Canadian researchers blame telecoms and phone makers for creating an unsustainable business model.

The common practice of buying a new smartphone every two years is taking a toll on the planet and threatens to undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Canadian researchers have found.

In a research paper published earlier this year, McMaster University associate professor Lotfi Belkhir, along with recent graduate Ahmed Elmeligi of the faculty of engineering concluded that the global information and communications tech sector — including consumer devices — is in the midst of a rapid explosion in its carbon footprint.

While the entire sector accounted for just 1 to 1.6 per cent of global carbon emissions in 2007, by 2040, it will account for 14 per cent of emissions, the researchers projected. That’s the equivalent of half the transportation sector’s emissions.

It’s “a clearly unacceptable level as it will definitely undermine any reductions achieved from other (greenhouse gas) emissions sources,” the researchers wrote in the paper, which appeared in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Data centres and communications networks will be the largest contributors to tech’s carbon footprint, but smartphones will be the most damaging of all communications devices, they predict.

The number of smartphones in the world will hit 8.7 billion by 2040, equivalent to 95 per cent of the world’s population by that time. Notably, other research shows that about a quarter of smartphone users have more than one phone, and the share is rising.

Using a smartphone is not particularly carbon-intensive; rather, it’s the extraction of rare metals used in smartphones, and the manufacturing process, that are the culprits.

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