As Green Week was marked across the EU, policymakers, key politicians, and leading business figures gathered at the European Parliament for a significant event. “Accelerating Our Sustainable Futures through Digital Innovation,” provided a forum for experts from a range of sectors to share thinking and approaches around how current and emerging digital technologies can be harnessed in the fight against climate change in Europe.
“Digital action and climate action must go hand in hand,” MEP Cyrus Engerer told attendees at the start of the day. “Drastic change is happening on our planet. Climate change will not wait for us human beings to sort ourselves out. We must together confront the existential threat through a green transition that leaves no one behind.”
Engerer reminded attendees that climate change is a challenge of today, as well as tomorrow. Europe is already feeling the effects of global warming, through flooding, extreme heat, droughts, and forest fires. That impact on the lives of European citizens is leading to calls for bolder actions to address the climate emergency.
“Drastic change is happening on our planet. Climate change will not wait for us human beings to sort ourselves out. We must together confront the existential threat through a green transition that leaves no one behind”
MEP Cyrus Engerer
Many of the steps that need to be taken have now been set out in the European Green Deal, an ambitious roadmap for delivering a carbon-neutral continent by 2050. However, words, pledges, and policy commitments alone will not address the climate emergency. They need to be supported by practical on-the-ground action. Many experts believe such action will ultimately be facilitated by digital transformation.
Attendees heard how experts have calculated that over the next eight years, digital technology alone could help other industries reduce carbon emissions by a staggering 20%. “The impact and the reach of technological innovation is still underestimated,” explained Veerle Vandeweerd, Managing Partner at Platform for Transformative Technologies (P4TT). “We imagine the world will continue as it is, but digital innovation is going very fast,” she said.
Tony Jin Yong from telecommunications giant Huawei shares Vandeweerd’s view that those digital technologies can potentially play a transformational role in delivering a greener future for Europeans. He believes that policymakers, industry, and citizens must now work together to create a framework within which that transformation can happen. “We need collaboration and consistent investment,” he explained. “At Huawei we walk the talk. We strive to support the EU Green Deal ambitions and to use technology for a better planet.”
It is clear that sector leaders like Jin Yong stand ready to be part of delivering positive change on climate. However, if that change is to happen, then there needs to be a focus on continuing to develop a robust digital infrastructure across the EU. There is already a strong starting point.
At Huawei we walk the talk. We strive to support the EU Green Deal ambitionsand to use technology for a better planet”
Tony Jin Yong, Huawei
Industry representatives gave a range of examples where digitalisation, big data, and AI analytics are, even now, making a real impact on meeting the sustainability challenge. The telecoms sector itself is already leading by example when it comes to its own carbon footprint. Tony Jin Yong explained how, within Huawei, innovation in how they operate is already delivering significant carbon reductions. This is a trend he expects to continue. “As our network evolves from 4G to 5G, energy consumption per bit is expected to drop by 95%,” he said. “That means that in Europe the network will be 23% more efficient, offsetting 35,000 tonnes of carbon.”
35,000 tonnes is a lot of carbon. However, that sizable number is dwarfed when compared to the impact that data and digitalisation will potentially have in other sectors. It is this role of new technology as an enabler for other sectors, where many argue the transformational impact of digitalisation will truly be felt.
What was most encouraging from discussions was that attendees were not talking about theoretical change that may or may not happen in a decade. Instead, they were describing real change that is happening on the ground right now.
For instance, Jin Yong described the way that new integrated smart heating solutions are already being used to reduce energy consumption in people’s homes by capturing and analysing data on their energy use. As we transition to renewable energy, particularly as European minds are focused on energy security, solutions like Huawei’s will be vital in ensuring that we make best use of our energy resources, supporting the green transition.
These innovative solutions are already starting to impact on other environmentally damaging industries. Jin Yong’s Huawei colleague, Hui Cao presented a compelling example from the agricultural sector where the use of drones, data capture, and AI analysis of crops had delivered a 90% reduction in the use of pesticides and herbicides.
What was most striking about both of these examples is that they show new technology being applied to old problems. They are leveraging digital innovation to address some of the longest-standing, most intractable challenges around the climate emergency – domestic heating and agriculture.
Taken together, they provide a glimpse of the future, and give a sense of what is possible when data, AI, and infrastructure providers work together.
The challenge moving forward is how we build on these examples to scale up the pace and level of change. All attendees agreed that climate change is too great a challenge for any one business or sector to address. Instead, it will demand new forms of partnership and collaboration, sustained investment, and political leadership to maintain momentum and not be derailed by short-term challenges.
However, if all of those elements are put in place, then the potential benefits of digital transformation will be felt by future generations of Europeans, through a cleaner, more inclusive economy.
This content was commissioned by Huawei and produced by Dods Impact