Sustainable #netgov by design: Environment and human rights

16 Nov 2020 15:00h - 16:30h

Event report

Internet-dependent technologies are an integral part of our daily lives, and more so considering the pandemic. Yet, information and communications technologies (ICTs) have a direct impact on the physical environments locally, regionally, and internationally. While these technologies play a central role in global efforts to find solutions to tackle the climate crisis and promote environmental protection, as well as sustainable development, the growing demands of an interconnected society are contributing to unprecedented levels of energy consumption, conflict mineral mining, e-waste generation and subsequent dumping in the Global South, negative effects on vulnerable natural landscapes, communities, and human rights, and much more believes Mr Michael J. Oghia (Steering Committee Member, Internet Rights and Principles Coalition [IRPC]).

One of the principal arguments is that many of these problems stem from a lack of consideration for sustainability in the design of ICTs. The world now faces a situation where it needs to create sustainable technology for tomorrow but is still working with the unsustainable business models, lack of long-term, holistic design thinking, and inadequate policy frameworks of yesterday.

The lack of a holistic approach to the topic is problematic for a myriad of reasons. First, there is concern that there are so many piecemeal approaches to the topic that the impact will be limited due to the lack of a clear consensus on how to move forward or measure progress as it relates to the sector as a whole. Second, the extremely limited funding and available resources will not be adequate to achieve the goals, especially if they are spread across, not necessarily in a co-ordinated and equitable manner. This is why concerted multistakeholder and cross-sectoral efforts are vital to the transition from insufficient retroactive fixes to more permanent, sustainable, and holistic solutions, the ones that protect communities, the planet and translate policy recommendations into on-the-ground action.

Ms Weronika Koralewska (Independent Consultant) discussed how we can drive the action towards sustainability by design. She believes that the solutions already exist: the knowledge and skills are already present during all the IGF environmental sessions as well as in tomes, publications, and research. They are present at all the levels: user equipment, data centres, network. There are indicators based on lifecycle assessment, ideas of the circular economy, ideas for obligatory open repair environment. There are also knowledge and skills on how to write a program, code, and framework so the software works more efficiently. She believes that an honest discussion about values is being avoided and sees three critical elements in this area: The first element is that often, instead of solving problems, actors are masking them. The second critical element is in the sphere of values and regards ethics instead of compulsion: people tend to have a compulsion to go for a new thing instead of cautiously researching it. The next element is the need to tackle the problem of diffusion of responsibility: each stakeholder tends to place the responsibility on the other.

Another possible solution is to have rules in place that make good things happen by design, believes Ms Alexandra Lutz (Accredited Assistant, European Parliament). These rules in place must punish bad behaviour in a way that people will not be able to do it. It is then necessary to ensure that these rules are really embedded in the market, without making them excessive. These rules must be simple enough to ensure that it is easy to do the right thing and to consume or design products in a sustainable way. Each stakeholder group must worry about how to ensure that the rules make things easier and more sustainable by design in the future.

Ms Pia Wiche (Founder and CEO, EcoEd) spoke about the concept of ’Killed by design’: devices and applications that quickly became obsolete due to the lack of support for repairs, technical services, and discontinuation. Many modern devices today are ’killed by design’, both in hardware and software. Recycling is becoming an important issue, as ICT devices are a great source of recyclable material. However, not enough recycling is being done today and if recycling does not increase, the world will keep generating garbage, which will continue generating environmental impacts. Another solution, better than recycling from a lifecycle perspective, would be to change the business model around ICT so that things can last longer.