“Do we really need to watch so many videos? It’s a good starting point, ”said Cedric O, the young minister responsible for all digital matters, on the French television channel CNews.
O, who has just been renewed in his post as secretary of state, said he and other French government officials are developing a new strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of the digital sector. Streaming is one of those discussions, he said.
Any regulation would mainly impact large American technology companies such as Netflix and Amazon which dominate streaming in Europe, but also certain local competitors which are emerging, including Molotov TV and Medici.tv in France, which could also be affected.
Fortunately for them, a direct tax seems unlikely.
“I don’t think this is something that can be fixed with a new tax,” O said, insisting on changing consumer habits. “As consumers, we have to learn to compulsively stop watching videos, the way we have learned to turn off the lights or not to let the water run.”
O has reason to be concerned. Digital activities represent around 4% of carbon emissions globally, and this footprint is expected to double by 2025 if current consumption trends continue, according to estimates by ADEME Environment Agency.
Streaming specifically accounts for around 1% of global carbon emissions, according to estimates released a year ago by Think tank français The Shift Project. The report indicates that online streaming generated some 300 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018 – a level comparable to what Spain generates as a whole.
The think tank and others, including the activist group Green peace, have already called on consumers to change their habits. With O’s declarations, France is now officially intervening.
The initiative is part of the broader ambitions of French President Emmanuel Macron. His government is preparing to detail a recovery plan of 100 billion euros at the end of the summer to revive an economy bogged down by the coronavirus. The so-called “ecological transition” is becoming a big part of this document.
Not everyone agrees on the environmental impact of streaming however, and there is no definitive dataset.
Companies have recognized that energy efficiency gains in data centers, telecommunications networks and electronic devices can all help reduce pollution.
the United Nations Technology Agency, called ITU, has set a target this year to cut emissions from the sector by 45% over the next decade, and secured commitments from telecommunications and tech giants around the world .
Still, as connection speeds increase and more consumers turn to streaming, it’s unclear whether technical progress can balance the impact of the growing number of hours consumers spend on streaming media. watch YouTube videos or series on Netflix.
Reports by netflix about the power consumption of its data centers and other infrastructure show that power consumption levels are not only high – they are also increasing at high double-digit rates, a sign that the problem will that become more pressing.
Excessive observation is already a matter of public policy in Europe, but for different reasons. During the coronavirus crisis, when consumers got stuck at home and turned to their computers for entertainment, the European Commission had to intervene and ask the online video giants to reduce quality to avoid saturating the telecommunications infrastructure.
Now, by putting pressure on streaming pollution and the environmental impact of the digital sector more broadly, France has everything to gain as a voice on sustainability on the global stage.
Since the 2016 Paris climate agreement, Macron has hosted executives from some of the world’s biggest tech companies at the Tech for Good summit in 2018 and 2019, and earlier this month they contacted remotely with them progress made so far on a series of commitments, including going greener.
Finding a way to convince consumers to change their streaming habits might just be the next frontier.