The IGF 2021 featured an intersessional work-stream focused on intersections between environment and digitalisation, called the Policy Network on Environment (PNE). The vision of the PNE is a world in which digitalisation is used as a force for good, and where progress is made towards the UN 2030 Agenda's climate and environmental goals. The PNE's work was spearheaded by a Multistakeholder Working Group (MWG), whose primary aim was to publish an output report by containing concrete policy actions for ways forward. The MWG meetings were open to everyone interested.
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The PNE Report 2021
The Secretariat of the IGF is grateful to everyone who contributed to the work of the PNE. A full list of inputs consulted during the design of the Report is available further below.
Preparatory work and consulted inputs
The PNE work was implemented in an open, inclusive, multistakeholder and consultative manner, through several meetings, including the PNE session hosted at the 16th IGF in Poland. Below are the summary reports and other inputs related to the preparatory work.
The PNE report contains a number of inputs received from various stakeholders. The report aimed for a balanced overview of inputs per regional and stakeholder groups. While all received inputs were carefully analyzed and taken into account during the development of the report, for the mentioned reason of balance, not all inputs were directly referenced in the report. However, we encourage everyone to review all received inputs, listed below (cited as initially submitted by the contributors or interpreted by the PNE report editor).
- The United Nations Secretary-General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation
- IGF 2020 Messages on Environment
- EuroDIG: Intersessional project 2020/2021, EuroDIG Greening the Internet Governance Part II
- SDIA's Roadmap to Sustainable Digital Infrastructure by 2030
- Global Information Society Watch: Technology, The Environment and A Sustainable World: Responses from the Global South
- For further reading, please refer to this wiki (composed by Michael J. Oghia, SDIA).
OVERVIEW OF THE RECEIVED CASE STUDIES
|European Commission||Circular Economy Action Plan
''Recognizing the imperative to reduce natural resource consumption, which is seen as a primary driver of GHGs, the European Union is developing a new circular economy action plan. Its stated goal is to accelerate the transition towards a regenerative growth model by doubling the amount of circular material in use by 2030, while maintaining the economic competitiveness of the bloc. To implement this, the European Commission will propose legislation on sustainable products including in product design and further empowering consumers. The commission has identified key product value chains as targets within this plan that include ICTS, batteries, plastics, and textiles.''
|Global Change Data Lab||Our World in Data
''Poverty, disease, hunger, climate change, war, existential risks, and inequality: The world faces many great and terrifying problems. It is these large problems that the site Our World in Data focuses on. The goal of Our World in Data is to make the knowledge on these problems accessible and understandable. The front page of Our World in Data lists the same big global problems every day, because they matter every day. Our World in Data is convinced that to understand issues that are affecting billions, we need data, available on an understandable and public platform. This allows everyone to see the state of the world today and track where we are making progress, and where we are falling behind. Through interactive data visualizations we can see how the world has changed; the summaries on scientific literature provided help us understand why.''
|Group of academic editors||Combating water losses using AI in Brazil
''In Brazil, 38% of water from springs is lost during distribution. Brazilian start-up Stattus4 developed 4Fluid, a solution combining IoT sensors and Artificial Intelligence to detect possible leaks. By collecting vibration, consumption, and pressure data, the AI learns to distinguish between the expected vibrations of water flowing through pipes, and those indicating real losses through leakage and even apparent losses through illegal connections or damaged water meters, providing near real-time information to managers to support decision-making.''
|TraceX||Blockchain-enabled sustainable rice production in India
''Rice production, one of India’s largest export commodities, requires vast quantities of water and contributes substantially to global warming through methane production. Food and agri-business Olam partnered with Indian blockchain platform TraceX to improve the sustainability of rice production in Haryana, India using a blockchain-based solution. TraceX allowed streamlined communication with farmers, rapid retrieval of audit data, and mutual transparency and trust across the value-chain. Farmers also reported up to 12% increases in income, and reduction of water consumption and pesticide use of around 85% on average thanks to the solution’s data collection and recommendations.''
|Stadt Zürich||Participatory Budgeting “Stadtidee”
''The project called “Stadtidee” (city idea) was launched in 2021 as part of Zurich’s Smart City Strategy as the first city-wide participatory budget of the City of Zurich. Between July and September 2021, residents of Zurich were invited to submit ideas for changes in the Zurich neighbourhood with a connection to climate, nature and children and youth. The ideas were submitted via an online participation platform based on the Open-Source-Software “Decidim” (from Barcelona), competing for the distribution of a total of 540’000 Swiss Francs. 167 ideas for Zurich were submitted as part of the project, of which 135 made it to the final selection and were later voted on. The winning ideas will be implemented in 2022. This democratic tool was not invented in Zurich. It was first tried out in Porto Alegre in Brazil in 1989. A similar procedure has also become established in many German cities under the term "participatory budgeting". In the meantime, most participatory budgets take place online: for example, Reykjavik after the 2008 financial crisis, Barcelona or Helsinki. In Switzerland, the city of Lausanne has also tried it out.''
