Europe plans to harness ‘power of data’ in support of Green Deal

The European Commission proposes to develop a “Digital Twin of the Earth” in order to “radically improve Europe’s environmental prediction and crisis management capabilities”. [Copyright: ESA]

The EU Green Deal needs “digitalisation as an enabler for decarbonisation” in all sectors of the economy, including transport and energy, the European Commission says in a draft policy document seen by EURACTIV.

The digital decarbonisation plan is part of wider policy proposals aimed at making “Europe fit for the digital age”. And while the plan is still subject to change, it does give a clear indication of the Commission’s intentions.

“Digital solutions will help us to become climate-neutral by 2050,” says the policy document, obtained by EURACTIV.

Digital technologies can support environmental policies such as waste and recycling. They could even help Europe reduce more CO2 emissions than it emits, the document says.

One of the ways technology can contribute most to decarbonisation “is through the power of data,” the Commission says in a section dedicated to sustainability. Potential areas of application are multiple and include digital transport solutions, decentralised energy systems, and smart climate-neutral communities.

“For example, by tracking when and where electricity is most needed, we can increase energy efficiency and burn less oil or coal. Material efficiency can also be increased. With data gathered from devices connected through the Internet of Things, processes in construction and industry can be streamlined to use less resources,” it says.

Likewise, products can be digitised and transformed into services to cut wasteful overproduction. “For example, rather than selling lightbulbs, a company could sell a subscription that guarantees a building is lit,” the document suggests.

On transport, it proposes setting up “5G corridors” for connected and automated mobility to be rolled out in 2021-2027, as well as a “pilot support for 5G railway corridors” in 2021-2023. A related self-driving and connected mobility act will foster the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles in Europe, although timing there is still to be confirmed.

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Greening ICT

The ICT industry itself is also coming under EU scrutiny.

The Commission estimates the sector uses between 5 to 9% of the world’s total electricity consumption and is responsible for more than 2% of all emissions. “Datacentres and telecommunications will need to become more energy efficient, use more renewable energy sources and become carbon neutral by 2030,” it says.

Electronic waste is another source of concern. With 12 million tonnes per year, e-waste “is the fastest growing form of waste” in Europe, according to the Commission. At the same time, e-waste is also an opportunity because it contains significant amounts of scarce resources and precious metals, which could be recycled.

“We recycle only around 35% of electronics and a lot of value is lost when a device cannot be repaired, when a battery cannot be replaced or when the software is no longer supported,” the documents reads, proposing a “right to repair” for all consumers in Europe.

‘Digital twin of the earth’ to improve crisis response

Another promising area of application is earth modelling in support of crisis response. With sensor and satellite data, Europe could “radically improve” climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies as well as crisis management capabilities, the document states.

Floods, droughts, heatwaves and other climate-related extremes caused economic losses of €453 billion between 1980 and 2017, according to the European Environment Agency.

Munich Re, the German reinsurance group, estimates that 2017 was globally the second-costliest year on record for natural disasters, after 2011, with losses from weather-related disasters breaking previous records.

‘Risk data hub’ to enhance EU resilience to climate hazards

The European Commission is preparing to launch a “risk data hub” in the coming months that will help map out loss and damage from natural disasters such as floods, droughts, storms and other extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent with climate change.

To improve disaster response and preparedness, the Commission proposes launching a “Mission Earth initiative” bringing together the best scientific and industrial expertise in order to improve earth modelling.

The mission’s aim will be to develop “a high-precision digital model of Earth” – or a “Digital Twin of the Earth” – that would “radically improve Europe’s environmental prediction and crisis management capabilities”.

One of the overarching aims of the strategy is to support the development of home-grown industries. Today Europe is mostly consuming technology made elsewhere, the Commission points out, saying: “we must develop and use the technologies in Europe, according to our needs and principles”.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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