Digital Momentum for the UN Sustainability Agenda
Up to now, hopes that digitalization would make a contribution to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda has not materialized. Only if digital change and Sustainability are constructively interlinked can we make progress with environmental protection, climate-change mitigation and human development.
The WBGU would like to introduce into the discussion four ideas directly related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
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First: promote a global (environmental) awareness among people worldwide by providing a stronger future-proof education. The focus should be on enabling people to actively shape digital change and the Transformation towards Sustainability. Open data relating to sustainability and virtual learning environments are important elements for experiencing ecosystems. In concrete terms, an integrated programme for future-proof education should be developed, UN processes should be opened up to citizen-science projects, and an International Information Union should be founded to collect, process and publish sustainability-related data.
Second, establish a digitally enhanced circular economy. The transition from linear and resource-intensive value chains to a near-complete circular economy is a key component of the Transformation towards Sustainability. Digital data acquisition and processing offer great potential for this. Environmentally harmful emissions and resource depletion should be recorded across all sectors of the economy and value chains, and greater efforts should be made to implement the 3Rs strategy (reduce, reuse, recycle) at the international level.
Third, modernize sustainability policy itself by using digital solutions. Digitally enhanced governance can help improve the transparency of political actions, as well as the participation and worldwide networking of political actors. Coordination within the UN system should be intensified by establishing a 'UN Digitalization Initiative'; a 'UN Framework Convention on Digital Sustainability and Sustainable Digitalization' should be negotiated; and a globally uniform set of indicators for the SDGs should be developed to facilitate the comparability and verifiability of national reports.
Fourth, further develop the global sustainability agenda beyond 2030 against the background of the opportunities and risks of the Digital Age. The UN should prepare for these future challenges in good time. The WBGU recommends convening a UN summit on 'Sustainability in the Digital Age' in 2022 – 30 years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro – to set the course for continuing the sustainability agenda beyond 2030. A key outcome could be the adoption of a charter entitled 'Towards Our Common Digital Future'.
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Global digital change should be designed to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Up to now, hopes that digitalization would make a contribution to achieving these goals has not materialized.
Technical innovation surges do not automatically translate into sustainability transformations, but must be closely coupled with sustainability guidelines and policies.