The year 2020 will most likely be remembered as the year that the global pandemic put the world into lockdown, but it was a big year for climate change as well. Since January 2020 when it was initially published, over 13,000 scientists from 153 countries have endorsed the report titled “World Scientists’ Warning of Climate Emergency.” In the report, which provides evidence of climate change over the last 40 years, scientists state, “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected.” It goes on to say, “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”[i]
The good news is that positive climate action is also picking up speed. Citizens, governments and businesses are simultaneously demanding and moving toward climate neutrality. Over 110 countries have pledged climate neutrality by 2050, and the European Union (EU) aims to be the first climate-neutral continent within the same timeframe through the European Green Deal.[ii]
As chief purveyors of the digital economy in Europe, the data center industry is being asked to achieve climate neutrality 20 years earlier. And, in support of these goals, I’m delighted to announce that Equinix, along with other signatories, has formed the Climate Neutral Data Centre Operator Pact to play a leading role in helping Europe transition to a climate neutral economy. A collaboration on this scale between multiple parties, including competitors, across a continent for the common good is unprecedented. It’s such a positive step for the industry and for Europe as a whole, and it will be exciting to see how the power of collaboration will help us achieve this aggressive climate target for our planet.
Datacenters and Sustainability Goals
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Europe’s twin priorities – climate and digitalization
The EU has identified two intertwined policy priorities – climate and digitalization. The European Green Deal (EGD) is part of Europe’s “Digital Decade,” which focuses on strengthening Europe’s sustainability and digital leadership over the next ten years. European Commission President von der Leyen describes it as the twin challenges of “the need for Europe to lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world.”[iii] It includes targets for greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, climate neutrality by 2050, a circular economy plan, carbon tariffs and potential revisions to climate and energy related policies.[iv] It also addresses concerns about the environmental footprint of data centers by calling for the industry to be climate neutral by 2030.iii The European Climate Law, adopted in October by the European Parliament, set some of these targets into law.
How the Pact will help advance these priorities
The Pact was born from industry collaboration with the European Commission to set goals and develop a self-regulatory initiative that will encompass the majority of environmental impacts from the data center sector. Through a series of workshops and discussions between the Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers of Europe (CISPE), the European Datacentre Association (EUDCA) and the Commission, five core pillars were identified as follows:
- Energy efficiency: Improving the efficiency of energy use
- Renewable energy: Purchasing 100% carbon-free energy
- Water conservation: Conserving water through the selection of efficient and appropriate cooling solutions
- Circular economy: Recycling of servers, electrical equipment and other related electrical components
- Heat recycling: Reusing data center heat where practical, environmentally sound and cost effective
In some cases, the self-regulatory initiative sets specific targets such as a power usage effectiveness (PUE) target for energy efficiency. In other cases, the Pact signatories agree to set targets by certain dates. For data center operators who want to join the Pact, a certification process will begin in 2022 with reporting starting in 2023.
Digital technologies are key to achieving a sustainable society
As discussed in the article “Digital Transformation is Making the World More Sustainable,” digital technologies and the supporting digital infrastructure are advancing sustainability in everything from renewable energy forecasting to smart cities to automated e-waste sorting for recycling. Further progressing initiatives like these into a more sustainable society will depend on holistic collaboration between multiple stakeholders that is powered by digital infrastructure. For example, a smart grid that can intelligently send and receive energy from multiple producers and consumers, while favoring clean energy when it’s available, would require cooperation between grid operators, renewable energy sources, large energy users like data centers and more. This type of cooperation and intelligence can only happen in digital ecosystems, such as those found on Platform Equinix®, that enable secure, low-latency exchange of data between multiple partners, internet of things (IoT) sensors and data analytics/artificial intelligence (AI) in the cloud.
At Equinix, we remain committed to protecting, connecting and powering a more sustainable digital world. In the EU alone, we purchase 100% renewable energy for all sites, and across the world we are at 90% renewable. We believe that it will take a concerted effort by numerous companies, governments and people to protect our planet and create a better future. We’re proud to be a signatory of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Operator Pact and Self-Regulatory Initiative to demonstrate our commitment to sustainable growth. The Pact will allow us to take a leap forward in ensuring that our industry plays a leading role in climate action and helping Europe transition to a green economy.
To learn more about how data center industry leaders can maximize the benefits of technology while minimizing its impact on our planet, read IDC’s “Datacenters and Sustainability Goals.”
You may also be interested in reading our other blogs on sustainability, energy and the environment.
[i] Scientific American, The Climate Emergency: 2020 in Review, Jan 2021; BioScience, Volume 70, Issue 1, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, Jan 2020.
[ii] United Nations, Secretary-General’s address at Columbia University: “The State of the Planet”, Dec 2020.
[iii] European Commission, Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, Feb 2020.
[iv] European Commission, A European Green Deal; Wikipedia, European Green Deal, last updated Jan 2021.