Three months after the submission of the law proposal "to reduce the environmental footprint of digital technology in France" by Patrick CHAIZE - Senator for the Ain and President of the Digital Group - at the request of the Committee on Regional Planning and Sustainable Development, the Senate adopted on January 12, 2021 the said text in first reading with amendments. The said proposal has been transmitted to the National Assembly - as well as the bill, somewhat similar to some of the senators' proposals, "Climate and Resilience" implementing the proposals to reduce the environmental impacts of digital technology of the Citizens' Climate Convention - so that it can likewise adopt this text.
In order for markets to evolve through the generalization of virtuous practices, sectors such as economy and law must face this issue. It is relevant to consider the value of this text since more than 130 senators from various political backgrounds have signed it. This law is unprecedented since it deals with digital technology as a whole, i.e. from terminals to data centers. Taking into consideration the material side of digital technology, i.e. infrastructure, equipment, cables, and other components, is crucial to act effectively against environmental impacts. Indeed, the manufacturing process of these equipments - extraction of resources, refining, use of water, primary energy and little recycled metals and important greenhouse gas emissions - represents 80% of the environmental impacts related to the digital world; the remaining 20% is the result of the use made of these equipments by the consumer. However, the transparency of this data is still too opaque at the national level and public environmental and climate policies aiming to achieve the climate objectives consolidated in the Paris Agreement do not seem to take into account the weight of digital technology in their strategies. Therefore, it seems urgent to intertwine digital transition and ecological transition so that the digital sector does not become a source of uncontrollable pollution but rather an ally for innovation, especially in the most polluting sectors, respecting the climate commitments included in the above-mentioned agreement.

In addition to reducing the environmental footprint, this law proposal, structured in five chapters, aims to raise awareness among the population from the youngest age, companies - which will have to include in their CSR report the actions implemented to reduce their environmental impact (Article 4 amending Article L.225-102-1 of the Commercial Code) - and network operators "to the environmental impact of digital uses and to digital sobriety" (article 1), in particular through the right to instruction in computer engineering courses (article 2) or by making reliable and objective data generally available through the creation of a research observatory on the environmental impacts of digital technology at ADEME. The mission of this observatory would be to analyze and quantify "the direct and indirect impacts of digital technology on the environment, as well as the potential gains made by digital technology in the ecological and solidarity-based transition" (article 3). Four axes emerge.
Firstly, the fight against the marketing obsolescence of smartphones through a reinforcement of the duty of information towards the consumer concerning "subsidized offers", i.e. offers that condition the purchase of a cell phone to the subscription of up to 24 months and allowing the renewal of the terminal, introduced in article 14bis (chapter II) of the law proposal. In order to tackle the unsuccessful nature of the condemnation of the offense of programmed obsolescence since its implementation in 2015, the proposed law in its articles 7 to 10 enshrines software obsolescence by introducing it into the definition of programmed obsolescence given by the Consumer Code. In this sense, these articles amending the Consumer Code require sellers to intelligently inform the consumer and to dissociate corrective updates from evolutionary ones so that the latter can choose to make only those necessary for the conformity of the good (article 8); to increase from two to five years the minimum period of reception of updates allowing the conformity of the good by the consumer (article 9); and the possibility for the user to restore the previous updates of the software (article 10) In practice, the supervision of updates allows for a "better" effectiveness of the offense of programmed obsolescence through the extension of its scope to software obsolescence and the easing of the conditions of proof. The amendment of the Consumer Code by the proposed law aims to promote the repair of goods rather than their replacement. In this perspective, Article 14 of the Senate proposal argues for a reduction in the VAT rate on the repair of terminals and the acquisition of repackaged electronic objects in order to limit the purchase of new products despite its non-compliance with the Council of the European Union's directive on the common system of value added tax of 28 November 2006. Similarly, Patrick CHAIZE proposed an Article 14bis B - addition of a II ter to Article L. 311-8 of the Intellectual Property Code - exempting repackaged products from private copy levies. For small and medium-sized enterprises, the article 5 introduces a sustainable digitization tax credit to encourage them to conduct transparent environmental impact assessments for the implementation of a sustainable digital services transformation strategy and thus to procure refurbished digital products.
Secondly, Chapter III of the proposed law on the emergence and development of ecologically virtuous digital uses in its Article 16 establishes the creation of a general reference framework for the eco-design of websites setting out rules, in particular on the ergonomics of digital services, on the display and reading of multimedia content, as well as criteria leading to the curbing of recourse to strategies for capturing users' attention. In order to make the content of this benchmark tangible, the main content providers will have to comply with it and design sites with the same performance but with a lower amount of data and energy used, since they occupy a large part of the bandwidth.
Thirdly, the law proposal deals in Chapter IV, Article 23, with the reduction of environmental impacts associated with the manufacture and use of Internet connection boxes and decoders through the systematization of the automatic extinction by operators of older generations with excessive electricity consumption. The said article states that operators must subscribe to binding multi-year environmental commitments by January 1, 2023 at the latest, which will be monitored by the regulatory authority for electronic communications, posts and press distribution (ARCEP), which has the power to impose penalties. Under the provisions of Article 23bis, ARCEP may collect the data necessary for environmental regulation, with a view to combining the development of uses with a reduction in the environmental footprint of digital technology. This is the case for the deployment of 5G, which was the subject of a request for an environmental assessment from the High Council for the Climate by the President of the Senate. The opinion issued by the High Council recommends a systematic ex ante assessment of any new technology. By 2030, 5G could lead to a 45% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the digital sector, with half of the carbon impact caused by the renewal or acquisition of terminals. Patrick CHAIZE wishes to go further by fighting against speculative practices of freezing land and building mobile infrastructures without providing services by certain tower companies. Indeed, the said practices would lead to the construction of inactive telecommunication towers, i.e. to the artificialization of soils, and thus to negative repercussions on the environment. The Committee on Spatial Planning has introduced an article 21bis which aims to allow small data centers to benefit from the TICFE amounts in order to encourage them to adopt a greener approach.
Finally, on the proposal of the Committee on Spatial Planning and Sustainable Development, a chapter V on the promotion of a responsible digital strategy in the territories, especially in municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, has been added to this proposal. This strategy must be presented each year prior to the budget debate (Article 26 amending Articles L. 2311-1-1, L. 3311-2, L. 4310-1 and L. 4425-2 of the General Code of Local Authorities) and must include the heat recovery potential of data centers (Article 25 amending Article L. 229-26 of the Environmental Code).