2018 Study Finds ‘Unsustainable’ Smartphone CO2 Emissions To Reach 125 Megatons Per Year By 2020

For those serious about taking concerted action to combat climate change, implications from a 2018 study suggest that the widespread abandonment of  smartphone use — which is collectively on track to add 125 megatons of CO2 equivalent per year by 2020 — may be key to preventing the planet’s catastrophic demise.

Image Source (adapted): Press-Herald

Most people haven’t considered their smartphones to be significant contributors to global CO2 emissions.

But they are.  And they are poised to become one of the more prominent obstacles to global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in the coming decades.

The unsustainable expansion of smartphone emissions

A recent analysis by Belkhir and Elmeligi (2018) determined that the greenhouse gas emissions from the Information and Communication Industry (ICT) – smartphones and mobile devices, prominently – will grow from 1% of total global emissions in 2007 to 14% by 2040. That’s more than half of today’s relative contribution from the globe’s entire transportation sector.

In 2010, smartphone use added 17 megatons of CO2 equivalent (17 MT-CO2-e) to annual global emissions. By next year (2020), smartphone emissions are expected to reach 125 MT-CO2-e/year – a 730% explosion in just 10 years.

Last year (2018), there were 2.5 billion smartphone users.  Belkhir and Elmeligi suggest that if there aren’t serious efforts to reduce or eliminate smartphone use in the near future, the number of smartphone units across the globe may reach 8.7 billion by 2040.

This is unsustainable, dramatically undermining global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.

Image Source: The Conversation

Protesters demand climate action

This past weekend, climate change protesters took to the streets across the world by the hundreds of thousands.

Many of these protesters were children and youth.  They decided to skip school last Friday to demonstrate just how deeply concerned they are about the Earth’s climate.

There is little these young people can do to save the planet from extinction as far as directly influencing government policy.

However, there is something that they – and we – can do that would make a difference in reducing our CO2 emissions impact: give up our smartphones.


And encourage all our friends and family members to do the same.

Widespread smartphone renunciation would be a symbolic testament to our commitment to rescuing the planet from the oncoming climate catastrophe.

It’s not too late…yet.  Shall we begin?

Image Source: Belkhir and Elmeligi, 2018

38 responses to “2018 Study Finds ‘Unsustainable’ Smartphone CO2 Emissions To Reach 125 Megatons Per Year By 2020”

  1. John

    Okay, so now all of the leftist greens are going to give up their phones, air travel, cars… yes?
    oh wait…

    1. tom0mason

      Surely they can see there would be an excellent virtue signaling profit to be made by give-up their phones and tablets.


  2. SebastianH

    There is little these young people can do to save the planet from extinction as far as directly influencing government policy.

    However, there is something that they – and we – can do that would make a difference in reducing our CO2 emissions impact: give up our smartphones.

    This is so ridiculous, I don’t have words …

    Widespread smartphone renunciation would be a symbolic testament to our commitment to rescuing the planet from the oncoming climate catastrophe.

    No, it wouldn’t be. For pretty obvious reasons.

    If we want to “rescue the planet”, we need to change how we generate useable energy. Consuming less energy per person (i.e. becoming more efficient) is a secondary goal to help with the primary one (less energy needs to be provided to run civilisation).

    Listening to people who like the status quo to remain indefinetly and arguing like you do in the article, doesn’t help anyone.

    1. DMA

      This is where you site Harde 2017 and (https://tambonthongchai.com/2018/12/19/co2responsiveness/) and explain that smart phone use has almost no connection to growth of atmospheric CO2 just like all the rest of anthropogenic emissions.

    2. Cees

      Yes this is rediculous, Se BasH, you have no words but still have to bash.
      And wasting your energy in arguing like you do doesn’t help anyone.

  3. Stephen Richards

    This is 125Mt out of how many Gt emitted by the ground, oceans, bogs, animals, human beings farts, etc.

  4. Tom Anderson

    And of course if you realize carbon dioxide does not cause warming, there is no problem, as usual.

  5. John F. Hultquist

    I’m close to Tom Anderson on this.

    However, when I as a teen, we “cruised” rather than calling and texting. We did wave and nod as we passed. Much more fun, I think.

  6. eric

    Think of the other benefits from giving up these devices–less head and neck cancers, more productivity, fewer auto accidents, etc.

