Credit: Florian Krumm, Unsplash

We submitted written evidence on data centres and sustainability in response to the European Commission’s White Paper on Europe’s digital infrastructure needs

In February, the European Commission launched a broad consultation of Member States, civil society, industry, and academics, to collect their views on a White Paper: ‘How to master Europe’s Digital Infrastructure Needs?‘. The White Paper outlines challenges with future rollout of connectivity networks across a range of pillars, including environmental sustainability.

Our submission, ‘Encouraging Better Policymaking and Meaningful Participation around Data Centres’, focuses specifically on data centres, and is based on an evidence-gathering workshop held at the University of Cambridge on 14 June 2024 with 20 academics and activists who brought experience from across the EU, UK, and beyond. The workshop revealed a scarcity of evidence on the effect of data centres on sustainability across Europe. This absence of information and a lack of robust assessments of the consequences of the expansion of data centres could have a deleterious effect on local communities, the economy, and the environment for generations to come.

Our submission does not argue against the deployment of data centres outright, but that better policies around data, transparency, and civic participation are needed for good policymaking. 

It is imperative that the Commission consider four areas in relation to data centres and sustainability as it develops plans for a digital Europe:

– Transparency: The Commission should establish mandatory reporting standards and impact assessments for data centres, mandating that companies report accurate information to national authorities and the public.

– Research, Collaboration, and Digital Literacy: The Commission is encouraged to strengthen the conditions for research and collaboration on data centres, and work to increase digital literacy across all sectors of society.

– Financial Incentives: The Commission should consider incentives to promote good and sustainable data centre practices and measures that offer less extractive models for communities in the vicinity of data centres.

– National Moratoria and EU-wide Law: The Commission should continue to be open to Member States and local authorities using temporary moratoria to halt the construction of data centres, and is urged to develop an ambition for a world-leading sustainable regime for data centres.

Our submission was prepared by Thomas Lacy, Dr Julia Rone, Dr Ann Kristin Glenster, and Professor Gina Neff.