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A long road ahead: a review of the state of knowledge of the environmental effects of digitization

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Journal Article

Roussilhe, Gauthier, Anne-Laure Ligozat, and Sophie Quinton. 2023. “A Long Road Ahead: A Review of the State of Knowledge of the Environmental Effects of Digitization.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 62 (June): 101296. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2023.101296.

In this brief review, we report on the state of knowledge and its limitations regarding the environmental footprint of the digital sector. While the final energy consumption and the related carbon footprint of information and communication technologies (ICT) are well studied, other environmental factors and some phases of the life cycle are still poorly understood. New connected equipment and services currently being deployed make such assessments even more complex. In addition, more research is needed on the indirect effects of ICT (i.e. substitution, optimization, and various rebound effects). Indeed, recent reports tend to ignore or minimize the negative effects of digitization. Because indirect effects depend on external factors such as regulations, prices, sociocultural contexts, and so on, extrapolations are extremely uncertain. Methodological elements have been proposed to perform such evaluations, but there is still a long way to go.

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