With new pact, tech companies take on climate change


When ride hailing company Bolt set out to design its own shared scooter, part of a push into lightweight urban transit, engineers had one overarching goal: make it eco-friendly. The result, set to hit Europe’s streets en masse this spring, is a machine powered by electricity, that is 100 per cent recyclable and will last 60 months – an eon in the world of e-scooters.

Sandra Särav, Bolt’s head of sustainability, says the scooter is emblematic of a company-wide drive to counter climate change.

“There is no other way but to go to zero,” she says, referring to the need to offset greenhouse gas emissions. “All of us have a say in this and all of us are responsible for doing this.”

On 19 March, Digital Day 2021, Bolt joined 24 other technology companies in signing a pledge to develop “green digital solutions” that will help the world slash carbon dioxide emissions and digitally transform key economic sectors. Signatories, which include Microsoft, Ericsson and Vodafone, also committed to becoming carbon-neutral themselves by no later than 2040.

The pact, known as the European Green Digital Coalition, was spearheaded by the European Commission and endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

It comes with the world facing what experts warn is a looming climate crisis. The last decade has been the warmest on record and, scientists say, unless humanity dramatically reduces its greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth is facing a future of heat waves, food shortages and mass extinctions.

“We are in a race against time to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” said UNEP executive director Inger Andersen. “Only digital technologies move at the speed and scale necessary to achieve the kind of dramatic reduction in emissions that we need to see in the next 10 years.”

“Now is the time for increased collaboration and innovation to tackle the climate crisis. This Coalition goes beyond a simple pledge, with EU institutions and industry joining forces to advance shared climate ambitions, by accelerating investment in innovative digital solutions for the benefit of Europe’s sustainable future,” said Casper Klynge, Microsoft’s Vice-President for European Government Affairs

UNEP’s support for the European Green Digital Coalition is part of an effort to use data and digital tools to encourage politicians, business leaders and consumers to embrace sustainable consumption and production. The initiative is designed to help the world tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution over the next 10 years.

Digital technology could help reduce the world’s carbon emissions by about 17 per cent, according to a report from the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body. Industry players say artificial intelligence, for example, could help make electric transmission grids more efficient. Blockchain technology could allow concerned citizens to track corporate carbon emissions. And the use of satellites can be further enhanced in monitoring environmental changes including activities such as illegal logging, mining and waste dumping, at sea or on land.

UNEP experts say, though, that there is a need to develop consistent metrics to measure the impact of technology on the environment, which will be key to minimizing the negative consequences of digitalization.

The tech sector is responsible for 2 to 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Data centres that mine for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin alone consumed up to 0.3 per cent of the world’s electricity in 2019, as much as Belgium.

“The tech industry really needs to lead this change,” said Philippe Singer, the co-founder of Leaders for Climate Action, a non-profit group. “If we move forward as a tech industry with a positive narrative, we can put pressure on politicians to put in stronger legislation but also get other industries to follow this example.”

On Friday, European nations also signed a pledged to support what they called “clean digital technologies.” Among other things, countries vowed to build 5G and 6G networks while backing blockchain technology, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, which they described as potential game-changers in the battle against planetary warming.

In the years to come, it will be vital for countries to harness the power of digital technology while at the same time respecting the rights of their citizens, said Andersen. “We are standing at a pivotal moment in human history. Decisions we take today to address environmental challenges and the governance of digital technology will set off a chain reaction that will determine the trajectory of life on this planet.”

UN Environment


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