Estimates from the United Nations contend that on its current trajectory, the world will be unable to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In its Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer 2030 report, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) highlights three core pillars of sustainability as key agenda items that must urgently be addressed:
- The biosphere is under threat from rising carbon dioxide emissions
- Equality is declining.
- The economy continues to drive the unsustainable consumption of natural resources.
Solving these issues, which cut across sectors and transcend borders, requires innovative and integrated solutions — solutions that digital technologies are well-positioned to provide. Digital with Purpose identifies seven digital technologies, chosen as broadly representative of the way digital capabilities will evolve in the medium term:
Digital with Purpose argues for the utilisation of these seven digital technologies due to their proven impact on 103 of the 169 total Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Delving into protecting the biosphere, Digital with Purpose finds that digital technologies are particularly important in monitoring and tracking the state of the natural world, and analysing and optimising energy usage to reduce climate change.
Monitoring and Tracking
As the planet continues to undergo immense stress in regards to the environment, developing an accurate insight into the full extent of degradation and the most heavily affected areas is critical to identifying key environmental indicators. Monitoring and tracking informs key decision makers, as well as the general public, on the immediate actions that can be taken to mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change. Additionally, digital technologies can keep people, organisations, and states accountable to ensure that commitments are distributed fairly.
An example presented in Digital with Purpose is the increased use of water and energy utilities, as well as rising levels of pollution and waste due to population growth. Digital technologies, such as IoT sensors, are already used to monitor human usage of utilities. These very same technologies can also be used to monitor water and fertiliser use on farms. Another application of IoT is monitoring air quality, especially in urban areas where health and environmental issues are rampant due to pollution.
GeSI member Taiwan Mobile uses remote detection devices to monitor base station energy consumption, gathering real-time data without manual meter-reading, thus reducing emissions from travelling. The use of Smart Meters also allows Taiwan Mobile to accurately anticipate and predict the consumption of energy, providing valuable information for optimisation and efficiency. Taiwan Mobile reports that it saves about 25.4 tonnes per year in CO2 emissions and reduces manual meter trips by 8,439.
Optimise, and Predict
Among unsustainable grazing and agricultural activities, deforestation is the major cause of land degradation. With forests covering almost 31 percent of the Earth’s surface, deforestation and desertification caused by human activity is a critical issue that must be addressed as both pose a risk to the global terrestrial ecosystem.
Protecting forests is essential as they mitigate
climate change-induced environmental conditions and protect watersheds, which
account for 75 percent of the world’s freshwater. Additionally, forests reduce
the risk of natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and landslides. The
combination of land degradation and the increase of global population means land
shortages and an increase in demand for limited land and resources.
With digital technologies such as cloud and machine learning, the remote detection of illegal logging and other harmful activities is possible through the aggregation and analysis of data to design targeted interventions. GeSI member Huawei, in partnership with Rainforest Connection, uses hidden repurposed smartphones or “Guardian” devices to monitor sounds within rainforests and collect data in threatened areas.
Read more: Up in the Cloud with a Rainforest Guardian
With Huawei’s mobile network, audio data is sent to the Huawei cloud platform and run through a machine learning framework to be analysed in real-time. Huawei’s utilisation of digital technologies allows not only the detection of species and identification of high-risk areas, but also the location of sounds of illegal logging and initiation of alerts through cloud technology, digital access, and IoT.
Looking at current trajectories, the world isn’t on the path to meeting the goals of the 2030 Agenda, including global climate targets.
While digital technologies can make a significant contribution to accelerating action, these solutions must come with transformative changes across economic, social, and political spheres.
The ICT sector has the responsibility to
address negative externalities that come from the development and deployment of
these digital technologies, including the misuse of information obtained from
digital technologies and disruptive hardware and e-waste, among many others.
Multi-stakeholder organisations and Private-Public Partnerships (PPPs) are essential to keeping actors accountable and transparent, ensuring that the Digital with Purpose vision becomes a reality. Recognised as one of the key multi-stakeholder processes in building a planetary digital ecosystem, GeSI is proud to have a global network of members and partners to work with as we build on this movement together following the publication of the Digital with Purpose report.
Read more about Huawei’s TECH4ALL environmental projects, including the Rainforest Guardian initiative.
About the Author
Luis Neves, CEO, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)
Luis is responsible for establishing the initiative’s strategic goals and overseeing all GeSI’s activities
In collaboration with members from major Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies and organisations around the world, the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) is a leading source of impartial information, resources and best practices for achieving integrated social and environmental sustainability through digital technologies