I got my first mobile phone almost six years ago. It was a second-hand Nokia 3310 passed on to me by my elder brother. At that time, I was working in the far-off western border of Kutch, for the protection of children’s rights. The phone helped me stay in touch with my parents in Patna.

A year later, I moved to Orissa to work for the rights of forest-dwellers and started travelling extensively in dense forests. Now I got brand new phone with a new pre-paid Airtel connection. This phone helped coordinate with people across the country working on the same issue. This was my first experience of the technological revolution created by mobile companies.

All this time I wasn’t aware that my mobile calls had a climate connection. Mobile towerIt was only after I read the Smart 2020 report, published by the Climate Group and GeSI, that I realised that mobile phones have a significant climate connection. While they can add-on to the climate crisis, they can also play a big role in providing solutions to curb the same.

Mobile phone services together with other information and communications and technology (ICT) application can help reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 15 % by 2020. This is quite significant as no other industry has so much potential in combating climate change. At the same time the sector also contributes to climate change. By 2020 the industry will double its carbon emissions. If the solutions potential is significant, the problem too has far-reaching consequences.

According to the report, 82 per cent of the global carbon emissions associated with mobile phones come from the energy used by mobile network towers. In India, most, or rather all mobile phone towers (there are 400,000 such towers in the country) use diesel fuel to provide us uninterrupted calling service. With the new kind of value added services after the introduction of 3G, energy consumption of these mobile towers has also increased. These mobile towers consume 7,500 litres of diesel everyday and spew 2000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Greenpeace’s “Dirty Talking?” report focuses on the energy choices made by the Indian telecom industry. Among other things the report reveals that the diesel being used by the industry is subsidised by tax-payers’ money and is responsible in part for the country’s growing carbon emissions.

Post the report launch a lot of people asked me, “Why you are targeting the telecom industry? They are so critical to the development of the country and are doing well too.” I agree that they have played a role in the country’s development and have helped millions like me stay connected. In the process however, they have also hurt the environment and stolen from tax-payers through their impractical and unwise energy choices.

Our campaign is not about targeting the telecom sector, but about promoting solutions in a proactive manner for a clean and prosperous future. There is a myth that renewable energy is not a technologically feasible and economically viable option for delivering the electricity needed by a growing industry like telecom. In terms of cost even the costliest form of renewable energy like solar is at par with diesel today. This is when there is heavy subsidy on diesel and no subsidy on solar and we have not accounted for pilferage of diesel at mobile tower sites.

Ten years down the line, renewable energy including solar will be three times cheaper than diesel, even if subsidies continues for the dirty fuel. Now, the telecom industry needs to decide what they want to be; an exponentially growing industry which provides solutions for a clean, prosperous and smart future? Or an industry which accelerates the climate crisis. 


Image: © Sharbendu De / Greenpeace