Digital and Climate Change – COP26 round table

October 28, 2021 by No Comments | Category Digital Scotland

Blog by Sam Cox, Policy Officer, People, Strategy, and Corporate Services Division.

The climate emergency has not gone away and the Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to a just transition to net zero emissions by 2045. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to transform industries to change the course of climate change and to lay the foundations for a positive, safe, and responsible digital future.

This knowledge has led the Strategy and Policy team in the Digital Directorate at the Scottish Government to investigate the role that digital has played and will continue to play in combatting the effects of climate change and helping Scotland reach its net zero ambitions by 2045.

Our internal discovery work suggests that digital is a substantial contributor to climate change, making up an estimated 4% of the worldwide carbon footprint, and this is expected to increase. Research continues to indicate that it is today’s society that will both feel the first impacts of climate change, but will also be the first to experience rapid digital transformation.

However, our work also suggests that digital solutions will also play an essential role in tackling climate change and reaching our net zero ambitions. We know that without digital and data, efforts to deliver on these ambitions are likely to fall short.

This has allowed us to establish a hypothesis that Scotland has the potential to facilitate emerging climate technologies into our digital and tech ecosystems to help address the climate change emergency.

In the new Digital Strategy for Scotland, we committed to incorporating green thinking into all of our digital solutions, so we can meet our statutory commitments to be a net zero society by 2045. We recognised that there was a gap in the new Digital Strategy around climate change and the work we’ve undertaken will ensure that the Digital Directorate (and wider Scottish Government) have a solid understanding of digital and climate change leading up to and beyond COP26.

Digital is presently doing lots to help Scotland meets its net zero ambitions but our work suggests there was a need to collate and further investigate this information to provide a coherent narrative about digital and climate change.

Work we’ve done

With COP26 coming up and being hosted in Scotland, we knew that this was the right time to be investigating the role that digital has and will play on combatting climate change and reaching Scotland’s net zero ambitions.

We began our investigation by compiling an internal briefing note and core brief on the work being done across Scottish Government on digital and climate change. We also conducted an internal short-life working group with key policy areas from across Scottish Government to discuss the policy gaps that exist around digital and climate change and to begin to form the basis for making recommendations to Ministers on closing these gaps.

Our investigative work also led us to submit an event proposal to the COP26 events team to host a round table in Scotland’s Climate Ambition Zone. Our proposal was accepted and our round table will be hosted during COP26. We have invited organisations from across Scotland to attend our in-person event to discuss the role that digital has and will play in combating climate change.

The round table discussions will be guided by the three themes the working group decided were most important to gain external input on. These themes are:
• Combating the cultural issues around adoption of climate technology;
• Data is a valuable asset but issues remain with how it is used; and,
• Digital needs to be included in climate change decisions at the first instance rather than as an afterthought.

Why is the round table important?

We know that digital will play a central role in supporting the Scottish Government’s ambitions over the coming years, both on climate change and our post-COVID economic recovery. Our round table will be used to demonstrate the Scottish Government’s commitment to a Just Transition and our leadership in tackling the climate emergency and will also set the tone for future discussions on digital and climate change.

There is an important and leading role for collaboration between the government and the digital sector to accelerate the demand for renewable energy and to provide actionable solutions to climate change problems. Digital solutions to climate change problems need to be designed with people in mind and must be woven into the continued economic recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The discussions happening at this round table and across COP26 will provide us with new insights to deliver on our net zero commitments and how to best support businesses as we transition to a greener future.

What’s next after the round table?

After the round table has concluded, we will be compiling all the notes from our event to analyse where our policy gaps on climate and digital can be filled. We are optimistic that the round table discussions will provide us with the foundation to draft a clear policy roadmap to present to Ministers of how Scotland can leverage its digital capabilities to meet its net zero ambitions.

The work we’ve been undertaking has been working to meet the Ministerial expectations of showing what digital can do to combat climate change and how industries can be supported as this work progresses. Our work has also delivered on our Digital Strategy ambition of incorporating green thinking into all of our digital solutions. As well, any findings from the round table could be used to inform future iterations of the digital strategy.

While the round table is invite only and closed to the public, we will be publishing some of our findings and our plan to take this work forward in due course. COP26 is the driver for Scotland to go further faster as we transition to Net Zero. However, it is just the beginning of the important work that Scotland will continue to deliver on to meet our goals.

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