Technology can help solve the climate crisis – but it will need our help

Climate Change 2018 UN

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
l to r: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate; Secretary General António Guterres; and Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, Honorary Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, at the 2018 Global Commission Report Launch at United Nations Headquarters in New York, on 05 September 2018.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Amy Luers, Executive Director, Future Earth

Tech giants are currently getting slammed over ethical issues. As their dominance in the global economy rises, so too do concerns about their influence, misuse of data and embedded biases in algorithms that control advertising and can influence elections, law enforcement and recruiting.

We are just beginning to get a handle on the vast societal implications of the digital revolution. Meanwhile, our data and the algorithms built on it are transforming our economy, our culture and our environment.

Major tech platforms for search, e-commerce and social media build algorithms to service billions of end users — consumers and producers of information — across the globe every day. These algorithms nudge people to read what they think you want to read, buy what they think you need to buy and even to think what they think you should be thinking.

These algorithms are not neutral. They will never be neutral. Algorithms will always reproduce the biases put into them by humans. The question, therefore, is not whether we are nudged in our choices, but how we are nudged, in what direction and who decides.

In 2015 in Paris, 195 nations agreed that for the peace and prosperity of the world, they would work together to keep the rise in global temperatures “well below 2°C”, aiming for 1.5°C. With this global agreement, the world decided what the direction in which it would nudge. We committed to nudge toward climate action.

So, the question we should be asking today is: how can companies embed climate action nudges in algorithms to make it easy for consumers and producers to make low-emission decisions by default?

Meeting the ambitious Paris climate goal of keeping temperature rise well below 2°C requires everyone to adopt a simple rule – halving emissions every decade. We call this the Carbon Law. Keeping to this law requires economic transformation at an unprecedented speed and beyond the energy sector into industry, transport, food and buildings.

At the Global Climate Action Summit this week, we published an analysis suggesting that solutions to halve global emissions are market ready, economically attractive and can scale exponentially. This is the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap. Getting on this path will require unprecedented economic transformation. We know the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises this.

The roadmap highlights the tech sector as playing a vital role in this exponential road to a net-zero carbon world. Tech companies must drive their own carbon footprints to zero and the good news is that many of the biggest tech companies are on course to carbon neutrality. Apple’s operations are now run on 100% renewables and it has committed to adopting 100% recycled materials throughout its supply chain. Meanwhile, Google is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world. Tech will also be critical in building resource efficiency gains across all sectors from energy, to food, water and urban infrastructure.

But one of the most powerful effects that tech giants like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, and even start-ups, such as Element AI, can perhaps have is linked to their influence on the behaviour of people and businesses across the world. Research increasingly highlights the importance for consumption choices on climate. Earlier this year, C40 reported that two-thirds of the carbon emissions from 79 cities it had studied were tied to consumption choices and their supply chains.

Consider the food industry: the food system alone accounts for about 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This sector has been slow to digitize but is now about to undergo complete disruption. The signs are clear: Amazon recently bought Whole Foods, sending ripples through the markets; in China, Alibaba has already revolutionized the grocery shopping experience; and public-private partnerships such as Scale AI are working to transform supply chain management.

Nudges will be embedded in the increasing digitization of these evolving food and production sectors, many of which are likely to have large implications for the climate. For example, research shows reducing food waste and shifting towards healthy diets with lower meat consumption would significantly reduce carbon emissions. Who should decide the direction of the nudges in transforming food and production systems? Given our global commitment to tackle the climate crisis, should the tech platforms driving these industries nudge individuals and businesses toward lower-carbon options?

Technology alone will not solve the climate crisis. It will require greater climate leadership and much stronger policies. But tech is a necessary part of the solution – it is also a wildcard. As we say in our roadmap, the digital revolution can help determine whether we live on a 1.5-2°C planet or in a +3°C world. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution moves into hyperdrive in the next decade through artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing and the internet of things, to stay within the globally agreed 1.5-2°C climate limit this growth must be tied more closely to the climate challenge.

We cannot leave it to the tech sector alone to programme our future. When it comes to our children’s health, security and prosperity, no one should accept the role of simply an “end user”. Climate leaders, Earth system scientists and other societal partners must collaborate with the tech sector to ensure that the transformations of the digital revolution help drive us toward a climate-safe world.

