Digital and Environment

Summary Report 

Each month, the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) organises a virtual tour connecting actors working on the same digital policy issue in Geneva. The series 12 Tours to Navigate Digital Geneva helps the Geneva community to navigate International Geneva by theme and by highlighting convergences.

In May 2021 we held the Digital and Environment Tour


  • Humans have long been at war with nature, but it is time to stop the war and develop balance and harmony in order for us to remain part of our planet. We are now at a stage of transition, moving towards a new economic and social paradigm, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a roadmap that can lead us to this new paradigm of making sustainable changes.
  • The sustainable development goals (SDGs) are not only about indicators and statistics: the very important part of the 2030 Agenda is the change of mindset. Reaching the SDGs should become important for everyone.
  • Geneva is the place where we connect the dots, discuss and look for solutions to effectively reach the 2030 Agenda, and bring digital and the environment together. In this, the various organisations and actors, often operating in silos, should open their doors and begin to cooperate and engage in dialogues.
  • The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is an important forum for linking digital transformation, the environment, and sustainable development. Its 16th annual meeting will be held in a hybrid (blended) format in Katowice (Poland), 6–10 December 2021. Sustainable development and the environment cut across all the main themes which will be discussed at this upcoming meeting.

Director of Diplo and Head of the GIP Dr Jovan Kurbalija kicked off the discussion by highlighting the need for a more harmonious relation between humans and our planet.  Referring to the concept  ‘noosphere’ (a philosophical concept developed by biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin), i.e. humankind’s rational activities, Kurbalija initiated a discussion on the role of Geneva in leading humankind to be in a more harmonious relationship with the Earth’s geosphere (inanimate matter) and biosphere (life on earth).

As Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG) Ms Tatiana Valovaya said, ‘We have to admit that humanity has been at war with nature for many decades, but if we want to remain part of Earth, we have to stop this war with nature, develop balance and harmony, and support nature to regenerate.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed the need for digital transformation and urgent action in stopping climate change. It additionally highlighted that human prosperity and development can be achieved only by overcoming the global challenges together. The pandemic has thus shown that humanity is at a stage of transition to a new economic and social paradigm.

As Valovaya stated, ‘For the first time in human history, we have a roadmap, the Agenda 2030, that can lead us to this new paradigm and to a realisation that humanity can develop sustainably without destroying the environment.’ She additionally expressed hope that upcoming indicators and statistics will show substantial progress towards achieving the SDGs, noting, however, that an important part of the 2030 Agenda is the change of mindset, and the realisation of being in harmony with nature in all human activities.

Geneva is the place where we connect the dots in governance which lead to the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Here we provide input for decision-making, look for solutions, and connect the megatrends of digital transformation and the environment.

Presenting the efforts of Switzerland to connect and address climate change and the digital revolution, Amb. Thomas Schneider (Head,  International Relations Service, Swiss Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM)) highlighted the need for connecting the dots between various organisations which often operate in silos. He also underscored the importance of the third UN World Data Forum which will be held in  Bern (Switzerland), 3–6 October 2021; and the  16th annual IGF, which will be held in a hybrid (blended) format in Katowice (Poland), 6–10 December 2021.

The main themes of the16th IGF meeting will be economic and social inclusion, human rights, universal access, and meaningful connectivity. Environment, sustainability, and climate change cut across all the themes which the IGF will discuss and, more broadly, all the activities of the IGF.

The IGF, through its open multistakeholder platform, brings together governments, the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) to discuss the links between digital and the environment, complement the knowledge, and develop a collective intelligence that can deal with our current challenges. As Schneider stated, ‘We are supporting the IGF which can be developed into something bigger and can offer pragmatic solutions to make a difference for human lives everywhere in the world.’

Head of the IGF Secretariat Chengetai Masango, who spoke of the environmental dimensions of IGF activities, added, ‘Environment has become an important topic within the IGF, especially within its youth track, because the community of stakeholders globally, and especially the youth, felt the importance of addressing environmental issues, discussing how we can use digital and AI to help mitigate effects on the environment, and share data on the environment.’ Digital technologies enable us to measure the pulse of our planet: to conduct Earth observation, collect data that relates to the SDGs, execute poverty mapping, and research food security, land degradation, and ocean health, and to translate this data into policy and governance frameworks.

Geneva hosts the Secretariat of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), an intergovernmental partnership working to: improve the availability, access, and use of open Earth observations, including satellite imagery, models and in situ data; as well as impact policy and decision making in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, biodiversity and ecosystem services, climate action, disaster risk reduction, forestry, land degradation, mercury monitoring, ocean health, water resources management and sustainable urban development. GEO is instrumental in integrating Earth observation data into the methodology of measuring indicators and achieving the SDGs. As Head of External Relations at GEO Steven Ramage stated, ‘Our work of measuring the pulse of the planet would be impossible without digital technologies. Earth observations have also been around for a long time, now that many of the digital capabilities and capacities have developed around big data, AI and cloud services we can really advance our mission’. To this, Schneider added, ‘Data collection for environmental purposes is not new, what is new however, is the urgency, the awareness, as well as the framework of the SDGs which allow us to see things differently, in a holistic manner. The interconnectedness of the challenges and solutions.’

As data, artificial intelligence (AI), and other digital technologies are gaining importance in all fields, they are raising concerns over the loss of control over privacy and the freedom of choice. Data protection and human rights are not in conflict with the economy and innovation, and we should develop trusted data spaces where people will be willing to share data for benefiting society and the environment.

Report prepared by Boris Ohanyan

Additional resources:

The Road to Bern via Geneva dialogues (summaries of the discussions)

Digital Watch web page on the interplay between digital and the environment:

GEO Virtual Symposium 21-24 June 2021

GEO Climate Policy and Finance Workshop 21-23 September 2021