How Technology Can Help Save the Planet
Technology can mitigate the impact of human activity on our planet.
At Tencent, we are taking various steps to reduce our own carbon footprint and achieve carbon neutrality in its own operations and supply chain by no later than 2030. We’re also putting our unique expertise in IT to work to encourage, empower and engage others to join a global quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing emissions can no longer be viewed as optional. Global average temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial revolution. At this rate, global average temperature may rise by 3.5 to 4.5 degrees by the end of this century. Higher temperatures will have enormous impact on the planet and its population, which numbers seven billion today but may grow to nine to ten billion by the end of the century.
Everyone on Earth will be impacted by the negative effects of global climate change, which include unprecedented weather events and flooding, melting glaciers and rising sea levels, food shortages cause by a lack of arable land, and the destruction of ecosystems. We’re already seeing evidence of global warming’s impact in many areas of the world.
How Can We Progress Toward Carbon Neutrality?
As a society, we can make progress toward carbon neutrality in several ways. For starters, we can shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. This is very important in China, where fossil fuels account for 70 percent of total energy generation. This includes the use of 4.2 billion tons of coal per year, of which two billion tons are used for power generation and heating.
China produces 11-12 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. There is no question energy and electrical power systems need to be efficient and industrial systems need to be updated to impact that number. This is the pressure China is facing as a large emitter of carbon dioxide.
There are relatively clear solutions to the power generation problem, including a shift from the current power system to one based on renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydrogen power. Wind energy will experience marked growth until 2030 after which solar energy will grow due to reduced generation costs. This will bring about changes in the electrical power system.
Hydrogen is an ideal energy carrier that can be produced cleanly through water electrolysis, burned and then turned into water again. However, there are a series of problems. The energy density per unit of mass is high, but the energy density per unit of volume is rather low because of hydrogen’s small molecular weight. Thus, the hydrogen economy is a technical route with both a great potential and a series of technical challenges.
Industries are another challenge. For example, it's more difficult for the steel and cement industries to reduce emissions. Iron ore, for example, needs coal as a reducing agent to make steel. If we don't use coal, we need to use hydrogen as a reducing agent.
Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) is a critical technical route for China, as our energy intensity is fairly high. If we want to continue to use chemical energy, we must capture and store carbon dioxide. The technologies for CCUS are already available, but we must solve the problems of high cost and industrialization.
The Tencent Approach to Climate Change
As a technology company, Tencent is not a big carbon emitter, but we are moving forward with an ambitious plan to achieve carbon neutrality. Tencent will promote emission reduction across the supply chain and encourage low-carbon behaviors among employees. Some carbon will eventually be offset through the carbon sinks.
Tencent is using the power of digitalization to help industries become carbon neutral through digital transformation, consumer awareness and low-carbon technologies. We will help more industrial and high-emission companies achieve carbon transformation through digital technology.
We also will take the lead in promoting a more planet-friendly lifestyle and make the low-carbon lifestyle “cool” and interesting for young people, to encourage them to reduce their carbon footprints. Finally, we will enable low-carbon technologies like CCUS and the heat pump technology critical for expanding the use of hydrogen as an energy source.
From a digital perspective, capabilities such as real-time measurement of carbon emissions and high-frequency trading are needed to achieve carbon neutrality. Tencent is using artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced climate models to help industrial companies monitor carbon-emissions data.
In these and other ways, we hope to support the value chains and promote the development of low-carbon technologies and move steadily toward achieving carbon neutrality, in China and throughout the world.
Moving to the moon or Mars is not a near-term option, so we as a society need to focus on managing energy and greenhouse gas emissions here on Earth.