Virtual economy and climate

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dématérialisation économie climat scenario giec

Will a virtual economy emit less CO2? Emissions can almost double depending on whether one is considering a scenario in which there is a more rapid transition towards a service and information economy (type B1), or a scenario in which more standard evolution is considered (type A1).

According to a European study, by replacing products or carbon-rich activities by their virtual or electronic equivalent, the dematerialization of the economy could reduce energy consumption in buildings by 17% and lower transport emissions by 27% – by improving logistics operations.

One should not overestimate the importance of this technology. Substituting 20 % of business trips with videoconferences would thus reduce CO2 emissions by about 25 million tons a year, but this is not much compared to the 30 billion tons emitted every year. And even if you do your shopping over the Internet, it must still be delivered to your home and this generally requires a motor vehicle…

By contrast, Information and communication technologies (ICT) emit significant amounts of GEGs: about 2% of world GEG emissions (1.75 through use and 0.25 to produce equipment). This is as much as the aeronautical industry! Indeed, a server emits as many GEGs over a year as a 4×4 because it is almost always working, usually in an air conditioned data centre. Also, even the smallest Google search consumes energy. Even a virtual character, in a game or a parallel universe, produces GEGs.

The results of the B1 scenario are so much better because of the digital economy but also because they include “a high level of social and environmental responsibility combined with a global approach to sustainable development”. Virtual reality is – obviously – just part of the solution.


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