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Ditching ultra HD streaming on phones ‘could drive down carbon emissions’

Written by on 03/12/2020

Switching from ultra high-definition (UHD) video streaming on a smartphone to standard definition could reduce carbon emissions by eight times, according to the Royal Society.

In a new report on tackling climate change, the scientists offer electronic device users tips to reduce their carbon footprint.

Digital technologies – from the services we use through to the devices we access them from – contribute up to 5.9% of global emissions.

Royal Society top tips include:

  • Use your devices for longer before purchasing replacements
  • Recycle old devices instead of leaving them in a drawer
  • Stream video in standard rather than high-definition

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CO2 emissions have fallen dramatically

The report recommends ways that consumers, the government and industry can reduce their impact on the sustainability of the planet.

Manufacturing phones, laptops, tablets and smart TVs is a carbon-intensive process, and this is known as the embodied carbon emission of an electronic device.

Partially because consumers are encouraged by phone contracts that offer the newest models at exciting costs, people often replace their smartphones every other year or so.

More from Climate Change

But keeping a mobile phone for two years means that the carbon emissions used in manufacturing it represent about half of all of the emissions it will generate throughout its lifetime.

“If individuals keep their phones for four years instead of two, this contribution is halved,” said the Royal Society.

“Protecting and preparing phones is good practice to help keep them longer,” it adds.

“Getting a phone or other device second-hand, or passing it on, and sharing equipment are other ways to reduce the share of embodied emissions associated with devices.”

Recycling old devices can help reduce resource use and electronic waste, the report adds – noting that old phones kept in a drawer at home amount to a form of landfill.

Businessman hand using digital tablet working with laptop computer and smartphone in coworking space. Urban lifestyle with modern electronic devices. Internet of things and online app concepts
Image: Embodied emissions can account for a significant proportion of carbon generated by electronic devices

By repurposing the valuable minerals in our electronic devices it helps reduce the carbon emissions and environmental damage linked to the exploitation of natural resources.

“For example, there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore,” the report adds.

Streaming sensibly is another way to address our carbon emissions, the report says.

An hour of 4K or UHD video streamed on a smartphone generates eight times more carbon emissions compared with the same time of video streamed on standard definition.

It adds that this is despite users potentially not being able to see any difference in video quality on their small screens.

“Arguably decisions on limiting streaming resolution should be taken by platforms and regulators,” the report says, rather than consumers.

Changes in the design of services could help this, according to the scientists.

For instance, turning off the video for YouTube users who are only listening to the content could save up to 5% of the service’s total emissions – “a reduction comparable to what is achieved with running Youtube’s servers on renewable energy”, the report adds.

 Sky News

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