Youth and sustainability: Creating change through collaboration

16 Nov 2020 11:10h - 12:10h

Event report

The session discussed how digital sustainability can be brought to the foreground in Internet governance discourses; and where the movements for climate justice, and for an inclusive, open, and accessible Internet intersect. Ms Elisabeth Schauermann (Project Coordinator, German Informatics Society) reflected on the #Youth4DigitalSustainability project, where 50 experts all under 30, from all parts of the world, have developed 12 recommendations for environmental, economic, and social sustainability of the Internet. The session addressed some points from the recommendations.

Mr Raphael Reimann (Political Organisator, Fridays for Future Germany) talked about the Fridays for Future movement, which has moved climate change discussions from a marginalised expert group into mass media. The first lesson from this group is that the topic of sustainability should be accessible to all. The second lesson is that the cost of technological development is often decided by regulation. ‘We have to have experts in the field explain the consequences of certain pieces of regulation to the public, then have a big grassroots movement which amplifies those expert voices’, Reimann said. The Fridays for Future movement has strengthened scientific voices, which now have to be included in regulatory practices. The third lesson is to diversify and make the movement global, that is, to move away from Eurocentric debates on sustainability.

In Europe, the European Commission has set the goal of making the digital sector and especially data centres climate neutral by 2030, but this is still a challenge, said Mr Rasmus Andresen (Member, European Parliament). We all agree on the need for this change, but nobody has a strong plan for making the digital sector more sustainable. Currently, data centres are a topic as they consume large amounts of electricity, but other topics will need to be addressed through combined regulation and new research and innovation.

Mr Josaphat Tjiho (Vice President, ISOC Namibia) discussed the stuation in Namibia. Agreeing with Andresen, Tjiho remarked on the lack of concrete plans beyond high-level strategies. ‘There is not much information on how we as a country can leverage climate change and digital’, he said. Namibia has a lack of regulation regarding, for example, data protection or cybersecurity. The African Union has presented the Agenda 2063 that calls for innovation, support of education, science, and technology knowledge. He agreed that effective communication and conveyance of information on the climate crisis and environmental issues is vital.

Speakers agreed that communication and co-operation are central in moving to a circular economy and to more sustainable digital policies. Mr Edmon Chung (CEO, DotAsia Organisation) remarked that the Asia-Pacific IGF also recognised this as a topic, including a session on Internet environmental consequences and action-oriented dialogue; the focus was not on data centres, but on data collection. Chung said that an innovative community can develop better environmental data, sensor networks, and other types of collecting data for addressing environmental issues. Algorithms need to be cognisant of environmental consequences. The most important changes needed, in regard to responding to climate change with respect to digital sustainability, are in how we power the network itself in a multistakeholder manner.

Ms Lily Edinam Botsyoe (Youth IGF Ghana) spoke about connecting different youth initiatives in the IG space. In Ghana, e-waste is a big issue, but not many people are aware of it. We have to move from making people scared that the world is suffering and towards how to equip them with skills to act, and towards strengthening agency and including lay people in the conversation. The type of communication in Africa is as important as the actions that follow. People respond to new ways of engagement—using infographics, audio, video, role playing and acting are great ways of raising awareness. Moving the conversation from fear to a grassroots fight and global collaboration is necessary.

Reimann said that addressing youth movements, on the one hand, and the rest of society, on the other, helps break down fear and helps engage society with already engaged youth. Different stakeholders might have to be approached differently to start the change. Chung added that governments and business tend to be conservative and the grassroot movements can push them into a transformative direction. Tjiho concluded that to make this effective, we need also to account for different cultural traditions, treaties, and conversations.