancing a green internet agenda providing a platform for ongoing collaboration and knowledge sharing towards promoting environmental sustainability in the tech industry. Finally, the workshop could contribute to the Global Digital Compact envisioned by the UN Secretary-General, which aims to promote a sustainable digital economy by creating awareness for participants to identify areas of focus and action.

Hybrid Format: To ensure a successful session, it's crucial to communicate the agenda and format to all attendees in advance. This helps attendees understand how they can participate and what's expected of them. Additionally, appointing a facilitator who can manage the session and ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate is essential. The facilitator should also monitor the chat and Q&A and relay any questions or comments to the onsite speakers. To create equal opportunities for both onsite and online attendees to interact with each other, potential breakout sessions where attendees can discuss specific topics in small groups should be organized. Provisions will also be made for online polls or surveys to gather feedback from attendees, for live polling and Q&A, online tools like Mentimeter or Slido can be used whereas virtual whiteboards such as Mural or Google Jamboard can also be utilized to facilitate brainstorming sessions.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)
Collaboration and Innovation: Solving the internet's environmental impact requires teamwork among governments, industries, and civil society. Innovation, like energy-efficient algorithms and eco-friendly hardware, is vital. Collaboration and innovation must synergize, guided by comprehensive regulations.

Regulations and Responsibility: Stringent regulations, including extended producer responsibility laws and global deployment guidelines, are crucial. These rules foster accountability and sustainable practices, essential for mitigating the internet's environmental footprint. Collaboration, innovation, and regulations form the foundation for a greener digital future.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Enforce Stricter Regulations: Governments and international bodies must collaborate to mandate responsible production, usage, and disposal of electronic devices. Penalties for non-compliance and incentives for eco-friendly practices are crucial for accountability and driving sustainability.

Invest in Sustainable Research: Governments and private sectors should fund research in renewable energy, eco-friendly hardware, and efficient cable-laying and satellite deployment. Financial support and incentives can fuel the development of impactful, environmentally conscious solutions, paving the way for a greener digital future.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

Sustainable Internet

Background and Context

Since digitization is here to stay, there's a need in effective management of energy usage for ensuring that the both the ends are achieved in this process where we ensure sustainable internet and at same time ensure there is no further addition to digital divide in this era.

While many vulnerable people are becoming victim of their over energy usage for staying online that are leading to higher bills including debts and mental health issues alongside the impact to environment as there is yet to be any policy on mandating sustainable internet. Presently we are overdubbing an energy crisis in developing and emerging nations that require massive energy for sustaining life, where the focus on newer and cleaner energy resource incentives should be adapted. As the internet is a double-edged sword that can cut emissions and shape new modern sustainable industries.

Answering the Question of how to break the internet carbon curse is a journey of people-center findings presented in this report from conversations and sessions during the IGF showing the intersection of users, Networks, and data centers interacting and their contribution to the digital carbon footprint.


This report is based on the engagement of the session from the interactive audience participation that framed the thought process and open-ended question methodology to enhance more direct expression to tackle the question of achieving a sustainable internet by breaking the carbon emission chains with a full pictorial view of the life cycle of ICT and internet technology from sourcing materials to the end usage and trying to form common solutions. As reported on the Ericsson report the ICT sector in the sector life cycle in its entirety contributed 730 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, the figure constituted from sourcing the raw materials, electricity usage in the supply chain, and the physical buildings and hardware of ICT innovations. This accounts for 1.4% of total global emissions. Energy is unequally distributed and a major barrier to entry to the digitization of a community, hence a contributing factor to the digital divide With 70% of the population using ICT-related services compared to 10% of the population who use Aviation, There’s room for ICT-based innovations to accelerate decarbonization at every layer of usage and responsibility in the multistakeholder model, in contrast to another field the internet with its sharing and cohabitation in digital environments has created enormous offsets of carbon footprints caused by traditional industries.


Key insights and Discussion:

● The internet and its technologies such as 5G, IOT, and cloud computing backed with Open High-Quality Data Sets for AI-driven solutions have the potential to reduce 15% of Global emissions.

● A stability curve is prevalent, though with increased devices and traffic the internet and ICT as a sector accounts for 1.4% of emissions, showing the potential of the industry is add oriented service layers in all of the life cycles from design and manufacture to use case functionality to further reduce the digital carbon footprint.

● Big tech in the sharing of the economy should innovate on better climate offsets through collaborative spaces on green tech, open grid, and climate data insight solutions to accelerate incentives on the renewable energy sector as power sources for a sustainable internet.

● Promotion of user-focused circular economy solutions from accountable e-waste handling mechanisms, charging from greenhouses, device usage, and deeper understanding of technology and digital footprints is key to achieving a sustainable internet Recommendations:

● Media has a critical role to play in Digital sustainability reportage with evidence-backed sources and objective climate agendas, Misinformation and disinformation spread by digital platforms further contribute to their contribution to the carbon Emission, Internet sustainability reportage programs, and climate-focused media literacy programs should target critical mass and youth. The emerging youth initiative is committed to sensitization through content creation on the topic of environmentalism, youth, and climate technology.

● The fourth Industrial Revolution is reshaping the industrial base on how communication, transportation, and energy fields intersect, The internet with real-time data facilitation should focus on solution-oriented innovations on green policy, innovation to boost consumer choices

● Youth need to actively shape the circular economy Innovation that rewards data-driven energy transition programs that are in tune with local contexts of climate, culture, and sustainability.

● Promoting dialogues on meeting SDG Goal 13, which focuses on combating climate change and its impacts by adding a layer of technological optimism and climate consciousness in its design.

● User devices and patterns of usage still amount to the largest contribution of emission from cyberspace, User-focused literacy programs on consumption, usage, and innovation should be key properties in creating sustainable Green-powered Fourth Industrial Revolution economies.

●   Introduction of the green internet traffic where the data transfer between the networks who are following sustainable internet can be marked with green in the screen and display the percentage of carbon reduction , thereby adding a sense of pride to the users towards the environment.


In addition to the above, the workshop also saw the overwhelming participation from the audience and also from the other members post the session who were attending other events as many parallel events were going on, for assuring their support to the topic and possibly exploring synergies for fostering collaboration at different levels. The report can thereby conclude with the success that the impact is being found to be significant among the youth and also receive support from experience professionals as this particular theme of sustainability is a globally accepted challenge unlike other issues of internet governance that remains halted because of debate between stakeholders especially between the government and civil societies for accepting any uniform resolution.