Climate change is one of the main challenges currently facing humanity. From soil contamination and air pollution to waste management and global warming, the world is experiencing environmental degradation in many ways. Ensuring that we preserve the environment has rightly shifted to the center of political discourse, leading to new policies for tackling the risks we face, writes Angeliki Dedopoulou, Senior Manager, EU Public Affairs, Huawei.
At the end of 2019, the European Commission launched the European Green Deal as a long-term strategy for tackling environmental challenges. The Green Deal embodies the EU’s ambition to combat climate change and implement sustainable ways of living to reach climate neutrality by 2050. A flagship part of the Green Deal is the promised Climate Law – the world’s first piece of legislation binding all EU 27 member states to become a climate neutral continent by 2050. This will notably be achieved by increasing the shorter term 2030 emission reduction target to at least 55%.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen vowed to “leave no-one behind” in the race to achieving this climate neutral and green economy by 2050. “This is Europe’s man on the moon moment” she said in a video statement. “Our goal is to reconcile the economy with our planet” and “to make it work for our people” she added, describing climate policy as Europe’s new growth strategy.
Will AI help to achieve the European Green Deal?
A €1 billion green future
To support this ambition, the European Commission launched a €1 billion call under Horizon 2020 for research and innovation projects that respond to the climate crisis and help protect Europe’s unique ecosystems and biodiversity. This will also help Europe recover from the coronavirus crisis by providing innovative and inclusive solutions to existing environmental challenges.
Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “The €1bn European Green Deal call is the last and biggest call under Horizon 2020. With innovation at its heart, this investment will accelerate a just and sustainable transition to a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. As we do not want anyone left behind in this systemic transformation, we call for specific actions to engage with citizens in novel ways and improve societal relevance and impact.”
The European Green Deal is ambitious: It covers nearly all sectors of the economy from transport, energy and agriculture, to buildings and industries. A central part of this will be ensuring the full role out of digital solutions and ICT into all sectors of the economy. Digital technologies have the ability to reduce energy consumption and emissions in many industries, from the use of big data to IoT solutions, and can empower renewable energies via the use of AI solutions. The sensible and efficient roll out of such solutions can mitigate the impacts of climate change, help us meet the Sustainable Development Goals and achieve the Green Deal aims.
Doing more with less
Digitalization has a major role to play in the green transition which we all have an obligation to work towards. Right now, digital technologies contribute to the greening of the economy mainly through reducing transaction costs, increasing real-time usage of data, shedding light on interdependencies and creating efficiencies: digitalization allows us to do more with less.
If we look at some specific examples, we can already see that the roll out of AI in agriculture is helping farmers to process data and optimise crop productivity through soil monitoring. This prevents the unnecessary and unsustainable use of chemicals. An easy win if we can get this technology into the hands of our European farmers.
As another example, by digitaliszing the transport sector, we can continuously optimise routes to reduce emissions. This will be especially seen as we get more automated cars on our roads and car-charging services. It has been estimated that such digital improvements have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 3.6 Gigatons in the transport sector alone, while in the energy sector, smart grids enabling consumers to make smarter energy choices can lead to a reduction of overall demand and leverage residential energy resources.
We face challenges, but we strive for more
Digital technologies have the overall potential to enable a 20% global reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 and could prevent 10 times more CO2 emissions than they actually produce.
This doesn’t come without its challenges of course: despite being incremental to the green transition, the digital industry also has a responsibility to minimize its own environmental footprint. ICTs now generate 1.5% of total GHG emissions, which is expected to grow to 14% by 2040 with the increased use of the Internet, smartphones and tablets, and energy consumption by data centres and telecom networks.
At Huawei, we’re committed to tackling our environmental footprint in various ways – for example via our intelligent energy management technologies, like PowerStar, which allows for the monitoring of power consumption in intensive technologies. When a unit that isn’t scheduled for production consumes power above a certain threshold, its power consumption is displayed, switching automatically to idle mode. In the case of a wave soldering unit for example, we can contribute to consuming 25.6% less energy and can saving about 31,000 kWh of electricity each year.
Working together to achieve more
Achieving the aims set out in the European Green Deal demands action from all parts of the European economy. It means working together in areas that might, in the past, have seemed impossible, such as farmers working with the ICT sector.
It also means the private sector working with governments to encourage the green transition, to equip people with the skills needed to ensure the rollout and uptake of digitalisation in sustainable ways, and the reskilling and upskilling of everyone. This will be a challenging but necessary task for all in the European Union.
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Climate Diplomacy: EVP Timmermans and HR/VP Borrell welcome the US return to the Paris Agreement and engage with Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry
Following the inauguration of President Biden, the EU is immediately engaging with the new US Administration on tackling the climate crisis. In a bilateral videoconference on 21 January, Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, will discuss the preparation of the COP26 climate summit with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. Executive Vice-President Timmermans and High-Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell issued a Joint Statement, welcoming the decision by President Biden for the United States to re-join the Paris Agreement: “We are looking forward to having the United States again at our side in leading global efforts to combat the climate crisis. The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our time and it can only be tackled by combining all our forces. Climate action is our collective global responsibility. COP26 in Glasgow this November will be a crucial moment to increase global ambition, and we will use the upcoming G7 and G20 meetings to build towards this. We are convinced that if all countries join a global race to zero emissions, the whole planet will win.”
