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Data Center Footprint

Data Center Footprint is defined as “The total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by a Data Center expressed as CO2e”. Technically the meaning of the Data Center Carbon Footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of its operation. The total exact carbon footprint of a data centre cannot be calculated because of a large amount of data required and the fact that carbon dioxide can be produced by natural occurrences.

What is Data Center Footprint?

Measuring Data Center footprints

The data centre carbon footprint can be measured by undertaking a GHG emissions assessment or other calculative activities denoted as carbon accounting. Once the size of a data centre carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it, e.g. by technological developments, better process and product management, changed Green Public or Private Procurement (GPP), carbon capture, consumption strategies, carbon offsetting and others. The mitigation of data centre carbon footprints through the development of alternative projects, such as solar or wind energy or reforestation, represents one way of reducing a carbon footprint and is often known as carbon offsetting.

Trends in the UK’s carbon footprint

The UK’s carbon footprint has increased over the past two decades, as growth in imported emissions has more than offset reductions in production emissions. However, our analysis shows that offshoring of industry in response to low-carbon policies has had at most a minor impact in reducing production emissions, and the carbon footprint would have increased more had production emissions not been reduced.

The UK’s future carbon footprint

To achieve the climate objective, there is a need for a global deal to substantially cut global emissions over the next decades. A consequence of this would be that the UK’s carbon footprint would fall. Our analysis suggests a reduction in the UK’s carbon footprint of around 70% on current levels in 2050 is broadly consistent with global emissions pathways to achieve the climate objective.

Data / methodological issues

Consumption-based emission estimates are more uncertain than production-based estimates. Different methodologies and data sets can produce different estimates. Nevertheless, there is a consistent finding across studies that the UK’s carbon footprint has increased. Consumption-based estimates are used as an investigative tool but they have to be treated with caution.

Life cycle emissions of low-carbon technologies

Our assessment suggests that the key low-carbon technologies (i.e. in power, heat and surface transport) offer significant savings over fossil-fuel technologies even when accounting for life cycle as well as
operating emissions.

Policies to reduce consumption emissions

Our findings highlight the importance of achieving an ambitious and comprehensive global deal for driving down global emissions and meeting the climate objective. Border carbon adjustments are not an alternative to a global deal but should not be ruled out as a possible transitional measure if there were to be slow progress agreeing on a global deal. Policies to encourage resource efficiency and
sustainable consumption could help to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.

Carbon accounting

It remains appropriate to account for carbon budgets on the basis of production emissions given accounting conventions and available policy levers. However, consumption emissions should be monitored to check whether these are falling in line with global action required to achieve the climate objective, or whether further action is required. Input-output analysis remains the best option for monitoring consumption emissions, as there are no regular updates of life cycle emission estimates of products.

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