|Group of academic authors||Case Study: Early Deforestation Alerts
''The Amazon Rainforest is a crucial element of the world’s ecosystem, containing incredible biodiversity while capturing 123 billion metric tons of carbon. While the indigenous people of the region have been supporting conservation efforts, e.g., by patrolling their home territories for logging and other illegal activities, rapid deforestation continues. A recent study conducted in the Peruvian Amazon investigated whether deforestation rates could be reduced with the help of technology, equipping the local population with satellite-based “early deforestation alerts”, allowing individuals to signal illegal activities to the authorities from a distance . Participating in the program helped reduce tree cover loss (effects were stronger in the first year compared to the second year of the study) and the reductions were largest in communities facing more imminent threats. Over the course of the two years, the communities patrolling with the help of satellite data averted the logging of an estimated 456 hectares (1,127 acres) of forest cover, preventing the release of more than 234,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. Consequently, the study showed that community monitoring of forests using satellite data and smartphone technology can help reduce Amazon deforestation and might also be an effective strategy elsewhere. It is important to note that for this approach to work, communities must have enough trust in state enforcement authorities to activate them in case of high threat intruders . State capacity and determination might not be existent to a sufficient degree in every area. In the same vein, even if the program is successful, there is a risk of illegal activities shifting to less monitored parts of the forest.''
|Microsoft||Microsoft Sustainability Calculator
''Managing data is one of the biggest pain points in the sustainability journey of many organizations. There is a torrent of data from all areas of the value chain, and unfortunately much of it currently is often poor quality, siloed and difficult to share. The very real risk is that even with the best of intentions, carbon emissions data is meaningless if it cannot be properly ingested for analysis and action.
We experienced this across Microsoft as we work toward our own commitments to become carbon negative, water positive and zero waste by 2030. We soon realized that we needed to bring our world-class data and environmental science teams together with our engineering and product teams to build new and better digital technology not just for ourselves, but for our customers. This was the origin for the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability.''
Climate Innovation Fund
''With the Climate Innovation Fund, Microsoft has launched an initiative in 2020 aimed at helping suppliers and customers around the world reduce their own carbon footprints and fund innovation to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies. According to Microsoft, funding in investments will be based on four criteria: Climate impact, underfunded markets, shared alignment and climate equity. The Climate Innovation Fund was launched in the context of Microsoft's commitment to be carbon negative by 2030, and to remove from the environment, by 2050, all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. To reach these goals, Microsoft has launched a program to cut carbon emissions by more than half by 2030, both for direct emissions and for the entire Microsoft supply and value chain. This will be funded in part by expanding the internal carbon fee, in place since 2012 and increased in 2019.''
''The Planetary Computer combines a multi-petabyte catalog of global environmental data with intuitive APIs, a flexible scientific environment that allows users to answer global questions about that data, and applications that put those answers in the hands of conservation stakeholders.''
''With Azure FarmBeats, Microsoft is contributing towards enabling data-driven farming. The belief is that data, coupled with the farmer’s knowledge and intuition about his or her farm, can help increase farm productivity, and help reduce costs. However, getting data from the farm is extremely difficult since there is often no power in the field, or Internet in the farms. As part of the project, FarmBeats is building several unique solutions to solve these problems using low-cost sensors, drones, and vision and machine learning algorithms. According to FarmBeats principal researchers, FarmBeats wants to highlight something essential for the future: AI doesn’t replace human knowledge; it augments it.''
''SunCulture: SunCulture develops irrigation and farming technology solutions to help smallholder farmers in Africa maximize yields and increase earnings. SunCulture combines intelligent hardware, IoT, big data, and neural networks to help farmers practice precision agriculture.''
|Microsoft||Contributions to Fit for 55
''A technology-based solution in action can be seen in a project run by a Swiss company called Climeworks. Using only renewable energy, Climeworks’ technology captures carbon dioxide from the air, at which point it can be used for products such as synthetic fuels, greenhouse agriculture, and carbonated beverages, or it can be permanently stored underground in volcanic rock using a mineralization process.''
|Microsoft||Microsoft Carbon Removal - Lessons From an Early Corporate Purchase
''Our first ever carbon removal procurement project. Learnings show, there is no real existing carbon removal ecosystem and the world must build a new market on an unprecedented scale and timeline, starting from almost scratch.''
Microsoft named Principal Partner for COP26 - Microsoft On the Issues
|Mel Galbraith, New Zealand Journal of Ecology 2013||Public participation in Tiritiri Matangi Island project
''Tiritiri Matangi Island has attained an international profile as a successful ecological restoration project and is often cited as a model of environmental stewardship. Ecological restoration on the island has always involved, and been dependent on, voluntary public involvement. The Tiritiri Matangi Island project is an example of how public participation not only reinforces existing links between the public and scientific communities, but also facilitates even greater understanding of ecological concepts outside the professional and academic worlds. Enhanced ecological advocacy, ecological research and biodiversity management are cited as outcomes of the collaborative involvement among the island’s stakeholders, ultimately leading to the development of a ‘public ecology’.''
