Accelerating Europe's decarbonisation through Trusted Technology
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IBM’s Principles in Applying Technology to Accelerate Decarbonisation
Speeding up the decarbonisation of Europe’s economies
The Covid-19 pandemic has left our societies with deep wounds and continues to pose significant challenges to governments around the world. Our road to recovery will require us not to repeat the mistakes of the past and make sure that we are collectively better prepared to face current and future threats. The recent tragic heatwave in North America and the devastating flooding that occurred in parts of Europe continue to remind us that climate change is undeniably one of the gravest and most urgent environmental threats of our time.
Last week, the European Commission unveiled its “Fit for 55” Package, an unprecedented overhaul of its energy and climate laws to achieve its 2030 goal of cutting emissions by 55% and becoming the first carbon neutral continent by 2050. Other governments, such as the United States, are also raising their climate and energy ambitions. With signs of growing alignment between the US and the EU to strengthen and lead climate action with global partners, we must seize this opportunity to accelerate our collective mandate to decarbonise our economies.
The path to decarbonisation will require two important shifts: a drastically increased uptake of technology, as well as a shift in our behaviour as individuals and societies across the globe. This will start with closer and more effective collaboration, not just between governments or between the public and the private sector, but also across different industry sectors as new technologies and ecosystems are emerging. Collaboration is also needed to establish the IT systems which allow technology to help us reach sustainability milestones. Take the energy sector for example: it will require its systems to operate in a very different way and integrate new players, making full use of digitisation to accelerate electrification and scale the use of renewable energy, while assuring security, resilience and affordability of supply. Additionally, and equally important, decarbonisation will require a behavioural change from all of us, rethinking activities and products we love and how we use and interact with them.
The importance of transparent and authentic commitments
More and more businesses are pursuing “Net Zero” emissions commitments. However, it is essential that we are transparent on the scope of such commitments as well as how they will be achieved. For example, whether they are based on using more renewable energy or on offsetting emissions. As terminology like “Net Zero” or “carbon neutral” is often used differently by organisations, transparency in setting goals and communicating progress is necessary to avoid risks of “greenwashing” and eroding consumer trust in businesses.
IBM’s history of environmental commitments and results spans half a century. Earlier this year we announced a new commitment to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. Our pledge comes with a transparent roadmap, including clear explanations of the scope of our commitment, as well as near-term targets, such as reducing our GHG emissions 65% by 2025 covering scope 1 and 2 emissions, as well as scope 3 emissions associated with IBM’s electricity consumption at co-location data centers. This helps us drive accountability and progress right now — not simply pointing towards a far-off target date.
We also recently announced IBM’s 21 goals for environmental sustainability in our 31st annual Environmental Report. The goals include a commitment to procure 90% of the electricity we consume worldwide from renewable sources within the grid regions where we operate by 2030. Importantly, we do not purchase unbundled Renewable Energy Certificates to comprise any percentage of renewables if IBM cannot credibly consume the electricity those certificates represent.
We believe such transparency is paramount to make climate plans like “Fit for 55” work. For example, under its revised Renewable Energy Directive proposal (RED III) the EU has set a new objective to increase its renewables target to 40%. By purchasing renewables in grid regions where we operate, we send a strong message to our energy providers, incentivising investments in renewables generation and infrastructure and resulting in many more having access to renewable electricity. As other economic actors, large and small, take up the same action together, we can have a greater impact.
There is no doubt that technological innovation plays a key role in reaching the “Fit for 55” objectives, but the time to act is now. So how can we ensure that technology delivers real, near-term impact and progress, with transparent and achievable goals?
At IBM, we believe that technology, guided by the following 3 principles, can build the sustainable and responsible enterprises we need to achieve effective decarbonisation:
1) Embrace open technology ecosystems:
From disaster management to biodiversity protection, sustainable farming or transportation, harnessing the power of data can help governments and businesses make better environmental and investments decisions. For example, cities can capture real-time data with unprecedented detail and take informed steps to decrease air pollution by better understanding insights from emissions and weather data.
There is already a large of amount of existing data across ecosystems, which can provide the necessary insights to address climate change, but this will require new models and an open approach to data sharing: therefore, the ability for public and private organisations to better access, share and use data, and build solutions on open cloud platforms, will be key for unlocking the potential of data-driven sustainability solutions. In short, greater use of hybrid cloud can deliver the secure, open capabilities and provide the flexibility and agility organisations need to accelerate their decarbonisation goals in an economically viable way.
2) Break silos, foster collaboration:
Decarbonisation of our society will require a strong collaborative, ecosystem-based mindset. Therefore, we must encourage system integration and prevent cross-sectoral fragmentation between key segments of the economy. In the energy sector for instance, more can be done to incentivise greater integration between producers and consumers, still operating too often in silos. Such collaboration, built on trust and openness, will establish more structured frameworks for governments, industry and civil society to work together — which will result in common tools, standards, and protocols that facilitate the deployment of smarter and greener technologies.
Governments have a central role to play in facilitating such collaboration and developing new ecosystems for decarbonisation. Some initiatives such as the European Green Digital Coalition (EGDC) launched earlier this year can significantly contribute to this objective. This is why IBM was a founding member of the EGDC alongside other global companies committed to using innovative technologies and create digital solutions that can really advance Europe’s sustainability goals.
Such initiatives require participants to go beyond Net Zero commitments and can provide concrete, transparent, and effective recommendations for governments policies and business strategies, establishing measurable goals with near-term, realistic targets that drive present-day accountability and real impact.
3) Focus on Trust:
Governments and businesses today are particularly struggling to accelerate digitisation and the use of emerging tech like AI while addressing legitimate concerns around supply chain resilience, data privacy and cybersecurity. And as complex industrial systems are digitised, the question of trust becomes even more essential. Who handles the data and how is it protected? Who controls it? Who is ultimately responsible?
Emerging technologies like AI raise such questions, yet they can also be game changers in accelerating industry decarbonisation. For example, AI can speed up research in technologies that are not fully mature for large-scale use yet, such as carbon capture technologies: at IBM, we are using AI to accelerate the design and discovery of better polymer membranes to efficiently separate carbon dioxide from flue gases (i.e. gas that emanates from the combustion of fossil fuel).
At IBM we believe that with growing adoption of AI, there can be no compromise on expecting responsible data stewardship and a human-centric approach to emerging technologies from technology providers. We have long committed to such high standards for trust and transparency, developed a set of principles for responsible AI early-on, and more recently clarified how we strictly protect our customers’ data, particularly from governments requesting access to data.
The ability for businesses to rely on technology partners who can offer trusted solutions will be key to access the most secure technologies that are critical to data-driven, sustainable innovation.
Driving forward Europe’s Green Transition
Building on open technologies, trust, and collaboration, we can establish the right conditions to put technologies like AI and cloud computing to work in addressing the climate crisis, as well as many other environmental challenges.
For Europe to reach its carbon neutral objectives, it should focus on transforming its ecosystems and industries through the latest innovations and technologies, rather than seeking to get there by merely prohibiting certain practices. As an innovation and export-driven economy, this principle will be paramount for Europe’s success.
IBM was always at the forefront to help societies to bridge between technology changes, and with 50 years of sustainability commitments, we have been a frontrunner is setting ambitious goals for ourselves. As a trusted technology leader, IBM can help businesses achieve their transition to a more sustainable future with open, AI-powered solutions and platforms, rooted in responsible practices.
Let’s put responsible and innovative technologies to work and drive forward Europe’s green transition through open technologies and trusted collaboration.
Authored by Martin Jetter
IBM Chairman Europe, Middle-East and Africa