Tech, telecom businesses face stricter green rules in EU digital policy draft

05 Feb 2020 12:00 am by Giulia Bedini

IT businesses in Europe are set to face new EU rules on energy efficiency and device repairability to cut their environmental footprint and help the bloc reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, MLex has learned.

Technology and telecom companies could have a target of 2030 to attain carbon neutrality, according to a draft European Commission policy paper seen by MLex. Previous plans drafted by the commission's digital department had hinted at 2035 as an end date to curb the sector's emissions.

"Data centers and telecommunications will need to become more energy efficient, use more renewable energy sources and become carbon neutral by 2030," reads the draft digital policy communication, which sketches out how to make the EU "fit for the digital age."

The new commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, has put both digital and climate priorities at the top of its policy program for the next five years. Its aim is to boost the bloc's competitiveness in the digital sector and at the same time reduce emissions to zero within 30 years.

The draft document — which is expected to be presented by the commission in coming weeks — stresses that digitalization can "significantly" contribute to the bloc's efforts to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. It can do this by, for example, making energy and transport systems "smarter," especially through the use and real-time transmission of data.

But it also points out that for this to happen, the information and communications technology industry will first have to clean itself up. "For digitalization to deliver its benefits, the ICT sector needs to undergo its own green transformation," the draft paper says.

The environmental footprint of the ICT sector is "significant," it notes. It is estimated to account for between 5 and 9 percent of the world's total electricity use and more than 2 percent of all emissions, it says.

In a recent interview with MLex, the EU's energy chief Kadri Simson said that data centers in the bloc might face new energy labelling requirements, given their generally low level of energy efficiency.

— Repairability —

On top of the emission-reduction and energy efficiency measures, the sector could also face new waste regulation, according to the paper.

"Electronic waste in Europe is the fastest growing form of waste, currently estimated to 12 million tons per year," the paper reads, stressing that only around 35 percent of electronics are recycled.

"More information on what can be replaced or recycled would help address these issues and constituted an important step towards a circular economy," it says.

"Giving consumers a right to repair and update their electronic devices could extend the life of ICT equipment," it notes, suggesting that a "circular device initiative" may be among the measures EU regulators propose in 2021.

According to the latest commission agenda, published today, it will propose a policy document aimed at boosting the "circularity" of the bloc's economy on March 10.

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