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Study reveals streaming in HD contributes to eight times more carbon emissions

Researchers from the Royal Society have released a report which states streaming high definition (HD) videos emits eight times as much carbon as standard definition (SD).

Study reveals streaming in HD contributes to eight times more carbon emissions
Zara Tunnicliffe
· 3 min read

Researchers from the Royal Society have released a report which states streaming high definition (HD) videos emits eight times as much carbon as standard definition (SD).

A report released by the group of researchers showed global digital sector contributes to between 1.4 and 5.9% of the total worldwide emissions.

Scientists suggest streaming services limit their available resolutions to SD as it will reduce the demand on servers, therefore reducing the energy required to run them.

The report also suggested that people should keep their mobile phones for longer to reduce demand and therefore manufacturing needs. Currently, the manufacturing of mobile contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Consumers are urged to hang on to their mobile phones for four years, instead of, the current trending, two years.

Through this, consumers contributions to GHG emissions would be halved, as would the demand for device manufacturing. Technology firms also have a responsibility to show more transparent figures surrounding their contributions to GHG emissions and their energy consumption.

Buying and using second hand or refurbished devices is another way people can save. 

The report suggests that making the "small move" from HD to SD could save up to 5% of emissions from streaming services like YouTube and Netflix. There is also a trend to have something on in the background while working. Scientists suggest that if the user of the service is only listening and not watching a video, that they turn off the video entirely and just keep the audio track playing.

The lead author of the report, Professor Andy Hopper of Cambridge University said, "There are many routes to net zero [carbon emissions], but digital technology has a central role to play."

“We must stay alert to digital demand outpacing the carbon emission reductions this transition promises.”

University of East Anglia’s Professor Corinne Le Querre was an author on the study. Talking to the BBC about the study, she said, "To be honest, digital tech is a small fraction of your emissions compared with, say flying even once a year – but every bit of CO2 saving is significant.”

"What’s more, we’re trying to prompt people to harness the power of digital to help tackle climate change.”

“We have to make sure that the digital revolution supports the climate revolution – and we’re failing to do that at the moment.”

Zara Tunnicliffe
Zara Tunnicliffe
Writing has allowed Zara to learn about topics and explore further those that interest her. Zara creates a range promotional copy for events as well as content for a variety of websites and social media platforms. Zara always look forward to researching interesting topics and sharing them with others through her writing.