Green Digital Action at COP28: Business partnerships for a sustainable future
The world’s collective chance to beat climate change is quickly evaporating.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called on leaders “from governments, business, cities and regions, civil society and finance” to cooperate on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and “come up with new, tangible and credible climate action.”
At this point, holding the crucial 1.5-degree line on the rise in global temperatures requires practical solutions with everyone on board. Digital technologies and services can make a decisive difference.
“Accelerating the transition to net-zero emissions is everyone’s responsibility,” says Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
“Bold, innovative partnerships will be key to ensuring sustainable digital transformation inside our industry and across the economy.”
Digital technology companies and industry groups will be active at the upcoming UN climate change conference, COP28. Governments, international organizations, and civil society groups will also be there seeking a collective breakthrough to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit the rise in global temperatures.
ITU – the UN agency for digital technologies – is rallying partners from the tech industry to help drive Green Digital Action at COP28.
Technology experts have also been engaged in tackling the global climate challenge.
“We believe it is our responsibility to harness the power of technology and innovation to combat climate change,” says Saifur Rahman, 2023 President of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest technical professional association.
“We can do this by promoting clean tech solutions for climate sustainability,” he adds. “By leveraging digital solutions and working in collaboration, we can unlock unprecedented opportunities and innovation to create a sustainable future, empower communities, and advance technology for the benefit of humanity.”
Prominent tech firms express similar sentiments, finding clear and growing synergies between climate-safe investments and long-term business and economic value.
“The digital and green transitions are gathering speed,” says Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark. “But there is still more to do if we want to reach net zero, secure circular supply chains, and combat climate change. We need to make sure we pursue collaboration – with trusted actors working together to invest in digital infrastructure and digitalized economies.”
Cutting emissions is the top priority to avoid catastrophic climate change. But green digital action needs to go further – optimizing resource consumption and curbing the exponential growth of e-waste – to make humanity’s future sustainable.
“As we continue to harness the potential of digital technologies, we need a coordinated transition towards a sustainable, circular electronics industry,” says Carolien van Brunschot, heading the secretariat at the Circular Electronics Partnership.
“The Circular Electronics Partnership is working to alleviate 40 collective barriers for the industry to progress on the circular transformation by 2030. We look forward to collaborating with others in accelerating action on this collective mission,” she adds.
Joining forces to eliminate emissions
Success will hinge on contributions from every segment of the information and communication technology (ICT) industry. The FTTH Council Europe – a regional industry association promoting fibre-based connectivity – aims to help its members better measure their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, share best practices, and accelerate their transition.
“The digital industry can play a positive role in the transition to a more sustainable world. Fibre networks are the connectivity backbone that enable these applications,” explains Vincent Garnier, Director General at FTTH Council Europe.
“But make no mistake,” he adds, “the ICT industry is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and we must act now to reduce our own carbon footprint.”
Partnering with others for Green Digital Action at COP28 “should help all organizations in our sector make tangible progress, now, towards carbon neutrality,” Garnier says.
Digital tech companies have taken on a growing role in the race to eliminate harmful emissions from industry, transport, energy production, and other activities along the whole supply chain for devices and applications. By purchasing growing shares of renewable energy, investing in carbon removal, and issuing green bonds, tech firms have also come to the forefront in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
ITU supports this transition through globally recognized green standards, providing guidance for digital manufacturers and service providers worldwide on energy efficiency, climate change adaptation and mitigation, e-waste management and the transition to circular economies, as well as overall environmental management.
Growing numbers of tech companies, network operators, data centres, and manufacturers refer to these green standards to cut emissions in line with science-based targets. ITU tracks the emissions, energy consumption and climate commitments of digital companies and increasingly helps developing countries collect ICT emissions data.
ITU works closely with other global standard-making organizations, notably the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), with each bringing specific expertise and memberships to the table.
“ISO provides a unique platform for building effective and meaningful cross-sector partnerships to accelerate climate action,” says Sergio Mujica, ISO Secretary-General. “ISO standards offer inclusive consensus-based solutions to help transform climate commitments into action.”
Greening the digital industry
The bulk of emissions in the digital sector can be traced to relatively few companies, suggested ITU research last year. Sixteen leading digital companies said they were already carbon neutral by 2020, partly through making positive contributions like large, market-making renewable power purchase contracts.
ITU’s next Greening Digital Companies report, expected in the months ahead, surveys 200 digital companies worldwide, up from 150 last year.
Transparent reporting on greenhouse gas emissions will be needed from all digital companies. Collective commitments across the industry can help today’s emitters make changes to establish carbon-neutral production and operations.
Digital products and services are crucial to enable wider emission reductions – a prerequisite to fulfil the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ensure a viable future for everyone.
Digitalization, if done right, could support ambitious, far-reaching, exponentially powerful solutions to serve growing populations and make the world a better place for everyone.
“Transformative change is required to deliver not just on the current sustainability goals, but to reach beyond, to a world where more than 10 billion people can live flourishing lives,” says Luis Neves, CEO of the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). “An exponential uptake of new smart solutions can deliver on human needs in ways that are magnitudes more resource- and cost-efficient compared with what we have today.”
Green Digital Action at COP28 aims to put the industry on the right side of history.
“In our increasingly complex and interconnected world, building bridges between different areas of expertise – across government, industry, academia, civil society – is becoming more important by the day,” says Tomas Lamanauskas, ITU’s Deputy Secretary-General. “Everyone needs to be at the table. The spirit of inclusive cooperation and partnerships is key.”
In the run-up to COP28, a key moment to join forces on digital solutions will also come with SDG Digital Day on 17 September. ITU the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and partners from the UN system and beyond will convene in New York for the day in the run-up to the SDG Summit to explore how data and digital technologies can accelerate progress on vital shared goals.
Learn more about Green Digital Action at COP28.
Quotes in this article were provided by partners for Green Digital Action at COP28.