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Climate change is one of the few global issues that cannot be addressed singlehandedly. More and more commitments are being made within the telecom and technology industry, putting it at the forefront of the fight against global warming.

In an exclusive interview to Telecom Review, Nourdine Bihmane, group chief delivery officer, decarbonization business line, Atos, discussed about the importance of decarbonization, challenges faced in the transition to zero carbon, and how Atos aligns towards this goal alongside helping SMEs.

Why has decarbonization become so important for the telecom and technology industry? 

Decarbonization should be at the core of every single industry. There is no doubt that the topic has now entered boardrooms globally. However, some industries have a more decisive role to play. It is the case of the telecom and technology industry.

Its actors oversee the implementation of a technology that can be a game-changer for a net-zero world: 5G. Being ‘the next exponential technology’ as the World Economic Forum puts it, 5G is not only about having more data speed. It is less energy intensive as well compared to the previous generation. 

With data speeds 10 to 100 times faster than 4G, it represents a step-change in mobile technology. But the benefits of 5G go far beyond speed: super-low latency, better reliability, tighter security, and lower energy consumption.

The improvement in the reliability of communications can deter non-essential traveling and cut emissions from the transportation sector for instance. In manufacturing, smart factories will be less energy consuming. Telemedicine will disrupt healthcare systems heavily and bring more wellbeing to isolated regions of the world.

What are the main challenges in the transition to zero carbon and what solutions have caught your attention? 

To me, it is all about getting access to the right data about CO2 emissions. Before starting this journey, any company must have an in-depth diagnosis. It requires gathering hundreds of data sources, which is very time-consuming. 

One of the most critical challenges is to measure their carbon footprint accurately. Which emissions should they consider? How to quantify them? Where are the rooms for improvement? Actors can neither optimize nor monitor what they do not understand.

This is the reason why we developed a new platform called MyCO2 Compass to automate, integrate and mature all carbon data of any organization. Decision-makers now have a complete overview of their carbon emissions, with a multitude of sources reporting from green finance to buildings management as well as weather forecasting to the impact of climate change on business assets. 

The key is to combine carbon know-how and data science, to set the right targets and cope with the net-zero pathway. 

In the region, what is the challenge for developing and implementing a decarbonization strategy?

I believe the post-oil era brings lots of challenges. As many more countries in the Middle East are joining the race to net-zero, pivoting the energy mix to carbon-free energy sources will be necessary. It is a matter of both economic viability and sovereignty. 

With a shifting global energy market, the rest of the world will be less dependent on oil and gas. Fortunately, the Middle East has the chance to redefine its entire energy model, leveraging solar energy for instance, which should become the least intermittent source of energy. 

To decarbonize the economy, especially in the Middle East, accelerating the energy transition is a prerequisite.

How is your business aligned towards decarbonization? 

It is no secret that digital is a net contributor to greenhouse gases, representing approximately 4% of global emissions, equivalent to the emissions of the trucks fleet in circulation worldwide. No doubt that the challenge is enormous.

Atos commits to reaching net-zero emission by 2028. It means that we will cut 50% of global carbon emissions under our control and influence by 2025. On top of that, we will offset all residual emissions by 2028. This target is 22 years ahead of the one fixed under the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming below 2°C by 2050.

We are confident we can make it. For the sole year 2020, we managed to cut 15% of our global carbon emissions, of which 10% were structural due to our operations improvement, excluding the impact of Covid-19.

This engagement is part of a broader commitment towards our customers. I have the opportunity to lead the decarbonization business line of Atos where we support hundreds taking the same path as we do, leveraging digital and advisory. 

What kind of leadership is needed to galvanize this change? 

Achieving a net-zero world is not only a matter of individual leadership, but also a collective responsibility. This is what the COP26 in Glasgow showcased, as governments, companies, and NGOs from around the world sit around the same table for two weeks. 

Climate change is one of the few global issues that cannot be tackled individually, by any single nation, as our planet is a closed ecosystem. CO2 does not have borders, and consequences will be global.  

But as time is running out, more and more leaders have engaged their country on a net-zero trajectory. Without the alignment from both public and private sectors, we will not make it. However, with the right regulation, public and private funding, and cutting-edge innovation, I am confident it is possible. 

Where do you predict the industry will be in a decade? 

More and more commitments will put the industry at the forefront of the fight against global warming. The GSM Association (GSMA) - which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide - has taken the lead in helping the mobile industry achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It has supported the launch of science-based pathways.

As of April 2021, according to GSMA, operators representing 65% of the mobile market (by revenues) have committed to science-based targets for carbon reductions and net-zero emissions. 

It is encouraging, and I foresee the industry to be well-advanced in this transition if they share best practices with one another. We can build industry-level standards.

It is exactly what we have done in Europe with the Eco Rating, a new labelling system to help customers find how sustainable their mobile device is. This label was initiated by EcoAct, an Atos company, and leading mobile operators in Europe: Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, Telia Company and Vodafone. Bringing more transparency for consumer choices, we push manufacturers to make bold moves on the environmental impact of their products, in terms of production, use, transport and disposal.

While we work towards the long term, what can small and midsize technology companies do in the meantime to decarbonize?  

Atos supports those small and midsize business with an end-to-end offering, including measurement, reduction and offset. This is how we make a difference, addressing this net-zero transformation challenge for organizations from any industry and any operational size.

The advantage for SMEs is their ability of course to pivot more easily than large companies. They can be sustainable by design and pave the way for the rest of the industry. With fewer suppliers and clients, it is easier to target Scope 3 emissions which include CO2 emissions that lie outside their operations.

The condition for them is to share best practices and interact more together on the matter. This is the only way they can drive change from the bottom. 

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