Precisely how this will happen remains unclear but many tech leaders are already stepping up to the challenge. The Entrepreneurs Declaration now signed by more than 200 CEOs, is a commitment to follow the Carbon Law. The World Economic Forum is also supporting this discussion.

Together, we can innovate ways to make it easy for people and business to act on climate by default.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Estonia is making public transport free

Sudan: Amidst deaths, injuries, imprisonments, UNICEF stresses children’s protection ‘at all times’

‘Laser-sharp focus’ needed to achieve Global Goals by 2030, UN political forum told

Why exporters need to mind the trade finance gap

6 ways least developed countries can participate in the 4IR

Tax revenues continue increasing as the tax mix shifts further towards corporate and consumption taxes

Parliament leads the way on first set of EU rules for Artificial Intelligence

$683 million appeal to deliver reproductive health services, where they’re most needed

Iraqis paying an ‘unthinkable price’ to be heard, UN envoy tells politicians in Baghdad

Women’s rights face global pushback from conservativism, fundamentalism – UN experts warn

“What a Wonderful World”: the unsettled relationship between Climate Change and Human Health

Trailing the US-EU economic confrontation

Coronavirus makes inequality a public health issue

Seven trends shaping the future of the mining and metals industry

EU confronts environmental threats as global leaders attempt to revive the global sentiment at NYC climate week

China’s New Normal and Its Relevance to the EU

Defence: European Commission paves the way for first joint industrial projects under EU budget

Why support for Latin America’s early tech hubs is vital for the region

Draghi hands over to banks €77.7 billion more

EU takes again positive action on migration crisis while Turkey asks for dear favors in exchange for cooperation

Chart of the day: These countries have seen the biggest falls in extreme poverty

Coal addiction ‘must be overcome’ to ease climate change, UN chief says in Bangkok

Libya: Thousands seek shelter in health clinics from Tripoli fighting, UN warns

Endocrine disruptors: A strategy for the future that protects EU citizens and the environment

DR Congo elections: ‘historic opportunity’ for ‘peaceful transfer of power’ says Security Council

Turkey presents a new strategy for EU accession but foreign policy could be the lucky card

Resolving banks with depositors’ money?

Chart of the day: When do young Europeans leave home?

UN unveils global influenza strategy to prevent ‘real’ threat of pandemic

Time to be welcome: Youth work and integration of young refugees

5 amazing people fighting to save the oceans

European Investment Advisory Hub sends projects worth €34 billion to European Investment Bank pipeline

European Border and Coast Guard: Council adopts revised regulation

Coronavirus could trigger a hunger pandemic – unless urgent action is taken

#Travelgoals: why Instagram is key to understanding millennial tourism

Long-term EU budget: MEPs slam cuts to culture and education

What the COVID-19 pandemic teaches us about cybersecurity – and how to prepare for the inevitable global cyberattack

EU agricultural production no more a self-sufficiency anchor

UN chief urges peaceful, free and fair elections in Cameroon

Could implants treat people with brain disease? A young scientist explains

Coronavirus update: COVID-19 likely to cost economy $1 trillion during 2020, says UN trade agency

Sea urchins are overwhelming parts of the ocean. Could turning them into sushi be the solution?

Coronavirus: rescEU masks delivered to Spain, Italy and Croatia

UN agriculture chief urges ‘transformative changes’ to how we eat

Survivors of ISIL terror in Iraq want justice, not revenge, says head of UN investigation team

Guterres condemns killing of Bangladeshi peacekeeper in South Sudan, during armed attack on UN convoy

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Hope’ on the horizon as UN Peacekeepers push deep into Mali

Trade Barriers Report: EU continues to open up markets outside Europe in midst of rising protectionism

How and why Mercedes fakes the EU fuel consumption tests

‘We need to stand up now’ for the elderly: urges UN rights expert on World Day

This AI is working with a fleet of drones to help us fight ocean plastic

Force used against protestors in Gaza ‘wholly disproportionate’ says UN human rights chief

Data is the new gold. This is how it can benefit everyone – while harming no one

Can Southeast Asia keep up with growing energy demand?

A Sting Exclusive: EU Commissioner Mimica looks at how the private sector can better deliver for international development

How to outsmart bias when you’re recruiting

Female leaders warn about the erosion of women’s rights

6 surprising side effects of this year’s global heatwave

Switzerland fast-tracks emergency aid for small businesses weathering COVID-19

This New York store is selling Christmas presents for refugees

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s