  7. sasquatch

    The lemmings are at it again. Luddites one and all are telling everybody that their smartphone is going to create more problems and one is the amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

    All of the natural carbon dioxide that was present in the atmosphere prior to the Industrial Revolution had been replaced by carbon emissions from coal being mined and burned ending in 1895, the year when England burned 200 million tons of coal. That amount of coal is burned in ten days, nobody is going to stop burning coal. Consumption of coal has increased 35 times for a year’s worth of burning since 1895. Not much of a temperature change has happened since then.

    A lot of concrete in the Burj Dubai, have to calculate how much CO2 from fossil fuels was emitted into the atmosphere before, during and after the construction of that building, right down to the last wire nut and the current amount of electricity used to keep the place lit.

    Have to calculate every single thing there is that humans use besides just smartphones. How about the pants and shirt you wear? Have to calculate how much oil was used to grow a thousand hectares of cotton in China, can’t exclude that calculation. Then to the textile mills, all of the food prepared to keep employees fed, the whole enchilada must be calculated for a more adept and comprehensive determination of the total emissions involved with the manufacture and use of smartphones. You can’t just start and stop with a stupid smartphone. You might lose your shirt. lol

    Make the calculation per shirt, you will then know how much CO2 was emitted into the atmosphere before you ever purchase the shirt. Have the number on the label.

    Have a diktat that will require people to wear shirts for at least ten years, whether or not they become rags.

    A fee charged to pay the carbon tax on smartphone accounts will offset the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere just from smartphone manufacture and use.

    Another evil that must be overcome with good.

    And the wireless earbuds for the super smartphones out there, there is that too. How much CO2 went into atmosphere just from earbuds?

    How many bricks were used in the construction of the Empire State Building? How much carbon dioxide was emitted per brick?

    Every farmer out there has a smartphone. The phone saves time and money. You can call someone from anywhere and have something done at that time instead of waiting until you get there.

    Helps the logistics immensely. Think of the fossil fuels wasted because a farmer didn’t have a smartphone and had to drive fifteen miles to deliver the message.

    A smartphone is worth all of the emissions that are generated in their production process just by eliminating what are now unnecessary trips that waste time, money and fuel.

    A smartphone represents a new hallmark, if you will, in the world of doing bidness of one kind or another.

    The ability to communicate in seconds trumps everything. Even emissions from manufacturing and assembly of smartphones become meaningless. Nobody really cares.

    Although, a smartphone should be owned only by people who need one.

    Children under the age of ten don’t need a smartphone, nor does anyone who wants to reduce emissions and electricity use. You can begin by eliminating your smartphone and immediately reduce your electricity consumption. Go without one, you’ll being doing your part, reduce your use to zero.

    There is nothing that can replace the amount of energy that is in oil and coal which can be transformed into useable energy of some kind on this earth. Facts don’t budge.

    If you want anything solar, you want a solar power system that can charge a battery that can to start a combine in cold weather. A farmer’s friend, as it were.

    With the proper application, solar power is a winner.

    I wouldn’t ever mount them on the roof of a house, I would have a frame constructed and mount the panels at ground level, and at an angle that will easily shed snow. When it rains, the panels will be cleaned with rainwater. You can easily see the advantage of solar over wind, it’s a no brainer.

    A good clean solar panel will provide more electricity.

    I have a solar powered calculator, have had it for probably thirty years or more, have never changed the battery. It still works to this day.

    Under the right circumstances, solar power will be a benefit and not a liability.

    Wind power is the wrong approach to solving the energy conundrum, although, wind turbines located at various locations out at sea can be a benefit for oil drilling platforms. Has to be far from commercial fishing waters.

    There is going to be another 20 million tonnes of coal burned today and one hundred million barrels of oil consumed. Count on it. Might as well have a smartphone, it’s for your own good.

    Computers, smartphones, cloud computing, satellite transmissions all do reduce the amounts of fossil fuels used.

    The US Navy consumes sixteen percent of all diesel fuel used worldwide. When you move an eight feet distance per gallon consumed, it is easy to see why.

    If that can be reduced, it is a blessing in disguise.

    1. Yonason

      Some very interesting thoughts.

