Environmental innovation instead of accelerating climate change

Opportunities and risks of digitalisation

Auge Technologie

At the 2019 re:publica conference, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) presented its key points for a digital policy agenda for the environment and provided an initial set of ideas on what digitalisation should look like if it is to be green, environmentally sound, climate-friendly and socially fair. We talked about our ideas with users and developers. It became clear that digital technologies hold enormous opportunities for achieving our environmental and climate goals. However, they also leave behind their own ecological footprint. In March 2020, we therefore published the final Digital Policy Agenda for the Environment (Umweltpolitische Digitalagenda - UPDA). The Agenda addresses various transformation fields and aims to promote innovations in industry, work, the environment and administrative structures.

Three megatrends

The megatrends of our time are digitalisation, globalisation and climate change. They are changing everyone's lives. We are confronted with the question of what we want to achieve with new technologies. And how we can secure peace on economic, social and ecological fronts — not only in Germany, but also in Europe and throughout the world. Digitalisation is raising "old" questions in new ways. Questions about ownership and distribution, the concentration of economic and political power, participation and access are taking on new importance.

Digitalisation has considerable impacts on the environment and nature. If those impacts continue unabated, they will exacerbate our planet's ecological and social crises and sweep us past the planetary boundaries all the faster. This is because they entail ever-increasing consumption of energy, resources and goods, along with rising overall consumption and more transport.

We need a trend reversal

This is why we need a major turnaround in digitalisation. A turnaround that can bring prosperity into harmony with justice and environmental protection. Digitalisation, if sustainably oriented, can drive all kinds of opportunities.

  • It can interconnect renewable energy sources and support the energy transition.
  • It can link bicycles, buses, cars and trains both inside and outside of cities.
  • It can help us fertilise our crops precisely and protect biodiversity.
  • It can provide transparency in supply chains and for consumers.
  • It can help bring about a true circular economy.
  • It will help us better evaluate the sustainability of financial investments.

Incentives and rules for all of Europe

To make use of digital opportunities for our environment, we need good examples, incentives and rules – ideally, throughout all Europe. A path towards a social, ecological, economically strong and democratic Europe that both promotes digital innovations and protects its citizens.

Get the Environment into those Algorithms!

We want to combine things digital with things environmental, and give every algorithm a good dose of environmental action. In developing a digital agenda for environmental protection, climate action and nature conservation, we developed a compass for digitalisation in Germany and Europe. We want to create a smart regulatory framework that will define objectives for digitalisation and point it in the right direction. A framework that will enable digitalisation to be a driver for sustainability and serve the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN's 2030 Agenda. Our strategy can benefit the environment and, by promoting innovation, provide new impetus for industry. During Germany's Council Presidency in the second half of 2020, we further developed our Agenda together with our European neighbours and were able to build a bridge between the digital and ecological transformations with the conclusions on the environment and digitalisation.