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5G and sustainable growth

Can 5G break the link between GDP growth and rising greenhouse gas emissions?

6-minute read

2020 is a year that won’t be forgotten easily. Yet in the midst of the current health crisis, we are at risk of losing momentum in tackling an even bigger threat – climate change.

Statistics show that economic growth and increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions go hand-in-hand. For every 1% rise in global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GHG emissions have increased by about 0.5% and resource consumption by 0.4% (source Digital Europe). An important part of solving the climate crisis will be to decouple GHG emissions from GDP growth.

Digital lives are more sustainable

The digital technology revolution is helping to reduce the environmental impact of modern life, taking us closer to the zero emission digital society, so we can live wealthier, happier and more sustainable lives. This year, for example, many organizations have been forced to quickly adopt new ways of working. Their success has brought visible improvements to the environment and a lowering of GHGs.

Rising GDP also tends to drive up traffic on mobile networks, which in turn increases GHG emissions. With 5G coming on stream in many markets, will this trend change? Publicly we have seen statements that 5G will increase network power consumption and emissions. For example, there are claims that 5G will triple power consumption and that 5G densification will multiply the number of cell sites, creating higher power use.

5G can break the GDP-GHG link

The reality is somewhat different. 5G has unique capabilities that can break the historical link between GDP and GHG emissions and help achieve sustainable growth.

5G is designed to be 100 times more energy efficient than earlier radio generations. This means 5G can decouple network traffic growth and GHG emissions. New digital use cases enabled by faster, lower latency and ultra reliable 5G help to further reduce GHG emissions in society through increased remote working and remote control capabilities, among others. It is estimated that digital technologies have the potential to offset 10 times more emissions than are caused by cell sites. 5G is not only making other industries more eco-friendly, but also enables new business models and services that can help mitigate the impacts of climate change and speed up the steps needed to use resources wisely.

It’s already happening in Finland

Is this all just a nice vision? No it’s not. The proof is in Finland where people are ranked as the happiest in world, with GDP rising by 21% over the last few years. A country that saw the world’s first 5G network launched by an operator that achieved its best ever profits. A country with 1 GB mobile data traffic per person per day and where network operators use carbon neutral electricity to make digital service connections carbon free.

Finland has ambitious environmental targets, aiming for a zero emission digital society. The country's experience shows what is possible everywhere. That the climate crisis can be tackled while maintaining economic growth. And when it comes to mobile network emissions, with 5G it is possible to achieve rising prosperity while reducing pollution.

Harry Kuosa

About Harry Kuosa


Harry Kuosa is Nokia’s Head of Single RAN and Zero Emissions marketing. Harry holds a BSc. in Electrical Engineering and his 30+ years telecoms experience covers most types of transmission and access networks. He is passionate about 5G and his current zero emissions role, but still makes time to enjoy skiking in the beautiful Finnish countryside.