Minister says plans to use information to help reduce emissions should not come at expense of increased environmental impact
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The government will “remain vigilant” to the environmental impact of the storage and use of digital data, a minister has claimed.
Late last year, the government published its long-awaited National Data Strategy; the plan put forward a range of proposals and ambitions intended to “unlock the power of data for the UK”. This included setting out the government’s belief that “better use of data has the potential to help solve wider climate change problems and help the UK meet its net zero 2050 target”.
But the carbon footprint of data storage has grown in recent years; the IT industry as a whole is typically reported to comprise about 4% of all global carbon emissions, with datacentres accounting for up to a third of this.
The most recent figures from the International Energy Agency calculated that about 1% of the world’s electricity demand is generated by datacentres. The cumulative annual consumption of the data-storage facilities is roughly equivalent to that of Spain or Australia, and is higher than that of about 200 other countries worldwide.
A recent written parliamentary question from Scottish National Party MP Martyn Day asked the government whether it “has plans to promote knowledge on the environmental impact of storing unnecessary data”.
In response, Julia Lopez, the minister for media, data and digital infrastructure, said that, “better data use and data-driven innovation will be vital to solving some of today’s biggest challenges, including the UK’s transition to net zero through driving emissions reductions across sectors”.
She added: “At the same time as seizing this opportunity we know that we must remain vigilant to the environmental consequences of increased data use. Through the National Data Strategy Forum workstream on net zero, we will continue to highlight the environmental impact of data use as well as champion how the better use of data can support our net zero ambitions.”