Massamba Thioye from UNFCCC Global Innovation Hub, gave a speech calling for embracing a green deal for sustainable development at Huawei’s Day0 Forum.
Thioye opened his speech by acknowledging the challenges around climate and sustainability, and called for greater ambition from companies to help address these. He argued that while companies in all sectors were setting objective commitments and targets, their goals were not ambitious enough. Thioye called for a “a moonshot way of thinking” whereby companies set climate targets far beyond the reach of what is currently perceived as possible and find way to achieve these.
Currently, climate actors look at technologies and financial instruments that are already available to them, policies that are already in place, and set their objectives on this basis, said Thioye. He argued that under these circumstances, there is no space for innovation – leading to a vicious circle in which the lack of ambition stalls development for sustainable climate solutions, with the subsequent dearth of innovative solutions dampening the resolve to address the crisis with creative thinking.
Digital technology is key to addressing this issue, said Thioye. One particular area in which digital technologies can have a major impact on the climate and sustainability crisis is the fact that current solutions are making incremental changes that are far from enough to address the challenges we face. Thioye called for more disruptive and transformative change, noting that the climate crisis and the sustainability crisis were two separate issues that required their responses to be coordinated, but currently there is a disconnect between the responses that can be addressed using digital technologies.
To address the issue of ambition, Thioye said that we must find alternate ways of driving the development of both climate and sustainability solutions. He noted that increased ambition would fuel the appetite for addressing these challenges, but in its absence, alternative incentives must be pursued. To do so, Thioye said that there must be ways of measuring the net climate contribution of solutions providers – an initiative that is already underway with the European Green Deal Coalition, but which must be expanded internationally.
Measuring the climate contribution of a solution provider using primary data requires leveraging digital technology – and this aspect of climate policymaking requires IoT and therefore production of data, distributed ledger technology with immutability and consensus-building functions, AI tools and 5G to put in place a climate policy instrument that can measure the climate contributions of solutions providers. Together, argued Thioye, these solutions could break the vicious circle caused by low ambition.
The second challenge is the effectiveness of climate action, and Thioye noted that digital technologies would be key from switching from incremental changes to more transformative types of climate action. As an example, Thioye highlighted that the current framework around climate action is more sector-based, focused on reducing the carbon footprint of existing products and services. He acknowledged that this was important and useful, but claimed that it was not a big enough step, arguing that we must leverage innovation to replace current supply chains and carbon-intensive products with alternatives that satisfy the same core requirements with a lower carbon footprint. Thioye stated that digital technologies would play an important role here, citing the example of the transport sector. With a sector-based approach, the focus would be on how to replace internal combustion engines with electric vehicles, and while this is important, it’s not a deep transformative change. While Thioye acknowledged that it would be excellent to switch to electric vehicles, it would be better not to have cars at all – and that digital technologies could help to dramatically reduce the number of cars we require, with solutions to facilitate car-sharing, while expanded 5G connectivity could reduce the need for cars – shopping trips can be replaced with online shopping, or commuting with remote working, for example.
We are used to thinking about the impact of business on the environment in terms of the carbon footprint, and even the term indicates something that is unavoidably left behind. Thioye claimed that it is time to start thinking in terms of the carbon handprint – the active reductions that the telecoms sector can enable for other industries with innovative digital solutions. Thioye argued that if we want to fully leverage digital technologies, we must continue to innovate on the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution as well as policies to further their development and financial instruments to enable funding. He also called for new business models to make value chains more competitive, but underlined the need for new cooperative approaches both among nations and domestically to allow digital technologies to be scalable, accessible and widely used across both developed and emerging markets.
Thioye concluded by calling for innovative green leadership to drive the transition, taking a holistic approach to development to ensure that issues are addressed locally while keeping the broader picture in mind. He called for action today to achieve longer term benefits, and noted that the ICT sector was demonstrating the required leadership, inspiring hope for the climate and sustainability crises.