The impact of environment data on sustainability and internet governance

9 Dec 2021 14:35h - 16:05h

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This main session immediately followed the IGF Policy Network on Environment (PNE) where there was a whole chapter on environmental data with three major policy recommendations. First, there is a need to focus more on the fostering of global standardisation and the harmonisation of environmental data, than that access to environmental data needs to be ensured, and lastly, there has to be striving towards increasing the cooperation that will, as a result, maximise the impact of digitalising environmental information. Since internet-dependent technologies are an integral part of our daily lives, even more so considering the pandemic, the urgency surrounding this topic has never been greater.

In this session, the main focus is on the strong influence that the digital world has on the environment and vice versa.  Things like energy consumption and climate impact, the resiliency of infrastructure, rising sea levels, the extensiveness or the extensive and complex supply chains that exist, the resource use, water, land, etc, and then obviously the impact on biodiversity and communities are just some of the ways that the environment and digital intersect.

In this regard, digital technologies can be of paramount importance in effectively tackling environmental issues, so despite the need to make ICTs sustainable themselves, the impact that they have on our efforts to evaluate environmental crises cannot be understated.

Mr Dave Rejeski (Visiting Scholar, Environmental Law Institute) emphasised the importance of building a research community around the issue of the impacts of the digital economy and how the research can address common data or information dilemmas faced by policymakers. Basically, what this translates to is doing research on the research. Some of the basic guidelines he gave in this regard are to question the system boundaries, ask what is in and what has been left out, what methodologies were used, to trace data back to its sources, ask some experts, see what is in the footnotes, the caveats of the research, and last but not least, to follow the money in terms of who is funding the research. Through his own research on the impact of the digital economy on the environment he conducted for the Environmental Law Institute, he found out there are massive variations in data, methods, and results. He concluded that as long as there is no standardisation, no harmonisation, no agreement about data validation, what models to use, how to share models, how to improve them over time, there is going to be very little valid research, but enormous amounts of media hype.

Mr Jeremy Rollison (Senior Director, EU Government Affairs, Microsoft) pointed out that the value of data is not really in the data itself, but in what we can learn from the data, so the opportunity of what technology can do for the environment lies in having access to the right type of data and putting in the right questions, and that cannot be done without talented researchers.

By Andjelija Mijatovic


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