China’s Data Centers, 5G Network Set to Double Emissions by 2035

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(Bloomberg) — Carbon emissions from China’s fast-growing digital infrastructure are set to more than double by 2035, according to Greenpeace, highlighting another challenge to the government’s ambitious goal of reaching net zero by 2060. 

Planet-warming carbon dioxide generated by 5G base stations and data centers is projected to continue rising even after major polluting industries such as steel and cement reach peak emissions around 2025, the non governmental organization said in a report on Friday. It could rise to 310 million tons a year by 2035, more than France’s total emissions. 

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China is home to the world’s largest 5G network and some of the biggest data centers. The two industries consumed almost the same amount of power last year as metropolises Beijing and Shenzhen combined. More than 60% of that came from burning coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, with the amount of electricity used set to nearly quadruple by 2035, the report said.   

Local governments are in the process of formulating plans to reach peak emissions as China aims to be carbon neutral by 2060. Rising emissions from digital infrastructure is a significant challenge they will have to consider, Greenpeace said. To date, only two major Chinese data center companies, Chinadata Group Holdings Ltd. and Shanghai AtHub Co., have committed to using 100% clean energy by 2030, the report found.

“Without urgent action to increase clean energy use, the Internet sector’s contribution to China’s carbon footprint will continue to grow,” said Ye Ruiqi, a co-author of the report. “If Internet giants, including Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, work to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030, they would play a critical role in catalyzing China’s low-carbon transition.”

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— With assistance by John Liu, and Karoline Kan

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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