Report: Digital technology has ‘central role to play’ in reaching net zero


Digital technology has a “central role to play” in achieving net zero emissions and tech giants must play their part, a report has said.

Smart meters, supercomputers, weather modelling and AI could all help cut carbon emissions by one third in the next 10 years, according to the Royal Society.

It estimates that digital technology contributes between 1.4% and 5.9% to global emissions and recommends that firms be more open about their energy consumption, in particular from data centres.

The net zero transition should be data-led, with governance arrangements in place that enable the safe and rapid use of data to support the achievement of the net zero target, the report explained.

Regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority should develop guidance on the energy proportionality of digital technology, such as Bitcoin, which “wastes huge amounts of energy” by being highly compute-intensive.

Professor Andy Hopper, vice president of the Royal Society and professor of computer technology at the University of Cambridge, said: “There are many routes to net zero but digital technology has a central role to play, no matter what sector or country you look at.”

“This pandemic has accelerated the digital transition so now is the time to take stock and ensure the sustainable development of future digital technologies and systems.

He added: “Transparent technology can benefit consumers, the technology sector and the planet. If more people are confident in moving their computing onto the cloud, energy savings are possible using more efficient data centres.

“We must stay alert to digital demand outpacing the carbon emission reductions this transition promises. But this report shows how addressing barriers to innovation and harnessing the potential of our technology can make a sustainable net zero future a reality.”