Achieving Climate Targets: Navigating the Path Without Greenwashing

We are witnessing climate change happening all around us, but there is a gap between government policies and the ambition needed to address it. Step forward the private sector, which is helping to close this gap with ambitious targets.  

The mobile sector is aiming to halve its emissions by 2030. With 64 mobile operators onboard so far, accounting for 61% of the industry’s revenue, these targets have the potential to transform the sector and contribute significantly to a sustainable future.  

However, the journey from ambition to accomplishment is littered with challenges, and the successful path needs to avoid greenwashing. This is why the GSMA worked with the Carbon Trust to develop the “Achieving Climate Targets Guide” – a comprehensive roadmap for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to realise their climate ambitions with authenticity. 

Three-Step Approach: Assess, Identify, Develop 

The Achieving Climate Targets Guide presents a simple three-step approach that MNOs can follow, wherever they are on the journey to net zero: 

  1. Assess Emission Hotspots: The journey begins with understanding where your emissions are coming from. By meticulously identifying emission sources, MNOs can baseline and hotspot emissions, a crucial step in understanding what to focus on reducing. 
  1. Identify Emission Reduction Opportunities: Once the sources are identified, it’s time to unearth opportunities for emission reduction. This could involve transitioning from fossil fuel energy sources to renewable electricity or adopting more efficient technologies. 
  1. Develop a Comprehensive Implementation Plan: Armed with insights into emission sources and reduction opportunities, MNOs should craft a detailed plan of action. The plan should outline how each opportunity will be implemented, specifying the timeline, required resources, and expected outcomes. 

Assessing Emissions: Scopes Unveiled 

Emission measurement is the bedrock upon which emission reduction strategies are built. We’re seeing a greater realisation of this across the industry with a record 69 operators disclosing their climate impacts through CDP in 2022, half of which scored A or A-. 

Scopes of emissions need to be considered in turn: 

  1. Scope 1 and 2 Emissions: These emissions originate from direct activities like diesel fuel use and electricity consumption. For accurate measurement, MNOs need to break down their emissions based on the countries they operate in, considering differences in emission factors. 
  1. Scope 3 Emissions: This is where the real challenge lies. Scope 3 emissions, accounting for a chunky 60+% of CO2 emissions, include a range of indirect activities, making measurement complex. The guide highlights Scope 3 categories like purchased goods and services, capital goods, use of sold products, and investments as significant contributors. The GSMA, in collaboration with the ITU and GeSI, published a guide to streamline how Scope 3 is measured within the ICT industry.  

Once operators have a solid foundation of figures for emissions and their sources, the next stage is to identify how to reduce, and then how to deliver those reductions. 

Seizing Opportunities for Reduction

The transition towards a sustainable future is laden with opportunities waiting to be seized: 

  1. Scope 1 Emissions: Established technologies like renewable energy sources and electric vehicles offer powerful tools for reducing emissions. Take Zain’s partnership with tourism developer Red Sea Global in Saudi Arabia, for example. Their zero-carbon 5G network will be powered by 760,000 solar panels, covering a 28,000-square-kilometre holiday resort and displacing diesel generators. Also, BT announced that over the next two years, they will conduct pilots to convert or upgrade street cabinets to electric vehicle charging units. This is part of BT’s commitment to have a fully electric fleet by 2030 through the UK electric fleet coalition. 
  1. Scope 2 Emissions: Transitioning to renewable electricity is pivotal to reaching a net zero target. It can also be transformational for the energy sector. For example, TDC, the first mobile operator with a validated 2030 net zero target, took an ambitious approach when procuring renewable electricity by purchasing from only new or young power stations to support the decarbonisation of the energy grid.  This, coupled with AI and data-driven optimisation, can make a substantial impact on emission reduction. 
  1. Scope 3 Emissions: Collaboration across the supply chain is crucial. MNOs must work with suppliers to extend product lifecycles, move towards circular models, and avoid premature obsolescence. For example, 12 leading operators just committed to take back 20% of their sold devices by 2030, ensuring that no device ends up in landfill. Operators need to work with suppliers to restructure contracts to include environmental performance targets and enable reuse and refurbishment.  

Telstra has reduced their Scope 3 emissions by 31% from FY19 by working with suppliers to identify, prioritise and execute emission reduction opportunities to achieve this target.  

These reduction opportunities then need to be crafted into a plan that takes into account a company’s culture, leadership and strategy. 

Crafting Credible Transition Plans 

A successful journey towards climate targets demands a credible transition plan: 

  1. Implementation Plan: A step-by-step roadmap is essential to guide the implementation of emission reduction strategies. These plans outline potential reductions, timeframes, and costs. 
  1. Leadership Buy-In: Early endorsement from leadership can catalyse action. A strong climate leadership culture must permeate the organisation to ensure follow-through. 
  1. Governance for Accountability: Establishing a clear governance structure for climate-related matters fosters accountability and transparency. This smooths the way for successful execution and tracking of climate commitments. 
  1. Transparent and Vocal Climate Advocacy: The final and most important step is for governments to create an enabling policy environment. Each company can encourage that by advocating for climate-friendly policies. 

The path to achieving climate targets in the mobile sector is marked by a well-defined roadmap that, if followed earnestly, will steer the industry towards genuine emissions reduction.  

The Achieving Climate Targets Guide serves as a series of beacons that MNOs can use to light the pathway to net zero. By ushering in a new era of sustainable and responsible operations, we can make a tangible impact in the fight against climate change. Hopefully, this will encourage others, especially governments, to meet us in closing the gap.