Police officers walk at the Bund, in front of Lujiazui financial district of Pudong in Shanghai, China. (REUTERS)
Police officers walk at the Bund, in front of Lujiazui financial district of Pudong in Shanghai, China. (REUTERS)

China’s tech firms not adopting renewable energy goals fast enough: Greenpeace

A Greenpeace report says China’s data centre industry is a significant and growing source of CO2 emissions
By Sutirtho Patranobis
PUBLISHED ON APR 21, 2021 12:58 PM IST

China’s tech firms are not adopting clean energy “fast enough” to mark their commitment towards carbon neutrality, though more Chinese internet companies have begun to procure renewable energy and are disclosing greenhouse gas emissions data, environmental group Greenpeace said in a report on Wednesday.

The report says China’s data centre industry is a significant and growing source of CO2 emissions – energy consumption from the sector is on track to increase 66% between 2019 and 2023; while in 2018, data centres in China were powered 73% by coal.

By 2023, electricity consumption from the industry is projected to rival that of Australia.

But the situation is changing, the Greenpeace report says.

In a new ranking published on Wednesday, internet giant Tencent took the top spot among cloud providers in Greenpeace East Asia’s latest clean energy scorecard for China’s tech sector, leapfrogging e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, which fell to fourth place.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to bring the country’s climate-warming emissions to a peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, committing the country to an accelerated transition to renewable energy.

As of April 2021, 13 of China’s 22 biggest tech companies have begun to actively procure renewable energy, compared to just eight companies in 2019.

However, only two major Chinese tech companies have recorded renewable energy usage rates that are higher than 3% - Chindata (51%) and Baidu (9%).

“To date, only one major Chinese tech company, data centre operator Chindata Group, has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Last year, Chindata signed contracts to develop 1.3GW of wind and solar projects in Shanxi and Hebei provinces, making the company one of the top three renewable energy buyers worldwide in 2020,” the report says.

“At the same time, GDS fell from being the second-ranked data centre operator to sixth due to a lack of carbon neutrality commitments and poor transparency,” the report said.

Ye Ruiqi, Greenpeace East Asia’s climate and energy campaigner, said, “China’s internet sector is powered primarily by coal, and the industry’s energy consumption continues to rise. Over the past year, more Chinese companies have begun to procure renewable energy and to disclose greenhouse gas emissions data.”

“However, the pace of clean energy adoption is not nearly fast enough, especially when we consider that China’s biggest tech company, Alibaba, and its biggest independent data centre operator, GDS, have yet to issue renewable energy or carbon neutrality commitments,” Ye added.

The report spells out what needs to be done.

China’s internet companies should set targets for 100% renewable energy use and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, it says.

“Carbon offsets are not a substitute for the reduction of fossil fuel emissions. Companies must scale up procurement of wind and solar energy, and actively disclose energy use data and greenhouse gas emissions data,” the report says.

Ye said, “Tech giants such as Alibaba and GDS have an opportunity to drive China’s shift to a low-carbon economy, but currently they are falling behind their competitors. Ultimately, we need all of China’s major tech firms to achieve 100% renewable energy use and carbon neutrality across the value chain by 2030 - this would lend strong momentum to China’s national climate commitments.”

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