Caixin
May 29, 2021 05:32 AM
BUSINESS & TECH

China’s 5G, Data Center Boom Poses Threats to Climate, Greenpeace Says

A worker is installing a 5G base station in Guizhou.
A worker is installing a 5G base station in Guizhou.

Data and 5G are two of the Chinese internet sector’s fastest-growing fields. But they have a dirty secret: an addiction to fossil fuels.

A new study shows how harmful that could be for the global climate. Chinese data centers and 5G base stations are poised to increase their combined power usage by 289% by 2035, according to a report published Friday by Greenpeace East Asia.

The environmental group says that’s worrying for a number of reasons:

• Data centers and 5G consumed more than 200 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity last year, more than 60% of it from burning coal.

• Emissions of carbon dioxide, a planet-warming greenhouse gas, are not expected to peak in China’s internet industry before 2035, a full decade after expected peaks in emissions-intensive sectors like steel and cement.

• Unlike their peers in the energy industry, many of China’s biggest data businesses — among them Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and GDS Holdings Ltd. — have not yet committed to producing net zero carbon emissions.

All of that threatens to complicate China’s climate pledges, the report says. The Asian giant, which emits more carbon into the atmosphere than any other country, plans to bring emissions to a peak by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

“Explosive growth in digital infrastructure does not need to mean growth in emissions,” said Ye Ruiqi, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. Tech companies could help reduce emissions by investing in renewable energy projects and directly buying wind and solar power, Ye said.

China’s internet enterprises “must commit to achieve 100% renewable energy and carbon neutrality across the supply chain by 2030,” Ye said, calling on policymakers to provide incentives for companies to make the transition.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com) and editor Bob Simison (bobsimison@caixin.com)

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