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How will the new ITU standards affect the telecoms industry

By Natasha Allard
23rd March 2020

The ITU has launched a new standard for emissions reduction that will impact telecoms and software businesses.

The telecoms industry currently consumes around 3% of global energy.  ICT companies are under ever increasing scrutiny and pressure to reduce energy usage and carbon emissions. As demand of connectivity increases along with mobile traffic and data. We know this will have an impact on energy consumption. But how do ICT companies balance the demands of an energy-intensive industry and the need for the latest datacentre technology and extensive network infrastructure with the necessity

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to cut emissions.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has launched a new standard for emissions reduction trajectories that will align ICT sector companies with the Paris Agreement, enabling the ICT sector to drive the shift towards a zero-carbon economy.

This blog explores why this is important and how it affects your business.


Why is this an important development?

I strongly believe that the ICT sector has a major role to play in achieving a zero-carbon economy.

Data centres that are used to power our digital services now contribute approximately 2% of global GHG emissions – on par with the aviation sector. But major companies in the ICT sector are stepping up their efforts to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and to decarbonise the entire economy. Kirsty McKell, associate director of Carbon Intelligence, emphasises that “clients Vodafone and BT have committed to ambitious targets to procure 100 per cent renewable energy, as part of global initiative RE100.”

The new ITU standard provides the guidance necessary for ICT sector companies to set emissions targets that are in line with climate science.


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How does this standard align with the Science Based Target initiative?

The standard will support ICT companies in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions at the rate necessary to meet the Paris Agreement goal – to limit warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels – beyond the

logonew minimum level of ambition required for targets to be certified by the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi).

Up until now there has been no SBTi-approved target setting approach for companies in the ICT sector. The standard sets out recommended emission-reduction trajectories specific to the ICT industry. Because of the diverse nature of devices and applications covered by the ICT sector, a separate pathway has also been developed for each of the main ICT sub-sectors.


Our Director of Strategic Services at Carbon Intelligence, and previously BT’s Director of Energy and Environment, Richard Tarboton emphasises that “As one of the sectors of the economy that is experiencing high growth in energy consumption to meet the increasing demand for communications, it is brilliant to see this new standard approach to setting science-based targets.”



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To support the implementation of this new standard, ITU, GeSi, GSMA and the SBTi have developed a guidance document to support ICT companies in setting 1.5oC aligned targets.


How will the ITU standard affect your business?



With investors such as Blackrock putting sustainability at the centre of their investment decisions, they will be looking to benchmarks such as CDP to assess companies. CDP places a heavy weighting on

whether companies have set or committed to a science-based target in their scoring. Without a credible target your business could be at risk of scoring poorly.


To date, 29 operator groups representing 30% of the mobile connections worldwide are already committed to science-based targets, reports GSMA.

To meet these targets ICT sector companies will need to:

  1. Continue implementing energy efficiency programmes
  2. Switch to renewable or low carbon electricity supply
  3. Encourage end-users to be more carbon conscious
  4. Consider the embodied carbon within their supply chain


What is the ITU and why is it important?

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is the UN agency for information and communication technologies. ITU coordinates the world’s satellites, facilitates internet connections, helps define new technologies and lays down standards and protocols that the industry’s is built on. We use it every time you open your phone or check emails.

ITU members represent a cross-section of the global ICT sector, from large to small, including clients BT, Vodafone, Qualcomm and Inmarsat.


What are ITU standards?

ITU operates voluntary standards that are driven by its members. ITU standards are fundamental to the operation of today’s ICT networks. For instance, the ITU-T H.264 is now one of the most popular standards for video compression.

In a typical year, ITU will produce or revise upwards of 150 standards covering everything from core network functionality to next-generation services such as IPTV.


How did this new standard come about?

The new standard (ITU L.1470) was developed in partnership with the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) and the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi).

Find out how we partnered with GeSi to develop Climate Scenario Analysis Framework to help ICT sector companies align with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and understand the financial impact of climate change on their bottom-line.


Looking to take a leading approach to target setting in your business?

Get in touch to understand the first step for your organisation to set a credible emissions target aligned with climate science, email info@carbon.ci