Going “Digital with Purpose” to Achieve Climate Goals and 2030 Agenda
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Digital technologies are critical tools at our collective disposal for driving the transformations the world needs.

Through a new report, ‘Digital with Purpose,’ GeSI and Deloitte present the case for developing and deploying digital technologies to accelerate momentum towards a fossil-free economy and wider achievement of the SDGs.

Ignorance is no longer a viable excuse. For everyone around the world, it is time to act on climate change and more broadly on sustainable development. To realize the ambitions of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the SDGs we need a clear and unambiguous commitment from governments, businesses and citizens to put sustainable development at the heart of decision making.

Digital technologies are critical tools at our collective disposal for driving the transformations the world needs. Through a new report, ‘Digital with Purpose,’ the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Deloitte present the case for developing and deploying digital technologies to accelerate momentum towards a fossil-free economy and wider achievement of the SDGs.

In the report, GeSI and Deloitte describe four key ways in which digital technologies make an impact. First, digital technologies help to connect and communicate, opening up information, ideas and opportunity. Second, they help to monitor and track the world around us, so that our impact is transparent and we can make targeted interventions. Third, digital technologies help to analyze vast swathes of information, optimize processes and procedures and predict where we need to intervene in future. Finally, digital technologies provide an “active bridge” between the physical and digital worlds, to augment our human abilities and to autonomate systems to carry out activities on our behalf.

Through each of these “impact functions,” digital technologies are being deployed through all sectors of the economy and in all regions of the world to help address climate change and each of the 17 SDGs. However whilst the report finds that digital technologies are making a positive contribution, it also concludes that without major transformations the world will fail to meet the majority of the 2030 development targets. Indeed, of the 25 indicators analyzed in the report, eight are expected to have gone backwards by 2030, even accounting for the beneficial impacts of digital technology.

We need to do more, and more quickly, to effect the changes the world needs. For our environment and wider biosphere, digital technologies can help us understand the impacts of human activity on the natural world. They can help us to improve processes so they are more efficient and reduce energy needs. But to really make the difference we need, we need to develop and deploy technologies that will help us to radically transform how we live and work. This is a vital and crucial opportunity for business to grasp.

Similarly, digital technologies can help contribute to a more equitable and inclusive society. We need to continue to “connect the unconnected,” and spread access to basic services like health and education. But to realize the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we need a radical adoption of these technologies – with governments and technology providers working hand-in-hand to bring digitally enabled services into effect in areas of the world where they are currently lacking. Only through the scale and reach of technology can we educate, feed and care for all the worlds’ children.

Finally, in terms of our economy, digital technologies are providing means of improved and efficient production with optimized processes and increased outputs. We need to deploy ‘Industry 4.0’ in such a way that it helps to reduce the impact of industry on the environment (SDGs 14 and 15) and provides decent work for everyone (SDG 8).

These are significant challenges, and, as the report makes clear, we all have a critical role to play in meeting them. The information and communications technology (ICT) sector is well positioned to lead, starting from an above-average starting point on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. The report, rightly, calls on the sector to play a role, with its partners, to stimulate the development and deployment of digital technology to address climate change and realize the SDGs and associated targets.

In her comments on the report, Christiana Figueres, Former UNFCCC Executive Secretary and Founding Partner, Global Optimism, noted that it “helps us understand how digital technologies can play a role in the transition needed. That role can be hugely impactful, but needs us to subscribe to the 2030 Agenda, to better understand how our actions impact the world, and to be alert to the promise digital technologies hold.”

This means that the sector has to be more inclusive by finding ways to make sure that the benefits of digital technology are felt in parts of the world that currently lack a digital infrastructure. The sector has to be more ambitious by leaning on existing examples of digital technology that drive positive impact to innovate to accelerate change. And finally, it must be more responsible by broadening commitments to make and use technology in a way that does not do damage to our environment and contribute to the climate crisis.

But the ICT sector cannot achieve this change on its own. Global transformation needs a commitment from everyone – from governments, investors and citizens – to “Digital with Purpose.”

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A video overview of the report is available here.

This article was written by Luis Neves, Managing Director and CEO, GeSI.

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