Digital Vision: COP26

Accelerating to Net Zero

How digital is powering progress toward net zero

Julian David, Chief Executive Officer, techUK

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The climate crisis has never been more evident; the need to address the world’s carbon emissions and energy consumption is urgent. Complex systems transformations are required to meet decarbonization targets, with digital technologies playing a critical role.

Building the net zero society

Digital tools such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation and digital twins all have great potential to help accelerate decarbonization across numerous sectors and industries.

Research shows that deployment of existing digital technologies can cut global emissions by 15-20%.[1] Analysis by Deloitte for a recent techUK report[2] found that digital technology already deployed can enable a reduction of 7.3 million tonnes of UK carbon emission by 2030 – that’s 15% of what’s needed to deliver on the Paris Agreement. The Royal Society[3] has also concluded that digital technology is vital to unlocking the net zero transition, pointing in particular to the potential of smart energy systems, supercomputers, weather modelling and AI ad digital twins.

Governments are increasingly aware of this potential. The COP26 Presidency, for example, recently launched Tech For Our Planet, a challenge programme through which digital innovators from across the globe are invited to pilot their digital and data technology solutions for tackling important climate challenges and pitch them in front of an international audience at COP26.

At techUK, our focus is around working with the energy and mobility sectors; we are increasingly working on homes and the built environment, and in the area of green finance. In all of these domains, it’s increasingly clear that digital is going to be fundamental.

Smart grid systems can intelligently link the generation, distribution, storage and use of renewable energy, dramatically improving efficiency and optimising energy use. In mobility and logistics, digital technologies can support the decarbonization of transport systems by supporting multi-modal travel, intelligent supply chains, transport optimisation and demand planning. Advanced analytics and cloud computing are helping climate scientists better understand the challenges facing the planet, from biodiversity loss, food supply chains, ocean acidification and helping. And the list goes on.

Realising digital’s promise

So, what is now needed to realise the promise of digital tech in supporting climate action?

techUK has called for more challenge-led innovation, support for innovators beyond initial proof of concept, stronger market incentives to invest in green tech, and, vitally, a strong skills base to have the bandwidth to support sectors’ net zero transition.

We also believe there needs to be trusted data infrastructure for net zero to enable digital innovation to flourish. And we would welcome a global approach to developing international data-sharing agreements to support abatement of greenhouse gases, climate adaptation and ecosystem monitoring.

Governments, industry, climate specialists need to work together to drive digitalisation of the net zero transition to identify priorities across sectors, and work with digital partners to ensure that systems can be scrutinised, are secure, and benefit communities.

As sectors’ net zero transition plans mature, we are seeing increasing desire to work with digital innovators to explore how digital tech can help them. And with more and more use cases emerging, the true power of digital technologies to enable emissions reductions is still emerging.

[1] Proceedings of EnviroInfo and ICT for Sustainability 2015
[2] Making the UK a digital clean tech leader, Deloitte and techUK, 2020
[3] Digital Technology and the Planet: Harnessing computing to achieve net zero, Royal Society, 2020

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