CΕΟ of the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)

The crackdowns felt across the industry

Through my long career in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry, I have been lucky enough to be at the front seat, watching as the world enters this ever-changing era of digitalisation. Over the years, we have developed a unique ecosystem that enables interactions between services, systems, data, software, and people. In its very essence, the digital world is the pathway through which we connect, share, and transform together as a global community. We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, seeing our society transform, from innovative business models to the Internet of Things (IoT), e-Learning to the rise of remote working. We are all part of an interconnected digital ecosystem and it must remain so if we are to succeed in tackling the world’s biggest challenges. Digital technologies are increasingly becoming the heart of the way we live and work. What’s less understood, but no less important, is that digital technologies are becoming essential to our future on the Planet, its ecosystems, and inclusive economic development. The way that we use digital technologies will determine our future.

Recent research by GeSI, conducted with the support of Deloitte, finds that the application and use of digital technology will be essential to achieving the bold objectives set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). What’s particularly urgent is to mobilise the use of digital technologies to transition to a low carbon economy that will mitigate the worst consequences of climate change. Digital technologies, GeSI’s research finds, have the unique capability to enable nations to decouple carbon emissions from economic growth – enabling the world to raise the standard of living while slowing temperature increases.

Yet just when the world’s governments need to be collaborating to promote global technology strategies for sustainability, we see the increase of techno-nationalism. Around the world, countries are instituting destructive, zero-sum policies that are hampering access to and the application of technology that would help the world advance to achieve the SDGs.

The US and Japan are restricting Chinese made components that affect the progress of building 5G networks

China has retaliated by ordering its public institutions and government agencies to stop using foreign made computers and software

In Brussels, the EU has called for the creation of a U.S.-EU Trans-Atlantic economic model that block China’s attempts to influence global standards in 5G and other next-generation technologies.

Middle East countries face technological sanctions

India has explored ways to nationalize data.

The list of examples goes on. Arguments abound regarding the importance of protecting national security and economic sovereignty. Yet the arguments overlook a larger, more urgent question regarding collective security.

As it stands the situation will inevitably lead to the fragmentation of the global supply chain, decrease competition and increase prices for European consumers and manufacturers.

We need a global effort to adopt cutting edge networks, super-fast processors, smart data analytic capabilities, etc. and apply them to the most pressing challenges that the world faces regarding climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, poverty, health, and education, among others.

The more techno-nationalism and its bans, restrictions, and crackdowns we see, the more the world will notice the effects of these actions which will be felt not only across industry but also society.

Everything today depends on digital technologies. Digital technologies have been the engine of growth and prosperity. They keep us connected. They are at the centre of our global society as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown. They are meant to be used for good, for peace, and development. Finally, they need to be accessible to all and universal. We need to do everything to ensure this Purpose is maintained.

The path forward

What are we as an industry to do? What are we as citizens, policy makers, to do? We must choose a smarter future. With our unparalleled capabilities and interconnected systems, what we must do now is continue down the path we have already set for ourselves: towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With the European Union ramping up its digital strategy, no company should be left behind so we can ensure competition and a fair level playing field aiming at a stronger, smarter, more sustainable world. Global cooperation is the only way forward.

The challenges our society are currently facing and will continue to face requires smart, innovative minds working together to find impactful solutions and fast. The ICT sector has a unique opportunity to rebuild a society that has been hampered by disease, politics, and war. Technology can accelerate action, but it requires a robust, shared ambition. Critical to a shared ambition is a strong leadership to secure it. We must take the lead on global transformations to create a more prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable world with digital at its core. Failure is not an option. We can only succeed if we move forward together.