Global, multi-stakeholder digital coalition presents plan for a green digital revolution

By United Nations Environment Programme

Global, multi-stakeholder digital coalition presents plan for a green digital revolution

An UN-backed coalition of 1,000 stakeholders from over 100 countries launched an Action Plan to steer digitalization towards accelerating environmentally and socially sustainable development. The Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES) aims to help reorient and prioritize the application of digital technologies to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

The flagship CODES Action Plan, launched during the Stockholm+50 international environmental meeting, proposes a comprehensive and strategic approach to embedding sustainability in all aspects of digitalization. This includes building globally inclusive processes to define standards and governance frameworks for digital sustainability, allocating the necessary resources and infrastructure, and identifying opportunities to reduce potential harms or risks from digitalization.

“Digitalization is changing the way the world works, but the new world of work must be a sustainable one. It is critical that digital innovations and technologies accelerate environmental sustainability. UNEP is committed to supporting CODES and digital sustainability as a core part of our new Digital Transformation program” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme and CODES co-champion.

Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and CODES co-champion said, “Digitalization – the use and adoption of digital technologies – is driving massive economic, social, and environmental change that can either deepen or close inequalities. The future of humanity and the health of planet Earth will be significantly shaped by this transformation. UNDP is committed to supporting a transformation that offers a greener and more just future that leaves no one behind.”

The Action Plan and the CODES movement were inspired by the need for collective action across governments, the private sector, civil society, and academia to accelerate the adoption and scaling of digital technologies for sustainability. Shaping the outcomes of the digital revolution to achieve global sustainability is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must be realized before the window of opportunity closes. Digitalization has the potential to help transform society and business models and it is a critical tool to help build a healthier, safer, cleaner, and more equitable future.

Addressing the need for new regulation over the digital space and for collaboration to ensure that digital transformation plays a positive social-environmental role, the Action Plan calls for 3 systemic shifts:

  1. Enable alignment: Strong, global coalitions of sustainability and digital-tech experts will help shape common visions, standards, and objectives to prioritize the investments and resources needed to systemically align digital transformation with our sustainable development agenda.
  2. Mitigate negative impact: Commitment to sustainable digitalization that mitigates the negative environmental and social impacts of digital technologies. Key impacts include greenhouse gas emissions, metals and e-waste, misinformation, and the gap between those who have access to digital technology and those who do not.
  3. Accelerate innovation: Mobilize and catalyze funding and resources to advance digital innovation that accelerates environmental and social sustainability for the “whole of society”. Examples include digital twins of the planet, digital product passports, sustainable digital e-commerce, SMART climate-resilient agriculture, and digitally-enabled off-grid solutions.

The plan proposes a set of nine measurable global Impact Initiatives to inspire and provoke collective action, to progress the three shifts. Examples of these Impact Initiatives include a new clearing house to co-define key standards for digital sustainability and economic circularity, a program to strengthen research and education for digitally-enabled sustainable development, a sustainable procurement, and infrastructure pledge, and a network of Digital Sustainability Innovation Hubs to address regional needs. CODES is calling upon governments, civil society, digital companies, and other private sector actors to endorse the Action Plan and to engage in the immediate implementation of the Impact Initiatives.

“Digital transformation must be governed as one of the key sustainability issues for the global community today. We can’t afford to fail to align the disruptive forces of digital change with our common sustainable development goals” said Dirk Messner, President of the German Environment Agency and CODES Co-Champion.

Philip Thigo, Senior Digital Advisor to the Kenyan Government and CODES Co-Champion said, “One of the many strengths of the CODES Action Plan is that it was co-created with a strong emphasis on equity and on the needs of the Global South. Digital technologies must ultimately support our well-being everywhere on the planet. The regional network of Digital Sustainability Innovation Hubs proposed by the Action Plan is a critical pillar to meet the needs of the Global South in an inclusive and just manner for both urban and rural communities.”

CODES will act as a “docking station” for the nine Impact Initiatives, offering coordination, sharing of expertise, and mobilizing resources. All efforts will continue to be part of the implementation process for the Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and will feed into the coming Summit of the Future and the Global Digital Compact in 2023.

“The CODES Action Plan for a Sustainable Planet in the Digital Age is a critical part of implementing the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. In addition, it provides many-valued inputs to be considered for the Global Digital Compact that the United Nations is working on now, as part of the Summit of the Future next September; as well as the way forward on these issues. This is a long-term collective effort and we are proud to be part of this global movement” said Maria Francesca-Spatolisano, Acting Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology.

The Action Plan for a Sustainable Planet in the Digital Age is the result of over a year of consultations combined with a co-design process across the CODES coalition of around one thousand stakeholders.

“To unlock the vast potential of digital innovations to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, we need a common science-based framework of global action aimed at systems transformation to leverage digitalization in our efforts towards a sustainable planet,” said Geoffrey Boulton of the International Science Council and CODES co-champion.

Eliane Ubalijoro, Global Hub Director, Future Earth Canada & Executive Director, Sustainability in the Digital Age, and CODES co-champion said, “Stockholm+50 is a critical forum and international milestone to update, integrate, and mainstream digitalization opportunities and risks into the sustainable development policy agenda. It is a pivotal moment to forge a common vision and set of values to navigate the close interplay of digital technology, environment and sustainable development concerns.”