Measuring and estimating the overall carbon footprint of the internet is hard, reducing it is even harder! Many people still think that because the internet is virtual, it does not have a carbon footprint, but this is not true.

The carbon footprint of the internet, includes measuring the carbon footprint of manufacturing and the electricity required to run the ICT equipment for:

  • Data centres and data storage
  • Communication networks (mobile and wires)
  • End-user devices (phones and computers)

Global internet usage makes up about 4% of global CO2 emissions.

The real climate and transformative impact of ICT: A critique of estimates, trends, and regulations
By: Charlotte Freitag,Mike Berners-Lee,Kelly Widdicks,Bran Knowles,Gordon S. Blair,Adrian Friday

The global carbon footprint of the internet and computing is greater than the aviation industry, according to this research paper published in 2022.

In this detailed paper, they state that there are many assumptions that people do agree on, including:

  • We need to decrease the overall world carbon footprint to avoid climate catastrophe
  • The traffic from data is growing.
  • The demand for energy to run ICT is increasing.
  • The demand for data centres and network services is increasing.
  • The increase in smartphone use, is decreasing the emissions from TVs and PCs.
  • Increasing the use of renewable energy would reduce ICT emissions.

To decrease emissions in line with other sectors, emissions would need to reduce by 42% by 2030, 72% by 2040, and 91% by 2050.

Graph showing Internet and ICT emissions from 2020 to 2050

Diagram from the paper: ICT emissions, assuming the 2020 level (adjusted for truncation error) remains stable until 2050, and global CO2 emissions reduced in line with 1.5C under scenario SSP2-19. Numbers on the blue slope indicate global CO2 cuts needed relative to 2010 and labels at the bottom indicate ICT’s share of global CO2 emissions in percent.

Future internet CO2e reduction

In the future, there is concern that ICT and internet emissions will continue to grow despite the need for reductions. At the moment, the sector is not on track to meet climate recommendations and reductions. Focusing on efficiency improvements, renewable energy, and circular electronics may not be enough to reverse the growth in emissions.

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Although some global internet companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft show positive signs by setting net-zero and carbon-negative targets, there is a lack of policies to ensure widespread climate target compliance across the sector.

To ensure current technologies have a positive impact, we will need global agreements for policies such as a carbon cap on extraction, a price on carbon emissions, or a constraint on consumption.

To find out more about how you can reduce your website’s carbon footprint, book a demo of our innovative software, Kanoppi.

  • Louise Towler

    Written by

    Louise Towler

    Founder of Kanoppi and WordPress agency Indigo Tree, with deep expertise in WordPress websites, technical SEO and commercial performance for clients across the UK.