Can tech drive the Green Deal? | Huawei European Talks with Eline Chivot

Summary Transcript

Can AI and the data-driven economy help the EU achieve the Green Deal?

Will digital technology help societies reduce CO2 emissions and increase energy efficiency to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?

Eline Chivot, senior policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation, joins Huawei’s Dr Hui Cao in #HuaweiEuropeanTalk, to discuss how tech can bring about sustainability while boosting economic development.


Hello! Today, the topic is about the focus on the importance of tech in achieving the Green Deal objectives, how technology/a digital economy can support sustainable development and how policies can support technology/the digital economy, especially how AI helps to achieve the Green Deal along with Data Economy.

Joining me to discuss this issue is Eline Chivot, the senior policy analyst at the Centre for Data Innovation. In Brussels, she works on various digital policies at EU level and on how these impact the data economy, the competitiveness of European companies, data protection, the development of emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, but also platform liabilities as well as the competition policy and antitrust.

Eline, good to see you! It's a pleasure having you with us today.


Well, thank you very much for having me, the pleasure is all mine and it's great to see you as well. And let me start by, of course, thanking Huawei for organising timely and constructive discussions focusing on EU policies at large.

To briefly mention a few things about my organisation with the centre: at the Centre for Data Innovation, our aim is really to formulate and promote pragmatic public policies designed to maximise the benefits of data-driven innovation in the public and private sectors. And we really aim to inform stakeholders from industry, policy makers and the public (bringing perspectives across the board) and really to educate about the opportunities and challenges associated with data, as well as technology trends, as you mentioned, and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.

We're a research institute based in Brussels and DC and we're affiliated with a larger think tank called the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation also, known as ITIF.

Thank you very much again for having me today.


Thank you, Eline. So the question will be: why do we talk about AI and why does it matter?


We could go on and on, and talk about it longer, but in a nutshell: the recent growth in computing power and the availability of data, progress and algorithms have turned AI into one of the most strategic technologies of the 21st century. AI has recently moved, in recent years, from the age of discovery to the age of implementation, and the biggest opportunities are in businesses where AI and automation can deliver significant efficiency. And AI offers tremendous countless benefits, especially in healthcare for instance with the discovery of new treatments and a quicker diagnosis, but also in financial services with fraud detection, and in the energy sector by increasing energy efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions. Many countries and companies understand that that AI has potential now, and they're now racing to seize that opportunity to enhance societal progress and economic prosperity and other goals, so that's why we hear so much about it these days and why it really matters.


Thank you, Eline. Why do we talk about AI in relation to sustainable development in EU policy currently?


So AI, but I can bring it to – you know – digital technologies more broadly, are really key enablers for attaining the sustainability goals of the European Green Deal, which is the European Commission's ambitious agenda for achieving climate neutrality for the EU by 2050. And this will be contributing as well to the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And many policy makers in Europe consider that digital and sustainability should work hand in hand if we want to leverage this enabling potential and to facilitate the achievement of the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality objective.

A bit more on the Green Deal: it will likely include measures that will affect the IT industry, which is why although I cover digital policies, the conversation around it are increasingly relevant to my work. And the renewed attention on the tech sector is I believe an opportunity to champion digitisation efforts that will truly contribute to building a greener economy and also an opportunity to revise data policies that may be contributing to a larger carbon footprint inadvertently.


What is the promise of emerging technologies like AI when it comes to sustainable development?


Thanks, that's an interesting question and I’m going to try to be brief but there's a lot to say in this chapter. Industry’s digital transformation is offering a whole range of new prospects to unlock innovation, to provide new and more opportunities to workers, to decarbonise and generally to do more with it. And as far as concrete estimates to measure that impact, digital technologies have the potential to enable a 20% reduction of global CO2 emissions by 2030, saving almost 10 times more emissions than they produce.

Now while IT uses energy, it is actually at the heart of many solutions that reduce energy use and emissions, such as telework, precision agriculture, e-commerce, cloud computing, and the smart grid. So I will just dive into some of these examples. Telework reduces energy consumption associated with commuting for work. Precision agriculture, which is an approach to farming, uses data to optimise inputs like water, fertilisers and pesticides to maximise crop productivity and that can prevent also the over-application of chemicals, which are, as we know, a key source of greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. Now for e-commerce, another example, it reduces consumer travel and there are studies on how it actually results in lower carbon emissions as a sector than conventional retail. Another example we talk a lot about is cloud computing centres that use a significant amount of energy. And we often hear about this. But, in fact, much of that computing and load replaces on-premise facilities that are far less energy-efficient. More broadly, digitising the logistics sector will significantly reduce CO2 emissions through optimisation, for instance, enabling driverless and connected cars, flexible charging services, mobility as-a-service solutions for an estimated 3.6 gigaton CO2 reduction in the transport sector. Digital manufacturing enables material and energy efficiency in key sectors of the EU economy and that could enable them, actually the EU marketing manufacturing sector, to reinforce its leadership position. And savings in terms of CO2 reductions are estimated to be 2.7 gigatons in the manufacturing sector. Another example is the smart grid and it, you know, gives energy users basic access to consumption data and pricing. It enables them to make smarter energy choices and it reduces the overall demand and peak demand, which usually involves inefficient and dirty energy production. And the smart grid can also help leveraging distributed energy resources like residential solar, hydropower sources, batteries and wind.

So overall, IT itself continues to get much more energy efficient and industry continues to work on promising methods to reduce energy use in the IT sector, like by designing more energy efficient hardware and algorithms. If I can take an example, some researchers are developing methods that use substantially less energy to train AI systems or to validate blockchain transactions.


Thank you, Eline for those interesting but concrete figures and arguments. So what's the relation between industry and policies in this debate? Which policies can support the use and deployment of AI and digital technologies to enable such progress in sustainable development?


Thank you again – a very relevant question which I’m happy to address.

The IT sector is making a significant contribution to emissions reductions. Efficiency continues to improve at every level, maybe component, device, infrastructure and even in terms of business models. And many tech companies have ambitious plans to reduce their carbon footprint and some are even already carbon neutral or they aim to be, you know, within the next five years or so. And many have long made sustainability really a priority and a goal as part of their strategy. To take an example of their performance, well, a number of signatories to the UK government's climate change agreement for data centres have even exceeded the voluntary emissions targets for 2020. The target was 15% to increase power usage efficiency and they increased it by 16.7 percent, slightly above target.

And now back to your question. To support and encourage industry’s efforts, EU climate policies should focus on increasing digital adoption, number one, encouraging voluntary improvements, promoting R&D on energy-efficient IT technologies. And if the Green Deal results in energy efficiency rules for the tech sector, I believe these should be proportionate, flexible, and I mean proportionate, also compatible with the targets that can realistically be achieved by companies, because we have companies of different types and sizes.

So really, just one more word, by treating the tech sector as part of the solution rather than as part of a problem, I really think the Green Deal’s policy proposals are an opportunity to accelerate the use of digital solutions to reduce carbon emissions.


Thank you, Eline. Thank you very much for your answers.