Publié: 02 Juil 2020

Advancing technology has always been coupled with significant impacts on the environment. The recent advances in technology offer ground-breaking opportunities to monitor and protect the environment, as well as overall planetary health. By harnessing them appropriately, the digital revolution can be steered to combat climate change and advance global sustainability, environmental stewardship and human well-being.

Roadmap for Digital Cooperation

In the “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres calls for action in the digital age.

“Digital technology is shaping history. But there is also the sense that it is running away with us. Where will it take us? Will our dignity and rights be enhanced or diminished? Will our societies become more equal or less equal? Will we become more, or less, secure and safe? The answers to these questions depend on our ability to work together across disciplines and actors, across nations and political divides. We have a collective responsibility to give direction to these technologies so that we maximize benefits and curtail unintended consequences and malicious use.” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Many countries and citizens are deprived of capacities and skills crucial to the digital era and to attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The digital technologies that underpin core societal functions and infrastructure, including supporting access to food, water, housing, energy, health care and transportation, need to be safeguarded. A broad and overarching statement outlining common elements of an understanding on digital trust and security, endorsed by all Member States, could help to shape a shared vision for digital cooperation based on global values.

There are significant gaps in global digital cooperation, and digital technology issues are too often low on political agendas. Even where there has been cooperation, it is frequently fragmented and lacks tangible outcomes or sound follow-up processes. As a starting point, the Internet Governance Forum must be strengthened, in order to make it more responsive and relevant to current digital issues.

Photo: Kristen Murrell (UBC)

Digitalisation and the Environment

In line with the above, it is proposed to establish a pilot of the Roadmap’s suggested Inter-Sessional Policy Development Work in the form of a Policy Network on Environment and Digitalisation (PNE), which would focus on assessing and gathering best practices on environmental matters of relevance for digital public policy.

The particular focus of the PNE would be decided with the involvement of the IGF’s Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), building on the global community’s input, for example, focus on climate change, Internet governance and best practices to overcome “rebound effects” in the energy consumption of ICTs.

Advancing technology has always been coupled with significant impacts on the environment. Operations related to information and communications technologies (ICT) are expected to represent up to 20 per cent of global electricity demand, with one third stemming from data centres alone. The recent advances in technology offer ground-breaking opportunities to monitor and protect the environment, as well as overall planetary health. By harnessing them appropriately, the digital revolution can be steered to combat climate change and advance global sustainability, environmental stewardship and human well-being.

According to The Case for a Digital Ecosystem for the Environment: Bringing Together Data, Algorithms and Insights for Sustainable Development, in order to change the current trajectory regarding the sustainability of our planet requires transparency, inclusion and accountability. A shift in the global political economy of environmental data is needed to harness the efforts of public and private sectors to jointly generate high quality data and insights as a global public good while avoiding technology and data monopolies. The global economy is changing and we will not be able to achieve the environmental SDGs or environmental sustainability without utilizing frontier technologies and integrated data. Social media networks are shaping consumer preferences and political outcomes across the globe. There is still an opportunity to change the current trajectory if we use data and information: to build awareness of the state of our planet, to influence consumer behaviour, to inform markets and to reform governance systems.

A combination of satellites, drones, mobile phones, sensors, financial transaction technologies and devices connected to the IoT are collecting real time data that could transform the management of the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems. Spatialised information availability is expanding through: advancements in official statistical processes toward geolocating census and survey data; new techniques for better utilising administrative data (such as water provisioning, environmental permits, land ownership, etc.); the increased use of earth observation data and improved data dissemination processes. The combination of these innovations enables the mapping of: population, social development and economic actors in a way that makes it possible understand and predict the use of and demand for natural resources including the implications of environmental and climate change.

The opportunity to use this data to improve real time decision making on natural resources could also transform global environmental governance frameworks and multilateral environmental agreements. There is tremendous hope that decisions can be made, monitored and enforced using real time spatial and statistical data, thereby closing the gap between alarm, action and impact.

Geneva’s Role in Digital Policy

Geneva is one of the main hubs where digital policies are debated, evaluated, and adopted. It is a hub where innovations are fostered, where policies are debated, where leaders, experts, and decision-makers meet regularly – and a place where solutions are born and implemented. For example, more than 50% of digital policy issues are addressed in Geneva, according to the Geneva Internet Platform.

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