Why was the PNE created? How does it relate to the mandate of the IGF?
The mandate of the IGF, set out in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, is to discuss the main public policy issues related to the Internet; and to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet, among others.
The United Nations Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation envisages a strengthened IGF and stresses the importance of environmental issues. Striving for an enhanced impact of the IGF on global Internet governance and policy, the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) has developed an intersessional program intended to complement other IGF activities.
As new intersessional activities, two Policy Networks were established - the Policy Network on Environment (PNE), and the Policy Network on Meaningful Access (PNMA). The focus of the PNE was established due to the fact that the topic of environmental sustainability had received significant attention at the IGF 2020 and it was decided that this was also going to be a focus topic of the IGF 2021.
What are short and long-term goals of the PNE? What is the future of PNE beyond IGF 2022 going to look like?
Short-term goal: Foster stakeholder engagement, shed more light on the topic and publish a final output report containing concrete actions for ways forward.
Long-term goal and vision: man-made climate change is wreaking havoc on the planet and the human population. This will only increase if we do not make tangible progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For digitalization to fulfill its promises to tackle environmental issues related to climate change, the PNE envisions a world in which stakeholders are building upon in-depth knowledge about the interplay between digitalization and the environment and are making use of accurate environmental data (shared globally in interoperable formats).
In 2022, the PNE will continue to build on its achievements made so far.
What are the mechanisms of the PNE, how does it operate? What is the role of the MWG in relation to the goals of the PNE?
The Multistakeholder Working Group (MWG) - composed of various stakeholders - has been the driving force at the heart of the PNE. With the help of an independent consultant, the MWG worked out the vision of the PNE and the details of the target output for 2021.
While the Members of the MWG are primarily responsible for delivering the output report, a larger community is invited to join and contribute to the work. As the work with the report progresses and the PNE grows in numbers and engagement, the PNE community takes up a bigger role, shaping the future of the PNE beyond the IGF 2021. In general, the PNE is open to cooperation and collaboration with other initiatives, networks, and processes (e.g. regional IGFs, UN CODES, etc.).
The MWG meets monthly, with all meetings being open to the larger PNE Community. The main instrument of communication within the community is the PNE Community Newsletter, open to subscribe to anyone interested. The PNE Website is also at the disposal of the community, featuring past meeting notes and resources.
Can you share details about the various workstreams and how they are developing the different chapters of the report?
There are five workstreams in total, one for every chapter of the report (except the introduction and the conclusion):
- Overview of Opportunities & Risks
- Thematic chapters:
- Environmental Data
- Food & Water Security
- Circularity & Transparency
- Overarching Issues
- Thematic chapters:
For the thematic chapters, prerequisites in terms of maximum length of text and overall structure are given, to aid coherence of the overall report. The main goal of the thematic chapters is to produce 3-5 policy recommendations targeted at UN Member states governance bodies.
What roles are involved in developing the chapters (co-authors, reviewers, co-leads), and what is the time commitment over the next months?
There are three role types within each workstream. Expected time commitment from September-December 2021 is indicated within brackets, PNE Meetings included:
Workstream (co-)leads (time commitment: ca. 25h): This is the person/duo primarily responsible for delivering the output in the respective chapter they are leading. This person/duo is the point of contact for members of the community interested to join a workstream. The workstream lead initiates the workstream work sessions outside of the regular PNE Meetings to make progress on the chapter. The consultant or IGF Secretariat can be asked to help facilitate these meetings. The workstream (co-)leads are also expected to participate in the PNE Meetings whenever possible. The (co-)leads are also expected to be mindful of a non-siloed working approach, communicating and inviting feedback from the wider PNE community (and especially the reviewers).
Co-author (time commitment: ca. 15-20h): Co-authors are expected to contribute to the report/a chapter in substantive fashion. Co-authors are expected to participate in the workstream work sessions scheduled by the workstream leads if possible, and deliver written input as agreed in the workstreams. Co-authors will be listed individually as co-authors to the report in the acknowledgments.
Reviewer (time commitment: min. 2h, flexible): Reviewers are expected to give their constructive feedback on the content produced by the workstream they have signed up to as a reviewer. Reviewers are invited by the workstream (co-)leads to give their feedback on the report in due time. Reviewers comment on the report, but do not directly edit it.
Will the report be translated into various languages? How will it be disseminated (eg. at IGF, and beyond)?
The report will be formatted by the IGF Secretariat and published in English. A translation will not be made available by the IGF Secretariat. However, international stakeholders are invited and welcome to reference the report and discuss its contents in their own language.
The kick-off will be at the IGF 2021 in Katowice, at the dedicated session for environment (December 9, 13:15-15:20 CEST), expected to reach a broad network of stakeholders. The report will also be brought to the attention of the high-level parliamentary track. The IGF Secretariat will also distribute the report directly to all UN Agencies. Via the IGF Website, the report will be made available to all interested stakeholders for further dissemination and discussion.