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ICT offers solutions to climate and environmental problems

Publication date 9.3.2021 5.20
Artikkeli: Digiloikka kohti ilmastoelvytystä. Kuvassa Ministeri Timo Harakka. (Kuva: Laura Kotila / VNK))
Timo Harakka (Photo: Laura Kotila / VNK)

On 9 March we published a national environmental and climate strategy for the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Finland thereby became a leading nation internationally in taking such a pioneering initiative.

Even though communication networks, data centres and smart devices consume electric power and materials, digital solutions also reduce greenhouse gas emissions in many sectors. The strategy accordingly focuses on two main points:

1. How the ICT sector could become more climate and environment friendly in its own right.

2. How ICT solutions could be applied more effectively in other sectors to mitigate climate change.

Pioneer status in digitalisation also brings responsibility

Our work to draft a strategy began from a good position, because Finland is already a global leader in applying digitalisation.

Our lead in digital capability is reflected not only in international comparison, but also in practice when considering such questions as how smoothly we made the transition to a world of work based largely on virtual meetings over the past year. One decisive element assisting this shift to remote interaction is the fact that people in Finland have already been using smart devices competently in highly functional information networks for many years.

Finland is happy to be a digital pioneer, but such status also brings responsibility.

Our global leadership in using and developing technologies requires continual enhancement of digital infrastructure, more efficient use of data, and investment in skills and research. In the light of recent unpleasant reminders, we must also ensure data security and prevent data breaches.

ICT helps to protect the climate

Climate change and loss of biodiversity are major concerns of our era, and it is high time we considered how digitalisation can resolve these problems.

We must make further advances in the environmental friendliness of communication networks and data centres. One encouraging example is the powerful new LUMI supercomputer in Kajaani, which uses only carbon-neutral electricity and supplies surplus heat to a local district heating network.

From robotics to quantum computers, new technologies are raising hopes of solutions to climate and environmental problems. For example, we are already applying artificial intelligence in various processes to reduce consumption of energy and materials and cut emissions. There is much to investigate in the sustainable application of new technologies and in the energy and materials that they require.

Consumer behaviour will ultimately determine how ICT products affect the environment. Our strategy also focuses on this aspect.

The strategy highlights the need to develop measurement and monitoring of the climate and environmental impact of digital solutions. International co-operation will be needed to compare outcomes, together with R&D work to ensure that ICT services are sensibly designed in terms of energy use.

Work will continue both nationally and internationally

Finland’s national climate and environment strategy for the ICT sector was prepared by a task force involving representation from nearly 30 organisations. I am grateful for the contributions to this work made by ICT sector businesses, public administration and organisations, universities and research institutes. Even during the consultation round, we also received several carefully considered and constructive suggestions.

While it is noteworthy that our strategy work has been considered necessary and welcome, this is only the beginning. We shall regularly monitor progress in attaining the goals and implementing the measures of the strategy, accordingly maintaining a national specialist network that will also keep us informed of international developments in ICT sector climate and environmental issues.

Digitalisation is already linked to sustainability goals with commendable frequency in European Union proceedings, with climate and environmental issues included in the European Digital and Data Strategy. Circular economy initiatives have paid considerable attention to the electronics sector, and the European Union Environment Council has adopted conclusions on digitalisation for the benefit of the environment.

We now have a showcase to demonstrate how we shall combine digitalisation and climate goals when implementing the EU recovery package.

Timo Harakka
Minister of Transport and Communications

Institutional Repository for the Government: Climate and environmental strategy for the ICT sector. Publications of the Ministry of Transport and Communications 2021:6.

Press release 9 March 2021: Finland announces climate strategy for ICT sector: harnessing data bits to combat climate change

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