These are the (multi) million dollar questions that European institutions, academia, industry sector, tech companies but also young people have been exploring recently. In the face of digital transformation, urgent action is needed to transition to a more resilient, sustainable economy and society that provides tools to manage climate risks such as greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption, among others. In order to achieve this, the issue of environmental impact of digital technologies needs to be approached holistically – cultures of consumption, business models and production methods, organisation of energy systems, cities and transport – all can be improved regarding resource protection and energy efficiency.
Digitalisation offers immense opportunities for reducing energy consumption, environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions. In this sense, digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and edge computing have the capacity to accelerate and maximise the effects of environmental policies and lead to efficiency gains, by helping reduce resource consumption and pollution.
However, there is also an environmental price to pay for our technological advancements – all the devices that we use daily, data centres and communication infrastructures consume increasing amounts of energy and materials and contribute to climate degradation. Moreover, the use of critical raw materials in electronic devices is constantly increasing on a global scale. A representative example is the increasing use of semiconductors in various technological areas – from smartphones to wind turbines, dollar arrays and electric vehicles. And whilst meeting global climate goals will, in part, rely on silicon chips, this comes at a huge carbon footprint cost.
In light of this, if Europe wants to reach its climate neutrality goals, as set out in the European Green Deal, the digital sector has to contribute its share and embrace sustainability, by becoming a sector that saves resources, increases efficiency, and allows the repairability and re-use of products. Also, because tackling environmental crises should be a collective effort, the Conference on the Future of Europe is a unique and timely opportunity for European citizens to debate Europe’s challenges and priorities, including climate change and digital transformation.