French study finds 5G increases risk to climate

Deployment of the new mobile internet technology is likely to cause a 'significant increase' in greenhouse gas emissions, an independent climate council has found

19 December 2020
France's 5G rollout has already begun and eventually the technology will be available in the whole country
By Connexion journalist

France’s roll-out of 5G technology could cause a large increase in carbon emissions, a report published today (December 19) by the Haut Conseil pour le Climat (HCC) has found. 

The study, the first of its kind in France, looked at the environmental impact of deploying 5G mobile phone technology in the country - a process that is already underway

The HCC is an independent body tasked with issuing advice to the government on policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It found that 5G technology will lead to a significant increase in the carbon footprint of digital technology. 

The additional emissions will come mainly from the manufacturing of new devices - smartphones, headsets, etc. - and of network and data centre equipment. 

The deployment of 5G will also lead to an increase in electricity production in France, the HCC found. 

The carbon footprint of digital technology in France is currently around 15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. This equates to around 2% of France’s overall carbon footprint, implying the average CO2 emissions is 11 tonnes per person.

To put this amount in perspective, energy information website Energuide states that the average CO2 emissions of a person living in Belgium is eight tonnes per year. 

To limit global warming to two degrees celsius, the average level of CO2 emission per capita on our planet must not exceed 2.1 tonnes by 2050, the website states. 

The HCC report found that 5G technology could add between 2.7 to 6.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year by 2030.  

The report stated that there have been insufficient evaluations into the theoretical positive impact of 5G on the environment, such as a decrease in transport demand, improvements in energy efficiency, etc. 

The HCC issued five recommendations to the government. 

These included clarifying climate issues before deploying new technologies, such as 5G, imposing carbon footprint limits on phone operators deploying 5G and better informing the public about waste or disproportionate use of energy associated with digital services.

France’s 5G roll-out

Eventually, all sites in France will be required to provide a 5G service, but the initial phases are as followed:

5G in 3,000 sites by 2022, 8,000 sites by 2024 and 10,500 sites by 2025. 

At least 25% of these sites must be in “sparsely populated areas and industrial areas, outside the main metropolitan zones,” France’s telecommunications regulatory agency Arcep states. 

A spokesperson at Arcep said that there is also an obligation for the four telecoms operators to increase 4G coverage. 

From 2022, at least 75% of sites [in France] should benefit from a mobile internet download speed of at least 240Mbps (megabits per second). By the end of 2025, 90% of sites should offer this speed.

France is not the first country in Europe to introduce 5G. 

It has already been launched in Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK and Switzerland.

Worldwide, South Korea is leading the way in deployment and marketing of 5G on frequencies similar to Europe.

Arcep will be publishing maps at the beginning of 2021 to chart the rollout of 5G. 

This will include the locations of the sites that the operators plan to bring into service within three months and the locations of the sites for which an application for planning permission has been filed.

Read more:

Orange to launch 5G next week in 15 French cities

Lille issues ‘moratorium’ on 5G technology

96% of France now covered by at least one 4G operator

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