IGF 2020 WS #217 The role of digital tech. in environmental sustainability

Time
Tuesday, 10th November, 2020 (15:50 UTC) - Tuesday, 10th November, 2020 (16:50 UTC)
Room
Room 2
About this Session
The ICT and telecommunications sectors often come under fire for what is perceived to be high levels of energy consumption. However, the telecoms sector is evolving to be carbon neutral, with ambitious targets for emissions reduction.
Thematic Track

Organizer 1: Ross Creelman, European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO)
Organizer 2: Kaoru Inoue, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)
Organizer 3: Livia Walpen, Federal Office of Communications, Switzerland
Organizer 4: Beat Estermann, Bern University of Applied Sciences
Organizer 5: Jovan Kurbalija, DiploFoundation , the Geneva Internet Platform
Organizer 6: Natasa Perucica, DiploFoundation
Organizer 7: Jorge Cancio, Federal Office of Communications

Speaker 1: Lise Fuhr, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Andrea Halmos, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Natasa Perucica, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 4: Reyna Ubeda, Intergovernmental Organization, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Additional Speakers

Lise Fuhr will be replaced by Sara Ghazanfari

https://www.intgovforum.org/users/sara-ghazanfari

Moderator

Beat Estermann, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Livia Walpen, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Rapporteur

Ross Creelman, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Format

Round Table - U-shape - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

• What is the role of digital technologies in environmental sustainability, which is a fundamental component of the UN 2030 Agenda? • How can digital technologies contribute to the greener economy? • What is the role of different stakeholder groups in shaping practices and behaviours that allow for digital contribution to sustainability? • What are some regulatory considerations that must be made to create a sustainable, enabling environment for the ICT sector? • Where do the biggest deficiencies lie in achieving these ambitions with the help of digital technologies? Is it a problem of regulation, innovation, investment shortfall? • Is the current Internet infrastructure capable of sustaining a vast Internet of Things (IoT)? Would strains on current infrastructure, e.g. DNS, lead to a technical roadblock, meaning that the ambitions could not be achieved? • How can existing and emerging digital technologies contribute to addressing climate change and how can they foster change in various sectors of the economy (manufacturing, trade, agrifood, etc.)? What initiatives exist and what can be done to improve them?

This panel will look at the potential which greater connectivity and digital technologies can unleash to reduce our impact on the environment, as well as some of the ways in which policymakers could speed up such opportunities, and indeed, how existing models can be scaled up or adapted to different contexts. In addition to discussing the potential of the telecoms and ICT sectors to enable a greener economy, we will hear from the sectors putting greater connectivity and digital technologies into use, employing digital technologies to realise reductions in emissions in their respective sectors. The session will also not neglect the environmental impact of the ICT/telecoms sectors: what can be done to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector (e.g. sustainable infrastructure, carbon-neutral data centres, efficient manufacturing etc.)?

SDGs

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12: Responsible Production and Consumption
GOAL 13: Climate Action
GOAL 14: Life below Water
GOAL 15: Life on Land
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals

Description:

The ICT and telecommunications sectors often come under fire for what is perceived to be high levels of energy consumption. However, the telecoms sector is evolving to be carbon neutral, with ambitious targets for emissions reduction. Additionally, in providing connectivity and developing new solutions, telcos and ICT companies are paving the way for a reduced environmental impact in a whole range of other sectors, including energy, transport and smart cities: technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and big data, powered by greater connectivity, have the potential to mitigate climate change, monitor the health of biodiversity, manage waste, and protect endangered ecosystems. The objective of the session is to address the current uses of digital technologies in achieving environmental sustainability and explore the potential opportunities that digital technologies offer. The discussion should also focus on the interplay between digital and the environment from a policy perspective that only recently started gaining ground at the International (e.g. ITU recommendation ITU-T L.1470 (01/2020) entitled ‘GHG emissions trajectories for the ICT sector compatible with the UNFCCC Paris Agreement) and regional levels (e.g. European Green Deal and EU’s communication ‘Shaping Europe’s digital future’). The proposed format of this session is a panel discussion of 60 minutes. The session should start with an overview of the discussion topic and an introduction of the panellists by the moderators. Following the introduction by the moderator, each panellist will give a short statement on their perspective of the role of the ICT/telecoms sector in reducing environmental impact, illustrating this with relevant case-studies from their organisation / sector. The moderator will then open a panel discussion, seeking to explore the opportunities mentioned, and crucially, identify the shortcomings and see where more work / innovation / regulatory or policy intervention is needed, in order to realise the ambition. Finally, a Question and Answer time will be open to the participants at the session, with directed by the moderator. Below is an indicative agenda with timings and participants: • Overview and introduction, moderators (5”) • Statements, panellists (5” each, total 25”) • Panel discussion, led by moderators (20”) • Q&A, led by moderators, questions from audience (10”)

Expected Outcomes

The intended outcomes of the session are key points and recommendations on how to translate successful examples and uses of digital technologies in achieving environmental sustainability and transition towards a circular economy. The recommendations could also serve as guidelines for development of ‘environmental by design’ digital technology products and services that could contribute to the realisation of 2030 Agenda. Another useful outcome would be an overview of the roadblocks along the way, whether they relate to policy, innovation, technical hurdles, lack of investment etc., which could be used as a starting point in future discussions for how to mitigate these problems, and keep advancing the ICT/telecoms sectors towards enabling greater environmental sustainability.

