Emerging technologies have the potential to radically change economies, societies … even the biosphere. How can policy makers ensure emerging tech overcomes its negative environmental impact? Below is an overview of 12 recommendations for policy and decision-makers, taken from our recent report: ‘Risks and opportunities of emerging tech in the climate decade’.
- Emerging tech can boost climate action
A deeper understanding and promotion of the benefits that emerging tech can bring to address the climate emergency is needed. Learnings must be directed at relevant ministries, climate change-related public bodies and multilateral organisations.
- Data-driven policies
Ensuring transparency when it comes to the energy the Internet of Things consumes and the data it collects is of the utmost importance, even when this data is owned by private entities. Governments must ensure that high quality data is open and available so that it can operate on different platforms.
- Focus on the consumer
It is common practice in the tech industry to address environmental challenges focusing primarily on supply (e.g. improving recycling rates). The industry’s environmental agenda should also include initiatives that promote behavioural change, which will come with increased awareness campaigns to promote sustainable demand.
- Combine top-down and bottom-up approaches
No single policy or entity can resolve the climate crisis. Addressing the global ecological breakdown with emerging tech is a complex endeavour that requires action at various levels, both top-down and bottom-up, from global action frameworks like the UN’s SDGs to regional initiatives enforced by EU Member States.
- Go local!
Countries have different political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental realities and needs. That’s why, each stage of the technological innovation process may require a different mix of actors, institutions, infrastructure, resources, and financing models.
- From a linear to circular electronic model
Delivering a zero-e-waste economy requires a systemic shift from a linear to a circular model. Digital products should be designed to last as long as possible. Manufacturers should be encouraged to offer buy-back or return systems to collect old devices. Urban mining practices should be promoted, building a formal recycling industry to extract metals and minerals from e-waste.
- Track your devices
With billions of digital devices entering the global market every year, one of the main issues in our production systems is the lack of traceability of component parts during their lifetime. Unless extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies are in place, once warranty periods expire, electronics manufacturers are exempt from any liability for their products. Added transparency ensures accountability.
- Keep the training going
Governments and private companies should partner to implement regular capacity building and training activities to build knowledge in state-of-the-art technologies, as well as the technical skills and capacities of their staff. The exercise should become a continuous learning process targeting public servants.
- Foster innovation and collective thinking
The elaboration of national climate change plans and other environmental policies is usually channelled through, or accompanied by, participatory processes. This enables the integration of diverse viewpoints, fosters innovation, promotes greater public acceptance, and ensures ownership. Collaborative approaches and collective intelligence can be a determinant to addressing global challenges.
- Mainstreaming sustainability
Sustainability should be an intrinsic part of a tech company’s strategic goals and the definition and monitoring of sustainability metrics should be part of their balanced scorecards. To this end, policymakers should pursue the harmonisation of incentive-based regulations, and policy instruments to encourage tech companies to prioritise sustainability.
- Consumer test your product
Digital companies should be encouraged to perform more consumer testing, which is usually skipped due to pressing design and production deadlines as well as limited budgets. Accompanied by clear CSR guidelines focused on green research and development, consumer testing could enable the development of more sustainable solutions.
- Improve your metrics
Current standards used by digital companies to report carbon emissions do not adequately account for the entire footprint of digital services. Companies rarely report all other indirect emissions, which will lead them to identify potential carbon savings.
For further information and an extended and nuanced version, read the ‘Risks and opportunities of emerging tech in the climate decade’ report.