New report outlines how digital technology can help solve climate change challenges
As the effects of climate change increase dramatically, digital technologies can contribute to a more sustainable future. A new report supported by the EIT Climate-KIC explains how.
The United Nations (U.N.) has created a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that represent an agenda for human progress. Framed by the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and adopted by world leaders at a historic U.N. summit in 2015, the SDGs comprise 17 goals and 169 targets that detail the critical challenges facing humanity—and how to respond. Without a timely transformation of entire systems, the world could fall short on delivering on most of these goals by 2030. Climate action, in particular, is a foremost component of the SDGs, transcending geography and demanding truly integrated solutions.
Developed and deployed correctly, digital technologies are powerful tools that can have a transformational effect on the SDGs, according to “Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer 2030,” a new report by the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Deloitte, supported by the EIT Climate-KIC. The report identifies and quantifies how technologies can help governments, businesses, and philanthropic organisations accelerate their efforts to achieve SDGs. Its analysis of a broad range of SDG targets finds that further deployment of existing digital technologies will, on average, help accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals by 22% and mitigate downward trends by 23%.
“Digital technologies need to be developed and deployed with positive societal impact in mind,” says Sira Saccani Theme Director, Sustainable Production Systems, at the EIT Climate-KIC and a reviewer of the report. “The report convincingly makes the case for urgent action and more contribution from digital technologies to address the interrelated challenges of sustainable development and climate change. The ICT sector and its organisations shall take a leadership role in building impact transparency; in assuming responsibility to address negative externalities; and in working at a systemic level through a clear commitment to embed the SDGs more deeply into their core business and supply chains to become truly transformative.”
There is indeed a lot to be done, according to the report, which examines not only the critical role for digital technology and related stakeholders in maximising positive impact, it also looks at how to minimise harmful consequences.
Technologies for the Greater Good
“These technologies can pave the way for a number of beneficial activities,” says GeSI CEO Luis Neves. “They can help in connecting citizens around the world; supporting the monitoring and tracking of human impacts on the environment; optimising inefficient and energy-intensive industrial processes; and augmenting actions people carry out in support of sustainability goals, among many others.”
Focusing on 103 of the 169 SDG targets, the report draws on numerous examples and case studies of ICT sector sustainability efforts to illustrate how digital technologies can have significant, tangible effects on the world: from digital access, to faster internet, the cloud, the internet of things (IoT), and blockchain.
One such case study focuses on EIT Climate-KIC’s WINnERs (Weather Index-based Risk Services) programme. The programme offers risk-management services to enable the creation of sustainable food supply chains that include everyone from small farmers to global retail buyers. Using machine learning and other technologies, the project models weather and climate risk exposure, enabling risk sharing across the supply chain and lowering costs for small farmers. EIT Climate-KIC also works to promote the implementation of new financial and contractual arrangements that can incentivise climate-resilient practices at the farm level. Ultimately, one of its goals is to create a positive feedback loop that lowers the cost of credit and ensures that the entire value chain cares about farm-level climate resilience.
Choosing a legacy
For the digital technologies discussed in the report, “maximising their transformative potential will likely depend on an increasingly collaborative, integrative approach to development and deployment,” says Nick Owen, chairman and partner with Deloitte UK and co-author of the report.
Working together, different actors can develop a systemic understanding of the potential impacts of digital technologies and spur efforts to more effectively accelerate the benefits and limit the downsides, says Sam Baker, from Deloitte UK and co-author of the report. They can focus on optimising currently existing capabilities while also directing R&D at new capabilities based on their impact and seeking to better understand how the actions of government, businesses, nongovernmental organisations, and citizens may affect progress toward achieving SDG goals.
All these entities can benefit from putting the 2030 Agenda more intentionally at the centre of who they are and what they do, Baker says. In the process, they can clarify their own roles, embed the agenda as an ultimate objective in their organisations, and be transparent about the positive and negative impacts individual groups may have on the SDGs—in other words, they can demonstrate digital with purpose.
“Innovating, developing, and operationalising an effective sustainability effort requires a radical mindset shift for many organizations,” says Sira Saccani. “ICT Companies can make a conscious decision: What legacy do we want to leave for future generations?”
For general media enquiries, please contact:
Communications Manager – Sustainable Productions Systems and Sustainable Land Use EIT Climate-KIC
Tel: +32 472 984 009
Notes for editors
About our contributions to the launch of the Report at the New York Climate Action Week
Thursday, September 26 (11am-1pm): GeSI and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) will host a launch event to share the Report’s compelling findings, featuring presentations from global leaders addressing the climate crisis and advancing the SDGs; and providing use cases from Digital Industry leaders, among others. The event will be followed by a networking lunch.
Friday, September 27 (8:30-10:30am): Deloitte and GeSI will host a breakfast discussion to go over key findings and recommendations from the report, followed by a panel discussion.
Dr. Harald Rauter, Head of Emerging Disruptive Technology Experimentation at the EIT Climate-KIC will be a speaker at both events.
About EIT Climate-KIC
EIT Climate-KIC is Europe’s largest knowledge and innovation community focused on the rapid, broad-based systems transitions we now need to build prosperous, resilient, net zero-carbon societies in time. We run programmes in 28 countries from 13 European centres, including Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin. The diversity of our network is our strength. Our 370+ partners come from SMEs, corporations, start-ups, academia, science, cities and other public authorities and NGOs.
Across most industries in Europe, the ‘easier stuff’ on the path to net-zero has already been done, mostly through cleaner energy supply and efficiency. What lies ahead is unprecedented and more difficult: structural change in social, economic and financial systems; fundamental transformations of city-systems, industry and land-use. New concepts of value and relationship. EIT Climate-KIC is building portfolios of co-ordinated innovations that work together to address these ‘systems level’ challenges. We invite new partners and funders to help shape and scale these portfolios for large-scale climate impacts.
The Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) is a strategic partnership of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and organisations committed to creating and promoting technologies and practices that foster economic, environmental and social sustainability. Formed in 2001, GeSI’s vision is a sustainable world through responsible, ICT-enabled transformation. GeSI fosters global and open cooperation, informs the public of its members’ voluntary actions to improve their sustainability performance, and promotes technologies that foster sustainable development.
GeSI enjoys a diverse and global membership, representing around 40 of the world’s leading ICT companies and partners with over 20 global business and international organisations such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the World Resources Forum Association (WRFA) – as well as a range of international stakeholders committed to ICT sustainability objectives to share and develop ideas, launch joint initiatives, and collaborate on a broad range of sustainability projects. These partnerships help shape GeSI’s global vision regarding the evolution of the ICT sector, and how it can best meet the challenges of sustainable development. For more information, see www.gesi.org
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