Co-designing policies for a sustainable digital industry

17 Nov 2020 11:10h - 12:40h

Event report

In this session, panelists addressed how digital transformation should be a priority of the Internet governance, given the potential technology has to optimise and accelerate the ecologic transition. The session aimed at discussing relevant public and private policies related to sustainable development goals.   

Mr Vincent Toubiana (Deputy Secretary General, French Digital Council) mentioned that the French Digital Council is proposing new regulations on the field of digital affairs. Created in 2011, the Council has 34 members with different backgrounds that include academia, civil society and businesses. Members of the Council are nominated for a two-year mandate. One of the topics the Council is currently concerned with is environmental transition of the digital.

Ms Ananya Singh (Economic Scientist, Utkal University) stressed that sustainability development has been the focus of international public policy since 1987. In the past 30 years, our societies have seen tremendous growth in the capabilities and the reach of information, and the communications technologies. Internet has become a critical enabler of social and economic change and connected devices will likely be the major drivers of change within the coming years. However, each activity performed online comes with a cost that is a few grams of carbon dioxide emission, due to the energy needed to run the devices and to power wireless networks access. By Google’s own estimates, one search on its searching tool calls 0,2 grams of carbon dioxide emission. At an average of 47,000 search requests every second, Google issues 500kg of carbon dioxide every second. Individuals rarely consider that there is a lot of carbon emissions behind online activities. The energy consumption of the Internet is enormous. Studies have suggested that global communications technologies will be responsible for more carbon emissions than China by 2025. This put the carbon footprint of the Internet at approximately the same level as global air travel. The Internet’s promise of a greener world, hence, needs to be evaluated. With higher demands for this technology from both the public and the private sectors in the next few decades, there will be an obvious need to start shifting towards greener technologies.     

Mr Pierre Bonis (General Director, AFNIC) believes that there are some methodological limitations to the approach that presets every bit of action and reaction on the Internet and translate to it a carbon footprint. This approach is not completely fair – when it is used to measure carbon footprint, the emissions related to the construction of infrastructure or the manufacturing of computers and devices are also registered in the total amount of carbon footprint. However, as more individuals make use of this infrastructure they will produce less carbon emission on each of their online actions.   

AFNIC started to count their carbon emissions footprint in 2013. By the time, the goal was to reduce CO2 emission by 20% in ten years. So far, the company has reduced its emissions by a bit, but not close to 20%. One reason for that is that the company has hired more people. For a DNS company such as AFNIC, the main carbon footprint is related to workers and data centres. The best way to reduce carbon footprint, in their case, is to put pressure on the contractors they have around the world to use equipment that consume less energy. Bonis mentioned that there is also a problem of fixed standards related to the calculation of carbon emissions. European companies have different methodologies. Some companies only register the emissions related to infrastructure, while others count emission related not only to infrastructure, but their works’ transportations and meal consumptions. With the implementation of different methodologies, it is challenging to compare the carbon footprints of different companies.   

Ms Esther Ngom (President, Internet Society Camaroon Chapter) stated that in Cameroon there is not specific law concerning the environment aspect of the digital industry. Currently, this is one of the main obstacles to advance the environment cause in the digital sphere in the country.

Ms Annie Blandin (Professor, IMT Atlantique) presented the work of the French Digital Council on the environmental issues. Blandin emphasized that the French government orients its actions in the field based on solidarity and transparency values. France aims at having a digital system that controls its own carbon emissions footprint and supports a more ecologic responsible society.