Keynote Address at The Decade of Action: From climate targets to Implementation - How digitalization can accelerate the progress towards achieving the Paris climate Accords and SDG 13

Minister Kofod, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion.  It connects two defining challenges and opportunities of our time – decarbonization and digitalization.

I applaud Denmark for leading this discussion.

From extreme heat, floods, to forest fires, droughts, storms, rising sea levels and the loss of biodiversity -- we have experienced in multiple ways the impact of climate change.

Quoting the Secretary-General, the recent report of the IPCC is a “code red for humanity”.

In his report on Our Common Agenda, the Secretary-General further calls for strong global commitments and a declaration of climate emergency and the right to a healthy environment.

Digitalization can be a driver of change, contributing to net zero and a green, inclusive and decarbonized economy.

Our natural commons as well as our digital commons should benefit everyone, everywhere.

Allow me to offer some perspectives on how we can make this happen.  

First, we need the digital tech sector to lead by example.  To start with, tech companies should move toward 100 % renewable energy to power their digital infrastructure.  A number of tech companies are showing the way and the entire tech industry should be encouraged to follow its leaders.

Second, our investments in digital technologies must be climate friendly.  An ITU report indicates that digital technology could help reduce the world’s carbon emissions by about 17 per cent. Artificial intelligence, for example, could be harnessed to help make electric transmission grids more efficient.

Third, let us do more to promote SMART City. Among other benefits, digital tools employed in SMART City help reduce congestion, emissions and pollution, and empower municipal governments to be better prepared for disaster risks.  

Fourth, do not underestimate the role of digital government.  Digital government plays a central role in promoting green policies such as building green infrastructure in smart cities and reducing e-waste. The E-Government Survey by DESA also demonstrates that digital government substantially reduces citizen’s trips to government centres, reducing transportation needs and saving energy.

Fifth, we can advance the sustainable management, protection and restoration of natural resources through digitalization and the adaptive use of AI, Internet of Things, geospatial solutions and other emerging digital applications.  Harnessing geospatial and digital technologies for sustainable forest and ocean management is just one recent example.

My list can go on. Digital simulations of physical systems, assets or processes can enable institutions to better evaluate the ramifications of sectoral strategies, in a variety of climate-change scenarios, exploring risk reduction and the social and equity impact, as well as in accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals.

But as with everything,  there are also downsides to the potential of digital technologies.

In closing, let me point  to two of the risks of using digital tools.

The pandemic has shown that the Internet also presents multi-faceted privacy and security risks. There are still far too many who deliberately misuse technology to spread misinformation and disinformation, and to commit cybercrimes.

Additionally, let us not lose sight of digital divide. The Internet remains inaccessible or not affordable for millions, especially in developing countries, and among women and girls. Internet should be considered a common global good available to all.

These complex nexus issues will be discussed at the 16th Internet Governance Forum, to be held in Katowice, Poland from 6 to 10 December 2021. One of the main themes of the Forum focuses on the environment and climate change, as it relates to the Internet and digitalization.

As a global platform convened by the UN Secretary-General and supported by UN DESA, the IGF nurtures and empowers the multistakeholder, open dialogue on global digital policy issues.

We, at UN DESA, attaches great importance to both global digitalization and climate change. UN DESA remains at your disposal for all forms of support, especially in providing capacity development opportunities and partnerships.

I now give the floor back to you, Madam Moderator.

Thank you.


File date: 
Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Elliott Harris