Digital must be at the centre of our climate action plan

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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[Digital Europe]

This article is part of our special report Green and digital: Europe’s twin transitions.

We urgently need to take bold actions to counter the global existential threat of climate change and to promote a green economic recovery.

By Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director-General, DIGITALEUROPE

COP26, the international climate conference bringing together world leaders next week, will be a landmark event to take action.

Together, Europe has set an ambitious target of reducing our emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels. If we are serious about reaching that goal, governments, businesses and citizens need to think digital.

It is clear that technology will have a vital role to play in cutting our emissions to sustainable levels. Studies have found that, by 2030, digital technologies have the potential to help other industries save 20% of global CO2 emissions.

For example, the City of Vienna implemented a smart city project through digital solutions and data analytics, enabling, amongst other environmental benefits, a reduction of 71% of CO2 emissions in large residential buildings.

The Port of Rotterdam uses a combination of innovative digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), to optimise route planning and berthing of ships, meaning that it is on track to cut 50% of their carbon emissions by 2030.

Increasing the amount of renewable energy production into the power grid will be crucial for decarbonisation, and digital is helping here too. An AI-based tool developed and deployed in a Belgian windfarm increased the amount of renewable energy injected on the grid by 5-6%.

These are just a few examples of the many ways that digital technologies can help other sectors of the economy – like construction, transport, and energy – to become greener.

In collaboration with our member network, DIGITALEUROPE has gathered over 20 of these success stories. We have set them out in our latest report Digital action = Climate action, which we will present on 27 October at our launch event “Uniting the twin transitions”.

Digital action is climate action

To realise this green potential, digital technologies need investment and legislation that encourages them to flourish. Europe therefore needs to step up its digitalisation efforts – such as boosting connectivity and increasing funding for research and development.

In addition, Europe’s data strategy needs to include a plan for the public and private sectors to be able to share sustainability data with one another. There is a vast amount of data out there, for example on the weather, water usage, as well as energy consumption. If we harness it, we can provide insights for those businesses and individuals looking to create the next innovative green solution.

And by investing in skills and education, we can ensure that these societal transitions are inclusive. We need to make sure that we empower citizens to succeed in this greener, more digital world.

But for this to happen, Europe must look at digital and climate action together, rather than separate policy areas. Too often, the EU works on them in isolation. The reality is that we cannot achieve one without the other.

We also recommend setting ambitious goals for the adoption of new technologies across our most polluting sectors. This KPI-led approach comes from our 2019 manifesto for a stronger digital Europe, and was adopted by the European Commission in its Digital Decade targets. Now it’s time for a digital and green plan in manufacturing, transport and each sector of the economy.

The international dimension

DIGITALEUROPE’s vision is for Europe to embrace digital in climate action, to bring benefits in the to society at large and to continue its global leadership by collaborating with our international partners.

Earlier this month, I met with leaders from the EU and the US at the transatlantic Trade and Technology Council in Pittsburgh. Together, we make up a third of global GDP, and we can influence the direction of the global economy if we commit to a joint green and digital economic recovery.

Likewise, we simply cannot reach the global goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees without cooperation with China. Working together on digital standards is an important piece of that jigsaw.

It is our common responsibility towards future generations to do what it takes to protect the environment. It is also our common duty to create a strong and competitive European economy, where people have the means to develop and put into practice the innovative solutions that we need.

Our future depends on it.

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