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By Ayub Osman, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson Middle East and Africa

The fifth generation of cellular networks, 5G, offers numerous advantages, one of which is its potential to significantly contribute to addressing sustainable development challenges, including climate issues. Economies that realized this early and became forerunners of this promising technology are already seeing and reaping positive results.

Proactively embracing 5G technology does not only facilitate enhanced connectivity but also lays the foundation for advancements in various sectors, fostering economic growth, innovation, and improved quality of life. In some instances, the deployment of 5G has contributed to more efficient energy management systems, particularly in areas where smart grids and IoT-enabled devices are utilized to optimize energy consumption.

The first global stocktake at the recent COP28, held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), revealed that progress has been slow across all areas of climate action, especially efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This underscores the need to be exceptionally innovative in addressing climate change more effectively.

2023 revealed some stunning climate records, but will 2024 be any better? The MIT’s latest climate-model information indicates that under the current trend scenario, the world is likely (more than 50 percent probability) to exceed the  global climate warming threshold by 2°C by 2060, 2.8°C by 2100, and 3.8°C by 2150. We are running out of time to halt the acceleration of climate change, which is no longer a looming crisis.

How then, can technology such as 5G help in accelerating climate action and mitigating environmental risks? 5G presents significant opportunities for accelerating climate action, and through higher speeds, lower latency, and enhanced capacity, a range of sustainability-focused applications are enabled.  For instance, 5G-powered smart grids optimize energy distribution, reducing waste and promoting the integration of renewable sources. Connected sensors in agriculture provide real-time data for precise irrigation and fertilizer use, conserving resources and reducing pollution. 5G also enables the widespread adoption of smart building management systems, optimizing energy efficiency in homes and offices.

For me, one of the critical lessons from the world’s deadliest pandemic is that we are living in an interconnected world, and the impact of this global crisis cannot be contained within borders. Losing the fight against climate change will greatly affect all economies as well as lives and livelihoods.  Fortunately, technology offers powerful tools to combat these challenges. 5G's advanced capabilities act as a catalyst for accelerating climate action and mitigating environmental risks.

Technology and 5G 

In the pursuit of ambitious climate goals, technology emerges as a key contributor. As nations embark on this transformative journey, digitization and connectivity stand out as key facilitators for transitioning to a greener, lower-carbon future. Ericsson’s research indicates that, by 2030, connectivity could contribute to reducing EU emissions by approximately 550MtCO2e, equivalent to 15 percent of the EU's total emissions in 2017.

Ericsson’s modelling also suggests that by 2030, a further 55–170MtCO2e of emissions savings per annum will be possible, but only through the implementation of 5G technology— that’s the equivalent of taking one in seven of the EU’s cars off the road. This affirms the pivotal role that 5G can play in managing consumption and fostering sustainability.

  1. Managing Energy Usage

By design, 5G is more efficient than 4G, as 5G systems can carry 10 times the volume of data traffic than a 4G system, with no net increase in energy consumption. More importantly, 5G can empower AI solutions for more efficient energy and consumption management, using less energy compared to 4G.

Cellular-connected production management systems and IoT tracking, facilitated by 5G, can significantly enhance efficiency in factories and warehouses. Some industries are already leveraging these systems for more efficient temperature and humidity control in factories and warehouses in order to reduce electricity consumption, lessen inventory wastage, and extend the shelf life of sensitive materials such as prepared food, vaccines, or microprocessors.

  1. Connected Cars and Automotive Connectivity

Driverless cars, powered by 5G connectivity, represent a crucial step in decreasing carbon emissions in the transportation sector. The connected car market, forecast to reach USD 166 billion by 2025, relies on digital technologies powered by cellular connectivity, making robust network infrastructure essential. With features like efficient cruise control and automated braking, driverless vehicles can achieve a 20–30% improvement in energy savings.

As a trusted technology partner in the automotive sector, Ericsson provides connected vehicle services to support the growing connected car ecosystem and infrastructure, as well as the development towards 5G.

  1. Connected Buildings

Globally, buildings are responsible for 37% of global carbon emissions and 34% of energy demand. Smart cities, powered by 5G networks, can enable building automation to save energy, reduce carbon emissions, and combat climate change. Simple changes, like implementing IoT-based smart sensors that automatically turn lights off when not needed, can significantly reduce energy consumption.

Ericsson is helping traditional buildings transform into IoT-connected smart buildings. By leveraging cellular connectivity, property managers can optimize energy usage and address potential issues before they become a big expense.

It has become imperative to accelerate the global rollout of 5G. 5G mid-band population coverage outside mainland China has increased from 10 percent in 2022 to around 30 percent at the end of 2023. The pace of deployment and coverage needs to increase in order to fully harness 5G's potential in the battle against climate change.

While climate change continues to take center stage at global conferences— including the recently concluded MWC in Barcelona and now at LEAP 2024— we must invest more into 5G and related solutions that help address this global crisis. In line with our participation this year at these events, we look forward to fostering more 5G partnerships, connecting leading communications service providers (CSPs), and engaging in in-depth discussions with stakeholders to unlock the full potential and promised benefits of 5G, including sustainability and climate change use cases to address pressing environmental challenges.

Timely and decisive actions today can pave the way for a greener, more connected, and more sustainable tomorrow. The acceleration of 5G is no longer merely a technological milestone but a crucial step towards achieving global climate objectives. By fostering collaboration and harnessing the power of 5G, we can turn the tide on climate change and build a greener future for all.

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