The relationship between the green economy and digital economy is complex. Climate change, deforestation, and environmental damage are threatening the stability of our economies, food systems, and human life; without clear and decisive action across the board, harms may become irreversible. Technology solutions, such as cleantech and clean energy, play a key role in limiting such harms. At the same time, the digital economy is experiencing rapid growth, and with it the industry’s carbon emissions and material needs grow. While the digital economy is not a core driver of environmental damage, meeting key targets like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Paris Agreement requires all industries to curb their environmental footprints. Embedding green economy practices that are low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive is one way for the digital economy to balance growth needs without sacrificing environmental wellbeing.
While not an exclusive list, this paper discusses five key areas where the green and digital economies interact:
Foundations for a Digital Economy: To keep up with a rapidly evolving digital economy, “digital infrastructure” is needed now more than ever. Digital infrastructure raises two distinct issues. First, talent needs in the green economy and digital economy increasingly overlap, creating a need for both environment-related domain knowledge in core tech roles and new digital skills in core environment roles. Second, the production of digital infrastructure (notably hardware, data warehouses, and network infrastructure) is growing, resulting in greater carbon emissions and natural resource exploitation. Improving the digital economy’s environmental footprint will require supporting green tech production and adoption, and initiatives to reduce emissions.
The Future of Work: Jobs and the broader labour market have been influenced dramatically by technology for hundreds of years. Increasingly, sustainability and the green economy are impacting the evolving nature of work as well. A thriving digital economy (and policy for it) will capitalize on developments in both technology and the green economy, driving a future of work that is both equitable and sustainable.
The Human Side of Tech: The digital economy is increasingly attuned to its social impacts. Often, these are heavily interconnected with environmental impacts. Quality measurement and data collection, technology transfers, and technology built for social and environmental good will all be key in developing a socially and environmentally just digital economy.
Smart Communities: While the impacts of environmental degradation are felt around the world, the impacts of environmental degradation on people are experienced largely within communities. This means that communities are an important starting place from which to approach sustainability. The concept of “open smart cities” provides an important framework for communities to navigate the green economy and boost local innovation capacity. Combined, this is critical to ensure that intelligent communities are inherently green communities.
Trade and Investment: The environment is a key consideration in trade and investment decisions. Governments, investors, and consumers want to invest in solutions that are both sustainable and climate ready; as a result, environmental impact is increasingly factored into many regional and international trade agreements, which influences investments. While many regions already have a price on pollution, such as emissions taxes, the future of such pricing mechanisms will require global action. Additionally, business and consumer incentives, and cross-border collaboration is needed to support and entrench environmentally sound business models, standards, and practices going forward. Greening Canada’s trade and investment activity is a long-term commitment that is key to economic growth and social wellbeing.