      Add this to the mix – that phone companies want to retire land lines. Why? The expense of maintaining and updating them. When you consider how cell phones eliminate what’s involved in that, the cell phone is the winner. It more than makes up for it’s down side. But greenies never consider all aspects of a problem, so their “solutions” are always failures.

    2. tom0mason


      One solar event like that observed by Carrington on September 1–2, 1859, and all those devices would be toast — reduced to so much junk, with everything that depends on them stalled.
      And overall solar cycle 10 was not anything special. Science has yet to fully explain why it happened then or at all.

      But it hasn’t happened so far so we’re all OK. We have contingencies haven’t we?

      1. rah

        No contingencies of course. And devices don’t matter because the network that supports them and the grid that powers them would be toast and that is what will take so long to replace.

  8. sasquatch

    A solar flare like the Carrington event will make everything glow in the dark and everybody will end up in the dark with no electricity, not even a 1500 milliamp circuit.

    People can then return to using smoke signals and mirrors. Always a way to communicate long distance.

    Lots of smoke and mirrors going on when any communication takes place, so you know it can be done.

    The digital presses will have to be abandoned. It will be time to re-deploy the Gutenberg press and print everything with simple mechanical works.

    I have a California tray that can hold print blocks for publishing daily newspapers. I will have a job. lol

    The Pony Express will have to be called back to work so everybody can know what is happening. Horse tack and saddles will be a greenshoot industry all over again. The nascent new old economy will be back in full force.

    Studebaker will begin anew making wagons for teams of horses to pull, the Teamsters will be back to the good old days of feeding horses and repairing wheels.

    About the only contingencies out there.

    Going to be a lot of electronic junk from cars, trucks, trains, ships, from here to eternity if another Carrington event takes place. When it will happen is the 64 trillion dollar question.

    Disastrous consequences then, for sure.

  9. Colin

    My electricity usage is about 7000khr per year and the family smartphones account for about 4kwhr of that. Or about 0.05%. Or maybe enough to propel a typical SUV 20 miles. Not sure how the half wits who wrote this study got their numbers from, but it w.

    1. SebastianH

      The authors mention that it’s primarly about the energy needed to produce smartphones that get replaced every 2 years, not the consumption of energy while using them. If those numbers are correct this amounts to about 50 kg CO2 per smartphone per year or about the emissions from driving 400-500 km with a gasoline car.

      1. Colin MacDonald

        50KG of carbon for a 300g phone seems a bit implausible to me. How much would it be for a 1500KG Tesla?

        1. SebastianH

          100 kg when replaced every 2 years. At around 500 gCO2 per kWh this equates to 200 kWh of electricity per smartphone produced and shipped to you. Sounds a bit implausible, but that’s what they are going with if 2.8 billion devices would really be responsible for 125 MT of CO2 emissions.

          How much would it be for a 1500KG Tesla?

          Multiple tonnes of CO2 per Tesla, probably 2-figures. At least if it were produced at the average CO2/kWh value of the grid. Tesla claims they use renewables for their battery factory, so it’s probably much less.

    2. tom0mason


      Yes for your phone. But your phone alone is worthless without all the infrastructure that is installed to actually make the device usable.
      The line you missed? —

      “A recent analysis by Belkhir and Elmeligi (2018) determined that the greenhouse gas emissions from the Information and Communication Industry (ICT) – … ”

  10. dennisambler

    Get a bit closer to home for these kids… How many have LEGO sets?
    60 years of LEGO:


    75 billion bricks are sold annually in over 140 countries
    700 million Lego tyres are produced annually

    2.16 million are moulded every hour, 36,000 every minute. More than 400 billion Lego bricks have been produced since 1958, (2008 figure). There are about 62 Lego bricks per person of the Earth’s population.

    LEGO is a good example, but how much plastic have these kids got in their houses just from their toys.

    Shouldn’t the UN ban developing countries from importing more LEGO, in order to save the planet?

    “The company has been increasing sales in new markets, particularly in Asia.

    Lego said that it saw “strong potential” in its business in China, where sales enjoyed double digit growth last year.”

    Apart from all that, they are excruciating when you walk on them in bare feet,

  11. 2018 Study Finds ‘Unsustainable’ Smartphone CO2 Emissions To Reach 125 Megatons Per Year By 2020
  12. Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #353 | Watts Up With That?
  13. Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #353 – Enjeux énergies et environnement

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