Embed climate change agenda in digital innovations


Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the outputs of interest with carbon dioxide leading. FILE PHOTO | NMG

We are fresh out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP25, held in Madrid, Spain, from 2 to 13 December 2019. This conference series is a climate meet-up that lobbies for commitments from the world's governments towards ensuring the sustainability of our planet through more concerted efforts in taking care of our environment, with particular focus on emissions as seeded on the Paris Climate Change Agreement at COP21. Most factors of production innately leave a carbon footprint in their wake.

This effect from our daily living and patronage of our favourite apps and platforms often goes unnoticed as the place where the value is created is often far and out of sight in some offshore datacenter. Datacentres consume tremendous amounts of energy and where the source of power is still a fossil fuel, the contribution of our digital lives to climate change can no longer be ignored as more of the world’s populations get online and consume more and more services digitally.

Sectors with more physical interactions such as agriculture, energy generation, and logistics have traditionally been more related to the climate agenda.

The environmental cost of landing a juicy steak on your plate at your favourite restaurant has already been computed with agriculture at an 11 percent contribution to greenhouse gases. While taking a flight to your idyllic holiday destination, the airline probably shared an information tidbit that was ignored, outlining the flights' emissions contribution per passenger, with logistics contributing 15 percent. Energy generation stands at 31 percent. Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the outputs of interest with carbon dioxide leading. These values are global averages which mean topically they will vary country by country given the levels of industrialisation, urbanisation and main economic activity.

Back to the digital front, it is my opinion that businesses that leverage technology in both hardware and software forms should make a deliberate effort to first, reduce their silent emissions contribution – this calls for more intentional engineering.

Second, where possible, sensitise users on individualised impact and third, provide for or embed mitigating measures to get services to neutral or negative contribution status.

Governments must commit to supporting businesses to achieve this ambitious status. Kenya for example committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30percent by 2030 under Intended Nationally Determined Contribution. The National Climate Change Action Plan has been out since 2013.

Let us move from plans to action.