Carbon emissions from China’s digital infrastructure, including data centres and 5G base stations, will continue to rise in the coming years, forecasts a report from Greenpeace East Asia. Such an increase would mean the digital sector outpacing other carbon-intensive sectors, whose emissions are expected to peak around 2025.

A cellular tower, used for a 5G network, in the Chinese capital of Beijing in September 2020. (Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)

The report forecasts emissions from online use will reach 310 million tonnes by 2035, compared with 123 million tonnes in 2020.

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Chinese data centres and 5G industries consumed 201 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2020, equivalent to the total electricity consumption of Beijing and Shenzhen, which register a combined population of more than 30 million people, says the report. This figure is set to increase by a whopping 289% between 2020 and 2035, says Greenpeace.

The NGO is calling for an urgent shift to renewables to reduce the climate impact of this hike in electricity consumption. Last year, 61% of the electricity powering China's digital infrastructure was generated from coal.

Only two major Chinese data centre companies, Chindata and AtHub, have committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030, states the report.