Europe’s digital future needs more green ambition!

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Europe’s digital future needs more green ambition!

The significant digital leap taken during the COVID-19 pandemic will very likely lead to permanent changes to the ways in which European societies are organised. In order to adapt the EU’s digital strategies to this new reality, the European Commission has launched a Digital Decade process with the aim of agreeing on a new vision and concrete targets for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030.

As a first step of this process, the Commission published a communication with the title "2030 Digital Compass: the European way for the Digital Decade". In this communication, the Commission suggests a vision of a digitalised economy and society that is about “solidarity, prosperity and sustainability, anchored in empowerment of its citizens and businesses, ensuring the security and resilience of its digital ecosystem and supply chains”.

I could not agree more with this human-centric and green vision, but regret to see, that the concrete targets the Commission is suggesting to implement the vision seem to have lost sight of especially the sustainability principle. As a consequence, the targets are moving away from the Commission’s most fundamental political and strategic priorities, outlined in the Green Deal and the European Climate Law.

If the EU wants to reach its ambitious climate targets for 2030, it must set climate-neutrality as a target for all digital infrastructures with vast energy consumption (e.g. data centres), not just the upcoming edge nodes included in the suggested targets. This would be in line with the Communication on Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, where the climate-neutrality of data centres and telecommunication networks is explicitly mentioned.

Strong and systematic measures, such as overall energy efficiency and long-term environmental sustainability, are needed. The whole lifecycle of the digital infrastructures must be in scope: brownfield construction, modularity and scalability, recycling, and re-using the materials are means that make a difference and support also circular economy. And why not use tangible metrics such as carbon footprint, usage of renewable energy, free cooling, and re-use of waste heat?

Europe aims for major development in the field of ICT infrastructures. What does this mean in the context of fighting climate change? It might be worth considering a comprehensive European Green ICT Strategy, aiming at minimising the carbon footprint and maximising the carbon handprint (i.e. reduction of carbon footprint in other sectors by digital means) of digitalisation. Inspiration for such strategy can be drawn from Finland’s recent climate and environment strategy for the ICT sector.

CSC will continue to contribute to the further development of the 2030 digital vision and targets on the basis of the position paper we submitted to the Commission concerning the upcoming Digital Compass Policy Programme. We are committed to continue the collaborative efforts towards the creation of a sustainable, cost-efficient, user-centric and interoperable digital service ecosystem where data flows freely across borders and sectors, and skills and competences are developed in a strategic and synergetic way. If you agree, don’t hesitate to be in touch! We are always happy to share ideas and work with like-minded partners towards building a better digital future for Europe.

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Kimmo Koski

Managing Director, CSC – IT Center for Science