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Environmental sustainability and climate change 

Description
Mitigating climate change, addressing waste and pollution, and ensuring environmental sustainability are among the world’s most pressing issues. The Internet and other digital technologies can pose challenges to the environment (for instance through energy consumption for data production, storage, usage and transfer, and through the production of devices and disposal of e-waste), but they can also be leveraged to advance environmental sustainability. Policies and actions are therefore needed to ‘green’ the Internet, reduce the environmental impact of new technologies (including artificial intelligence and big data) and facilitate their use to address environmental challenges. Examples include improving the circular economy for digital devices (e.g. enabling reuse and recycling), extending the lifespan of software and devices, reducing the energy use associated with the Internet, and promoting technologies that help reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption. Also important is to develop and put in practice adequate governance frameworks that enable the sharing and re-use of environmental data. At the same time, more focus needs to be placed on promoting environmental education and building awareness on environmental sustainability within Internet governance and digital policy spaces.

Policy questions

  1. Increasing awareness and proactiveness among policymakers and developers: How do we ensure that technology developers, digital corporations, policy makers and policy processes consistently consider the impact of the Internet and digitalisation on sustainability and climate change? 
  2. Measuring impact: How can we improve the assessment, measurement and monitoring of the environmental impact of digitalisation and the Internet?
  3. Reducing impact: How can we achieve a net zero impact on climate change of the further expansions of the Internet and its infrastructure? How can Internet standards, governance and policy choices, and standards for device design, development and manufacture, contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of the Internet (e.g. through the adoption of green computing, energy efficient servers and machines/processes, and by policy contributions)? How can we further use digital technologies to better predict and manage the impacts of climate change?
  4. Environmental education: How can policymakers leverage the Internet and Internet governance processes for expanding and strengthening environmental education? Should computer science curricula, Internet governance capacity development and digital literacy programmes include awareness of environmental sustainability?

Related issues

  • Climate change, greening the Internet, smart cities, sustainable cities, sustainable smart cities, environmental education, environmental sustainability, green technologies, future of work, digital waste, sustainable exploitation of natural resources for digital technologies, digital capacities for natural disasters response, energy efficiency, environmental data governance, indigenous communities environmental/climate resilience, AI and environment.

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 411