World Environment Day: Democratisation of environment friendly technology essential to save the world

June 04, 2021 1:11 PM

By Dr Subi Chaturvedi,  The call for enhanced global cooperation for a Decade of Ecosystem Restoration on this year’s World Environment Day is a major step aimed at driving countries towards their sustainability objectives. With about 50% of global GDP dependent on nature, the Ecosystem Restoration movement can help countries reap 30 times the economic […]

Sustainable Development GoalsFor making a global concentrated action on climate change a reality, developing nations across the world need to be empowered with environment-friendly technologies. (Reuters)

By Dr Subi Chaturvedi, 

The call for enhanced global cooperation for a Decade of Ecosystem Restoration on this year’s World Environment Day is a major step aimed at driving countries towards their sustainability objectives. With about 50% of global GDP dependent on nature, the Ecosystem Restoration movement can help countries reap 30 times the economic dividends for each dollar invested. Therefore, the initiative keeps ecological, social, and developmental priorities intact and in line with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of various countries.

However, the world will be able to achieve big restoration and conservation goals only by initiating concrete action towards the optimisation of resources, reduction of wastage, and implementation of efficient systems. For making a global concentrated action on climate change a reality, developing nations across the world need to be empowered with environment-friendly technologies.

As a case-in-point, despite significant advancements in science and technology space, India with its large population size, generates 147,613 metric tonnes of solid waste per day. A significant percentage of waste paper is generated from two major sources, newsprint and academic usage. A 2015 study estimated that around 1.2–2.4 million tonnes of wastepaper gets generated in India from newsprint and 2.4–4.3 million tonnes from cardboard and mixed paper, annually.

Furthermore, as per the industry body ASSOCHAM, India emerged as the fastest growing consumer of paper in 2017-2018, recording a production of over 20 million tonnes at a 10% annual growth rate. Clearly, the high rate of consumption of paper and generation of solid waste has its share of ecological impact. The government in recent times has taken major steps through Digital India, JAM trinity and states have also embraced digital holistically.

Fortunately, the 21st century has presented us with technological solutions that can reduce the dependency on paper drastically. Digitalisation can help cut down on the consumption of paper and it is imperative for all relevant sectors to digitalise in order to minimize the ecological impact. In the education sector, especially, digital gamification and game-based learning can revolutionize learning methods. Both gamification & game-based learning have been proven to be more effective for learning than traditional books and lectures. It’s a win-win situation.

However, digitalisation of academic and media industries will only happen when we have a strong nationwide digital infrastructure, irrespective of the terrain, and are able to make essential telecommunication gadgets like phones, tablets, and other equipment affordable and accessible to the last student and person in the country. With the fast adoption of emerging tech in India, we can expect to achieve rapid and certain results. This also calls for a cultural and behavioural integration of a paperless way of life.

Digitalisation has a multi-layered and multi-dimensional impact. Tech-led innovations are helping countries undertake the journey to cleaner forms of energy and to a more electric and connected world. The 21st century digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, IoT, big data, cloud computing, block chain, geographic information systems, and many more, have a wide range of applications across all sectors.

These technologies can also lead to the creation of greener and smarter homes, workplaces, and cities, armed with better waste management technologies, stronger healthcare infrastructure, and other eco-friendly solutions. They will also boost global sustainability efforts by bringing down carbon emissions on one hand and strengthening ecosystem restoration and conservation efforts on the other.

On this World Environment Day, startups are leading the charge for sustainable products and practices. Answering the call for sustainable technology and tech-solutions, thousands of startups have popped up in recent years looking to combat climate change and create solutions that replace existing products and practices that are harmful to the environment. Startups are challenging the existing work structures, having implemented practices like ‘Work from Home’ (WFH) and felxi hours long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to do so. A fair majority of the studies on energy efficiency of WFH have determined it to be better for the environment as less energy and resources are expended. With startups now looking at solutions that leverage solar and wind energy in addition to electric, hydro and geothermal potential, we are looking at solutions that are cleaner & more sustainable. The younger generation is also more committed to social causes that they believe in and businesses with purpose tend to hold stronger appeal. Netherland based start up The Ocean Clean Up has a simple mission, to rid the oceans of plastic by devising technologies that work for good, founded by Boyen Slat a twenty -six year old former aerospace engineering student who is now a Dutch entrepreneur and inventor.

It is worth highlighting here that owing to the visionary leadership of the Indian Government, we have embarked upon the journey of Digital India for some years now and are rapidly progressing in that direction. However, this matter is not only about India. The world needs as strong an effort for democratisation of environment-friendly technology as there is for climate change. While we stare at an emerging crisis, countries, their people, governments and private enterprises should join hands in sharing best practices, learnings, and supporting technology with a single minded goal of helping every nation in achieving its SDGs. The world is slowly learning to do that post the COVID 19 crisis, as we discover increasingly so that in helping others you help yourself in an increasingly interconnected and co-dependent world.

Global democratisation of technology and implementation of tech-led solutions in high-impact sectors is essential to reduce our impact on the environment. Sustainability efforts need modern technologies to succeed, which will open newer avenues for achieving higher economic growth and social development while maximising resource utilisation and efficiencies and reducing carbon footprint and ecological impact. Technology is bound to play an instrumental role in executing large scale ecosystem restoration programs and would be crucial in inculcating value for nature by way of imparting education and awareness, triggering behavioural change, and inspiring action amongst individuals and societies. This is putting the plant and its people first and it makes good business sense as well with ESG, Environment, Social Governance being the new touchstone for investor valuations too.

The pandemic has certainly set the priorities in order, for most of us: health over everything else. And health is intrinsically connected to the environment. Innovation is the benchmark of progress, however, when it comes at the cost of our environment, is it really progress? After all, aren’t innovations supposed to make our lives better? These are key questions facing us today. We need all the big corporations and small businesses, policy makers and the enforcers, the makers and the users, to join hands on the mission for a healthier, better tomorrow. We owe it to the next generations to leave them a planet befitting of where we have come as a civilization. We need to leave this place better than we found it. Only then can we claim to have lived purposeful lives, and we can only do it if we do it together, as one global community. And take an environment first and a planet-people centric approach to all the best laid plans to make our goals more scalable and sustainable. It’s time that we not only do the right thing at the right time but we steer the course and stay on the right path all the way to the finishing line putting purpose and social good at the core of everything we do.

(The author is a distinguished public policy professional, a committed environmentalist, former member of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum, Multistakeholder Advisory Group and Chair of the FICCI Sub Committee on Women in Technology, Policy & Leadership. Tweets @subichaturvedi. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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