Digital Policy Agenda
Digital Policy Agenda for the Environment
Climate change is marching onward, habitats are disappearing and species are dying out: in the medium term, a good life in an intact environment is no longer guaranteed in either Germany or Europe. Core areas of our lives will have to change. The economy, work, every aspect of our day-to-day lives are facing social and environmental restructuring. The course for this will be set in the next ten years. How we shape digitalisation will determine whether this path will lead to a greenhouse gas neutral future in a liveable world.
Digital technologies and infrastructures leave behind a significant and ever-growing ecological footprint. Guiding principles are needed to ensure digitalisation does not exacerbate environmental degradation. If digitalisation is successfully designed in a sustainable way, it can decisively support social and environmental restructuring.
The Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) launched the Digital Policy Agenda for the Environment to ensure digitalisation benefits the environment, climate and nature. The Agenda defines strategic principles and targets and comprises over 70 measures, many of which are already underway, some which are being initiated and others which are in the development stages.
Pioneering political work
In preparing this Digital Policy Agenda for the Environment, the BMU has broken new ground. At the re:publica 2019 conference, the Ministry presented its key points for a digital policy agenda for the environment and initiated a broad participation process. In autumn 2019, the BMU initiated an unusual work process, the environmental workshop, with over 200 renowned experts.
Video in german with english subtitles
Environmentally friendly digitalisation
In order to fully tap the potential of digitalisation for environmental protection, climate action and resource conservation, its own ecological footprint must be as low as possible. This is far from the case in reality. The growth in the development and use of digital technologies also increases energy and resource consumption.
Transformation fields: how and where digitalisation is driving social and environmental restructuring
There is no one single digitalisation process, rather there are different sectors, areas of life and fields of action where digitalisation is taking place. The Digital Policy Agenda for the Environment covers four fields particularly relevant to digitalisation.
The Digital Policy Agenda for the Environment contains over 70 measures that combine digitalisation and environmental protection. Of these measures, some are already underway and others are being initiated with the Digital Agenda. Other measures will be implemented at a later stage in the future and are to be developed next.
The ecological footprint of digitalisation
Modern people of today live a digitalised world. We post videos on social media, order clothes online and send some of these orders back. At work, we exchange files on a global scale. All this impacts heavily on the environment, because in order to do these things we need communication networks and high-performance cloud services. Behind the scenes are data centres all over the world consuming large quantities of electricity. The devices themselves are also problematic for the environment.
Illustration of interdependencies of a digitalised world
The ecological footprint of digitalisation is influenced by many factors.
- Connected cars and autonomous driving with intelligent traffic management consume less electricity and cause less emissions as a result of networked traffic light systems.
- The same applies to lorries that transport goods purchased online that are being returned. Production of devices
- The extraction of raw materials and manufacturing of devices are significant influencing factors.
- The disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment and the, in some cases, illegal export of electronic waste also considerably influence the ecological footprint of digitalisation.
- In 2018, there were 124 million unused old mobile phones in German households alone (source 4).
Mobile communication, social media and streaming
- Mobile communication is based on mobile, 5G and fibre optic communication networks.
- It is predicted that in 2022, global data traffic will increase to 396 billion gigabytes per month. In 2017 this figure was 122 billion (see source 2).
- Data centres account for around 20 percent of total global energy consumption (see source 1).
- Power for the office and industry 4.0 is generated from conventional and renewable energy sources
- As a result of digitalisation, energy consumption is rising by a little more than 9 percent a year.
- Around 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions is attributed to digitalisation.
- This roughly equates to the same share of emissions of Germany and Canada combined (see sources 1 and 3).