The EU submitted a new Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC Secretariat in December 2020, as part of its implementation of the Paris Agreement. The EU has committed to a 55% net reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, as a stepping stone to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The Joint Statement is available online here.
United States re-joining the Paris Agreement - Statement by Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans and High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell
"The European Union welcomes the decision by President Biden for the United States to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change. We are looking forward to having the United States again at our side in leading global efforts to combat the climate crisis. The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our time and it can only be tackled by combining all our forces. Climate action is our collective global responsibility.
"The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November will be a crucial moment to increase global ambition, and we will use the upcoming G7 and G20 meetings to build towards this. We are convinced that if all countries join a global race to zero emissions, the whole planet will win."
Reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement
“To drive systemic change towards true circularity, regulation and action must be based on science and facts. Reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 calls for a revision in the way we use energy and natural resources and how we are able to create a circular economy today – as businesses, as governments, as individuals,” writes Finnish food packaging producer Huhtamaki President and CEO Charles Héaulmé.
“This will not happen on its own. Innovation, investment and political commitment are key for making circular economy a reality. We must also foster a new culture of cooperation, where the best solutions lead the way.
For industry, designing for circularity remains a serious challenge, especially where structural gaps – such as the lack of common infrastructures – exist. This is particularly true for the packaging sector and dealing with these gaps must begin with an acknowledgment of the need for a systemic transition from a linear to a circular approach, where products are not just recyclable but they are actually recycled. As this paradigm shift affects all sectors and policy domains, we must join forces to develop and provide the most effective solutions together – in Europe, and on a global level.
This is no easy task. To succeed, we must ensure that what we do is based on science and facts. A good example is the issue of plastic waste, which is a serious environmental problem worldwide. Plastic is crucial for so many essential products and applications, such as in medicine, but its longevity brings about challenges at the waste disposal stage. As a result, we are seeing many governments tackle the situation by implementing rapid bans for certain single-use products that contain plastic.
But in reality, plastic is crucial to our world when used in the right way: what we are dealing with are the very visible failures in the end-of-life management of products made from plastic. These would be better handled through a combined effort of material innovation and efficient end-of-life management. So instead of concentrating on the life span of a product, we should be paying closer attention to what these products are made of – and how the materials themselves can be recycled and then reused. We should also not be afraid to recognize that what works in one country or region of the world might not immediately work in another. There are differences between nations reflecting size, population density, actual infrastructures and levels of economic development.
This focus on materials is, we firmly believe, a crucial part of the equation for systemic change. For businesses, innovation is the key to unlocking the competitive sustainable solutions needed to create a circular economy for the materials used to make packaging, reduce our carbon footprint and ensure resource efficiency.
While we must be bold in our vision and set clear goals on where we want to go, we must also remember that much innovation is incremental and disruptive innovation often requires significant time and investment. When seeking the most environmentally ambitious and viable solutions, we must take into account the entire life cycle of products and create circular business models that ensure the optimal use of our global resources while maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction.
At the outset, we see four key elements to driving the necessary change:
An infrastructure revolution
We need to understand where gaps exist in each country’s current infrastructure related to circularity – such as waste labelling and collection, and end-of-life management – then introduce policies and mechanisms to bridge these gaps and provide waste management and recycling systems that meet the needs of the 21st century. Material charges can prove to be good incentives, but we should also look at enhanced producer responsibility and new forms of ownership of materials.
Empowering transformative innovation
We must ensure that policies support continued innovation and competitive sustainability by creating a framework which provides incentives for innovation that will help us to deliver the Green Deal. Instead of picking the winners, policymakers should set clear directions to drive efficiencies and lower carbon. By using Life Cycle Thinking to assess the true impact of regulatory and legislative proposals, policymakers can also help embed outcome-focused policy design.
Incentivizing consumers to change
Circular business models should incentivize consumers to reuse, repair and recycle – for example, by ensuring that doing so offers them better quality products and services. In addition, education and inspiration are powerful tools that policymakers and business alike should use to end littering and pollution.
Science-led policy making
By ensuring facts and evidence are the foundation for consumer-behaviour, decision-making and regulation, we are far more likely to deliver the best environmental outcomes. We firmly believe we need enabling regulation founded on scientific evidence and facts, which supports and stimulates innovation
If we are to succeed, we need to be pragmatic and work together, agnostic of technology, material or sector. No one organization can do this alone. We must work with one another across the value chain and look at what actions are required in each region or country to enable efficient material use and to ensure that end-of-life solutions are not only attainable but more importantly, sustainable. We should create general conditions for circular businesses to flourish so that looking at each industry individually and creating rules per sector – whether for packaging, car parts or electronics, for example – becomes unnecessary.
The issue is not about single- or multi-use, but about raw materials. To deliver a truly systemic shift, we need to keep our eyes on the big picture. We need to base ourselves on the science and the expertise of those that, working together, can make a difference.
Now is the time for change. Industry and policymakers must come together to build the platforms that enable both value-chain and cross-value-chain working; and which are themselves linked to the organizations and mechanisms which policymakers have established. By using science, innovation and investment in a public-private partnership we can deliver the best solutions for people and the planet, starting today.
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