The widespread installation of fifth generation cellular broadband networks (5G) will likely increase greenhouse gas emissions over the next ten years, according to France’s High Council on Climate.
The report by the independent government advisory body, commissioned by the French Senate, found that 5G deployment in France would result in between 2.7 and 6.7 million tons of CO2-equivalent in 2030. That’s a significant increase compared to the tech sector’s current total environmental impact – about 15 million tons of CO2-equivalent.
The main impact comes from the manufacturing of the many component parts of 5G infrastructure and the new devices that will be produced to use it. Those devices use raw materials which must be mined, causing more emissions.
So far, much of the opposition to the rollout of 5G towers has been on health grounds, with critics citing unsubstantiated claims that the signals are hurting humans. Some internet conspiracy theories have even said 5G causes the COVID19 pandemic, again without offering any evidence.
5G has become such a controversial topic in France that in September a group of far-left and Green MPs in the French parliament asked for a moratorium on its deployment. The Senate report is an effort to shore up that objection.
In response, French President Emmanuel Macron has doubled down on his commitment to rolling out 5G, saying its critics were subscribing to an “Amish model” of living. “We’re going to explain, to debate, to put an end to all the false ideas but yes, France will make the 5G shift,” he said at a tech event in Paris in September.
Critics say the High Council on Climate’s report casts a wide net to encompass emissions that might happen whether or not 5G is rolled out. For example, it counts the emissions caused by manufacturing new 5G-compatible smartphones and the construction of telecoms infrastructure and data centers. It also factors in an expected increase in electricity consumption, assuming an increase in internet use as a result of the faster speeds.
The report sets out recommendations for how to limit the climate impact of 5G deployment. For instance, the EU should set stricter energy-consumption requirements for electronic devices and for the infrastructure providing internet, it says.
Governments have been caught off guard by the ferocity of objections to 5G, since there was no such widespread resistance to 4G. But unlike the previous generational changes of wireless signals, the latest improvement doesn’t allow a specific new technology but rather just an increase in speed. 1G allowed calls, 2G allowed text messaging, 3G allowed limited internet features, and 4G allowed streaming.
5G will allow for almost instantaneous data downloads that would take hours with current networks. There are concerns that being able to download an entire movie to a phone in a matter of seconds will drive an increase in internet usage what would be detrimental to both society and the environment.