Sweden should release the data for the sake of the climate

2019-03-29, 10:08

DEBATE. Used correctly, digitization can pave the way for a fossil-free Sweden. In order to facilitate, the Government should set up a quick investigation to determine how valuable data can be made available to entrepreneurs, says representatives of the digitization consulting industry together with Fossilfree Sverige's Svante Axelsson in Dagens Industri, Sweden's Business Daily.

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Full text in Enlish below:

Digitalisation has already impacted almost every aspect of our lives. As we now face climate change that potentially poses a threat to the whole of humanity, it also has the potential to accelerate the development towards a society that unites a high level of welfare with a fossil-free future.

The IPCC special report on how we can achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees this year highlighted, for the first time, digitalisation as an important component in the transition.

Studies that focus on optimising the current system demonstrate the possibility for digital solutions to contribute to about a 20% reduction in global emissions.

However, the potential emission reductions are considerably greater if we also include the transformative effects of digitalisation, which could contribute to fulfilling the needs of society in completely new ways. In order for this to succeed, we must see a new focus from politicians and promote system innovation, not just improvements to existing systems. Sweden has the opportunity to take a leading international role in these efforts.

For this reason, 34 companies from the digitalisation consultancy industry have drawn up a roadmap for a fossil-free, climate-positive and competitive digitalisation consultancy industry by 2045 within the framework of the Fossil Free Sweden Initiative. This sets out how the industry, in cooperation with users of digital solutions, politicians and other decision-makers, can enable a transition to a fossil-free Sweden that drives globally sustainable solutions.

We are already seeing in our urban environments, for example, that digitalisation and smart systems can improve the environment, security and user experience. Copenhagen has replaced its street lighting fixtures with modern lamps that use intelligent lighting control, and has therefore been able to reduce its energy use by up to 57%. In addition, it is possible to adjust the intensity of the lighting when the roads are wet in order to improve visibility for road users, and use lights to guide cyclists to the fastest and safest route.

Stockholm has one of the best traffic control systems in the world. Scheduled buses can be given priority during rush hour with the help of GPS tracking and 4,000 underground sensors. If a bus is more than one minute late, it gets priority at smart traffic lights so that waiting times and the environmental impact of public transport are reduced, and more people choose to use public transport.

In agriculture, we are now seeing the first examples of hydroponic or aquaponic farming, where smart sensors use precise amounts of resources in closed systems. Swedish start-up company Heliospectra, for example, develops intelligent lighting technology for greenhouse cultivation that can halve energy consumption.

In the transport sector, digitalisation has, among other things, contributed to international coordination of port entrances with the Swedish MonaLisa project, in order to drastically reduce freight emissions at sea.

Digital infrastructure’s own emissions are in danger of increasing alongside greater digitalisation. However, new studies show that, despite exponentially increasing use, emissions are now decreasing. For example, Google’s own AI has managed to reduce the company’s energy use by 30 percent.

Digital solutions can contribute to emission reductions in three different ways: existing systems can be optimised; the uptake of sustainable solutions can be accelerated; and, finally, by contributing to transformative changes.

A transformative change, with radical and rapid reductions in greenhouse gases, occurs when the impacts of digitalisation coincide at different levels, which is to say when new technological solutions, new business models, new financial incentives, new legislation, new social planning, new financing models, new ways of evaluating, new ways of creating transparency, and the like are united.

For example, we can see how autonomous cars, car sharing and other services have the potential to reduce the actual need for cars. This kind of change can happen quickly. Just look at how a company like Airbnb has changed the hotel industry, how Uber has changed the taxi industry or how Spotify has changed the music industry.

One big challenge is that the minor contributions of digitalisation (optimisation of individual products) are relatively easy to explain, measure and politically support, but the major contributions (transformative system changes) are often more difficult to measure and explain.

They also require a number of collaborative measures between different parts of society in a way that rarely happens today. This means that the focus can easily be placed in the minor contributions of digitalisation and the major contributions risk being overlooked.

In the roadmap for the digitalisation consultancy industry we therefore highlight the following concrete calls on politicians to promote development:

1. Appoint a digital transformation committee with international ambitions

Appoint a committee including members from various segments of society and with significant international representation, tasked with identifying knowledge gaps, legal barriers, organisational lock-ins and incentives blocking Sweden’s pathways to accelerate the uptake of digital solutions for a fossil-free future.

2. Appoint a fast-track inquiry into open data to support global sustainability

Appoint a fast-track inquiry to determine what data are currently available or can be made available to equip citizens, government agencies and business to develop new and innovative solutions from a global sustainability perspective. Data in key areas, including geodata, property data, mobility data etc, should be included in this study. The issue of how data can be de-identified to assure personal privacy should also be investigated.

3. Establish Testbed Zones for sustainable digital transformation

Establish a national initiative in which zones and entire cities interested in acting as testbeds for a fossil-free, ecologically sustainable and socially fair transformation can be brought together. The purpose of these testbeds would be to lower the thresholds for testing new methods, developing new business models, testing technology, arriving at new modes of collaboration and attempting to understand the various impacts and opportunities from a wider systemic perspective.

We have a unique opportunity to harness the power of digitalisation to reverse the urgent need for a fossil-free future. We in the industry are ready and want to invite stakeholders from the rest of society to dialogue and cooperation.

Svante Axelsson, Fossil Free Sweden Initiative
Niklas Flyborg, CEO, Cybercom Group
Pär Fors, Senior Vice President, CGI Sverige
Tomas Haglund, Nordic Director Sustainability Strategy, Accenture


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