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Unctad: rise of digital technologies impacts the environment

Geneva, 10 (Prensa Latina) The rise of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency mine negatively impacts on the environment, warned today UN Trade and Development (Unctad), which suggested recommendations to address this global problem.

According to its Digital Economy Report 2024, published this Wednesday, in 2022 global data centers consumed 460 terawatt hours, the equivalent of the energy used by 42 million homes in the United States in one year, an amount that is expected to double in 2026.

The institution cites calculations indicating that the digital sector is responsible for between 1.5 and 3.2 percent of global greenhouse emissions, a figure similar to that of air and maritime transport.

Between 2018 and 2022, the electricity consumption of 13 major data center operators more than doubled, highlighting the urgency of addressing the energy and water footprints of these technologies.

To give just one example, Google revealed that in 2022 the total water consumption in its data centers and offices amounted to about 21.2 million cubic meters.

The report also highlights the increase in electronic waste, which varies by region.

In developed countries, 3.25 kilograms of digital waste are generated per person, compared to less than one kilogram in developing countries and only 0.21 in nations with fewer resources.

This distribution contrasts with that of the mineral resources necessary for digitalization, since a high percentage of graphite and cobalt is found in Africa and, according to data from the World Bank, their demand could increase by 500 percent until 2050.

“We talk a lot about how digital technologies can reduce paper use and improve energy efficiency, and can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation and construction, agriculture and energy sectors…But we don’t know talks so much about the negative part,” warned Rebeca Grynspan, secretary general of Unctad.

She stressed that digitalization implies a high demand for resources, in addition to requiring large amounts of carbon-rich electricity.

To counter this threat to the environment and support an equitable and environmentally responsible digital economy, the Report offers policy suggestions for the use of precious minerals used to make electronic devices, including mobile phones, and other vital natural resources, such as water.

In this context, the trade agency suggests new business models and policies to make digital growth more sustainable.

Its recommendations include using circular economy models, optimizing resources, strengthening regulations, investing in renewable energy and promoting international cooperation.