With a renewed sense of urgency linked to the rapid evolution of the geopolitical situation, the Strategic Foresight Report 2022 on ‘Twinning the green and digital transition in the new geopolitical context’ brings a forward-looking and comprehensive perspective on the interplay between the twin transitions towards 2050.
Both transitions are at the top of the EU’s political agenda and their interaction will have massive consequences for the future. While they are different in nature and each subject to specific dynamics, their twinning – i.e. their capacity to reinforce each other – deserves closer scrutiny. Better understanding these interactions is key to maximising their synergies and minimising their tensions. This is essential in the current geopolitical context where the EU aims at accelerating both green and digital transformation, ultimately strengthening the EU’s resilience and open strategic autonomy. The 2022 Strategic Foresight Report provides a future-oriented analysis of the major role played by digital technologies as well as the influence of geopolitical, economic, social and regulatory factors in the twinning. Based on their analysis, the report identifies ten key areas where action will be needed.
The Communication builds on the Joint Research Centre (JRC)’s science for policy report: Towards a green and digital future. Key requirements for successful twin transitions in the European Union.
Key synergies and tensions:
There are strong synergies between the green and digital transition:
- Digital technologies could play a key role in achieving climate neutrality, reducing pollution, and restoring biodiversity. For example, personal monitoring of pollution exposure or contribution and access to environmental data through networks of micro-sensors and smart devices will empower people in their choices.
- Pursuing the green transition will transform the digital sector. For instance, achieving climate neutrality and energy efficiency of data centres and cloud infrastructures by 2030 including by meeting their electricity demand with solar or wind energy, will support the greening of technologies. E.g. big data analytics, blockchain, or the internet of things.
However, there are also areas where the two transitions could negatively affect each other:
- The energy consumption could increase if digital technologies do not become more energy-efficient. ICT are responsible for 5-9% of global electricity use. This could grow as the use of blockchain, internet of things, platforms, search engines, and virtual reality concepts increase.
- The greater use of digital technologies could increase electronic waste and its environmental impact. It could reach 75 million tonnes by 2030.
- Progress in digitalisation will also increase water usage, e.g. for cooling data centres or chip manufacturing.
Key technologies for the twinning
If properly managed, digital technologies can help create a climate neutral resource-efficient economy and society, and save resources in vital economic sectors – which are also responsible for most of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions today:
|Digitalising energy: Digital technologies can provide the necessary data to match supply and demand at a more disaggregated level and close to real time. The forecasting of energy production and demand can be improved by digital technologies, novel sensors, satellite data and blockchain.|
|Greener transport: Digitalisation and artificial intelligence will also boost the emergence of more efficient multimodal mobility solutions, such as 'mobility-as-a-service' or 'transport-as-a-service'. New generation of batteries and digital technologies like the internet of things will enable a major shift towards more sustainable mobility for different modes of transport from passenger, to heavy-duty truck or aviation.|
|Boosting industry’s climate neutrality: Smart meters and sensors could increase energy and material efficiency in production. Digital twins (virtual representation of an object) could improve system designs, test new products, monitor and ensure preventive maintenance, assess the product lifecycle, and select optimal materials.|
|Greening buildings with digitalisation: Data and technologies, such as information modelling could improve long-term choices at the design stage and increase the sector’s energy efficiency. Availability of anonymised data, smart appliances, as well as consumer behaviour will enable targeted investments in renovations.|
|Smarter and greener agriculture: Digital sensors combined with service based space data could save water and energy, while reducing the use of pesticides and fertilisers. Digital platforms facilitating local distribution and avoiding food waste could boost local production and shorten consumption circuits.|
The role of geopolitical, economic, social and regulatory factors
The success of twinning will also depend on geopolitical, economic, social and regulatory factors in which the twin transitions are happening. The current geopolitical shifts prompted by Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine are renewing the sense of urgency to accelerate the twin transitions, and to reinforce the EU’s resilience and openness. They also enhance the need to secure access to critical raw materials, needed to feed the twin transitions and for which the EU is still highly dependent on third countries.
The green and digital transitions will also require adjusting the EU’s economic policies towards greater sustainability and a more circularity. Investment into sustainable projects by both the private and the public sector will be key. It is estimated, at lower ends, that the twin transitions might need around EUR 650 billion euro annually by 2030.
Additionally, fairness and affordability will be at the heart of both transitions, to benefit all Europeans, sectors and regions in Europe and beyond. People with low and medium income are more vulnerable to the impact of the twin transitions in term of jobs, access to digital public services, higher energy and good prices. The twin transitions will also change profoundly labour markets and skills. The EU will need to be attentive to strengthen social and economic cohesion along the transitions.
Finally, the EU’s role as a global standardisation power will be important to enable twinning. Both to protect EU consumers from non-sustainable products or processes, and to ensure that international standards respect the EU’s sustainability and ethical ones.
Areas of action for a successful twinning
The Strategic Foresight Report identified 10 areas of action, which are needed to strengthen opportunities and minimise potential risks related to the interaction between the green and digital transitions up to 2050.
- Strengthening resilience and open strategic autonomy in sectors critical for the twin transitions via for instance, the work of the EU Observatory of Critical Technologies.
- Stepping up green and digital diplomacy, by leveraging the EU’s regulatory and standardisation power, while promoting EU values and fostering partnerships.
- Strategically managing supply of critical materials and commodities, by adopting a long-term systemic approach to avoid a new dependency trap.
- Strengthening economic and social cohesion, by reinforcing social protection and the welfare state
- Adapting education and training systems to match a rapidly transforming technological and socio-economic reality as well as supporting labour mobility across sectors.
- Mobilising additional future-proof investment into new technologies and infrastructures.
- Developing monitoring frameworks for measuring wellbeing beyond GDP
- Ensuring a future-proof regulatory framework for the Single Market, conducive to sustainable business models and consumer patterns.
- Stepping up a global approach to standard-setting and benefitting from the EU’s first mover advantage in competitive sustainability.
- Promoting robust cybersecurity and secure data sharing framework to ensure, among other things, that critical entities can prevent, resists and recover from disruptions.