Following the introduction by the moderator, each panellist will give a short statement on their perspective of the role of the ICT/telecoms sector in reducing environmental impact, illustrating this with relevant case-studies from their organisation / sector. The moderator will then open a panel discussion, seeking to explore the opportunities mentioned, and crucially, identify the shortcomings and see where more work / innovation / regulatory or policy intervention is needed, in order to realise the ambition. Finally, a Question and Answer time will be open to the participants at the session, with directed by the moderator. Below is an indicative agenda with timings and participants: • Overview and introduction, moderators (5”) • Statements, panellists (5” each, total 25”) • Panel discussion, led by moderators (20”) • Q&A, led by moderators, questions from audience (10”)

Relevance to Internet Governance: The lines between the physical and the virtual world are blurring. Digital transformation is changing the natural environment in both positive and negative ways. Nevertheless, global initiatives on the relationship between environmental sustainability, the Internet, telecommunication networks and emerging technologies are still shy away from discussing the two issues together. While the Internet and related technologies can foster environmental sustainability, the former can also contribute to defining the future role of digital technology.

Relevance to Theme: The role which the ICT/telecoms sector play in reducing environmental impact is an important cross-over between the broad areas of Internet Governance and environmental policy. This session would specifically respond to a number of SDGs, including numbers 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15. Furthermore, the multi-stakeholder representation and the global aspect of the workshop also responds to SDG 17, partnerships for the goals, as we see cross-sectoral collaboration in the sectors and participation from governments, academia and the private sector, reflected in the panel.

Online Participation

 

Usage of IGF Official Tool.

 

1. Key Policy Questions and related issues
How can the public and private sector work together to put into action the possible solutions to the problems raised by increased consumption of electricity and resources? What are the roadblocks in the way of boosting uptake and ensuring scalability of technologically enabled solutions to environmental problems?
How can rebound effects - the environmental impact caused by increased demand or consumption - be mitigated, and what role should all the actors in the ecosystem play to achieve this?
2. Summary of Issues Discussed

- Participants agreed that the ICT sector can play a key enabling role in achieving environmental sustainability, including for example through next generation connectivity (5G technology, fibre networks), improve the operations of existing mobile and fixed networks, improve the energy efficiency of data centres, use of renewables in the sector. The use of data to inform sustainable policy decisions is a key aspect too.

- To boost innovation and to push digitalisation across sectors of society, it is important having the right pro-investment approach to support the private sector, for example to accelerate roll-out of 5G and fibre networks. Green financial aspects care crucial should be considered and incentivised.

- Rebound effects remain a considerable challenge, with increased energy consumption and higher demand risking to offset the gains made by more sustainable technologies 

- There are already many positive initiatives in place in both the public and private sectors, and these include governance structures, data sharing mechanisms, modelling and monitoring, smart cities, voluntary labelling, digitally enabled sustainable business models, and ensuring a sustainable supply chain 

- There are important common areas and fora for collaboration to achieve the aims of environmental sustainability, including digital imaging of the earth for monitoring, data sharing to enable the circular economy, accurate indicators, and the involvement of all actors in the ecosystem 

Participants also acknowledged the challenge that digital technologies can pose for the environment, including disproportionate distribution of e-waste, accentuating further the North-South divide 

3. Key Takeaways

Above all, the ICT sector can be an enabler for achieving environmental sustainability, and it can and should work in close cooperation with all levels of government to put in place technologies and mechanisms to achieve these aims. While there remain many problems with regard to rebound effects, insufficient sharing and use of dispersed and non-uniform data, knock-on effects (e.g. social and economic) in developing countries caused by unsustainable supply chains etc., there are many solutions.

The most important take-away is the challenge that faces all actors in the ecosystem, namely how to encourage the uptake of technologies to reduce environmental impact, and how to ensure the scalability of these solutions in order to guarantee that their positive impact is felt. 

6. Final Speakers

Moderator: Beat Estermann, Bern University of Applied Sciences
Speaker 1: Sara Ghazanfari, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Andrea Halmos, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Natasa Perucica, Civil Society, Eastern European Group

7. Reflection to Gender Issues

Gender issues were not the subject of this discussion, however the panel was very well gender-balanced. 

8. Session Outputs

The workshop identified and created an understanding of the broad range of opportunities the ICT sector can provide to reach environmental sustainability. Many of those initiatives were already in place, but panellists agreed on the need to create an ecosystem to boost those opportunities and leverage the ICT enabling potential.

The ICT sector is indeed a catalyst and sustainability enabler for reaching ambitious climate targets. However, without the right pro-investment policy framework, it will not be possible to reap the digital contribution to sustainability.

Panellists exchanged also around the need from policy makers and Governments to facilitate the interaction with the industry and increase the stakeholder engagement.