When I was a teenager in Sweden back in the 1980s, there were no young environmental leaders with global impact, like Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, or Jamie Margolin. There were no digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to share inspiring, actionable ideas to organize people in support of a common cause. Many people saw the climate crisis emerging, but no one seemed able to identify potential solutions.
Today, much has changed. It’s still hard for many people to understand what it means to stop global warming. And many of us need to figure out: What should I change in my daily life, and how quickly, to stem the climate crisis? What can we do at our own workplaces to get business models in line with the climate? Unfortunately, increases in the average global temperature give little guidance, so a very important step was when a group of international researchers translated climate science into something actionable: The need to halve global emissions every decade to reach net-zero by 2050.
Last year, I was tasked by Ericsson, where I work as a researcher, to take on one key project: work with a team of experts from industry, academia and civil society to explore opportunities to achieve the first halving over the next decade. This demanding and inspiring project kept us busy day and night for months before it was launched during the United Nations’ Global Climate Action Summit, convened by Cristiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, among others. The result was the Exponential Roadmap, a comprehensive, science-based blueprint for reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade.
The process of helping develop the document was remarkable, and showed me the power of working collaboratively to stabilize the climate. Now, with this actionable document that’s accessible to a variety of audiences, we can mobilize people, businesses, and policy makers to cut their emissions by half each decade.
In 2018, researchers warned that increasing global temperatures beyond 2°C above the levels that prevailed on earth before industrialization began in the 19thcentury could trigger non-reversable natural processes that would drive uncontrollable warming towards a “hothouse earth” state – a reverse ice-age. Despite this risk, the probability that humankind will exceed 2°C at present remains 90 percent based on worldwide commitments.
The roadmap outlines overall global emissions and shows the decarbonization opportunities for each key sector of the economy (including energy, transportation, and food, among others).
Technologies—along with finance, policies and leadership are key to accelerating the required urgent action, both through their capacity to directly reduce emissions and in the role of digital influencers. Roughly one-third of the first halving could be enabled by existing digital technologies across energy, manufacturing, agriculture, land use, and transportation.
What does this mean for the information, technology and communications sector? As the roadmap tells us, while the sector represents only 1.4% of overall global emissions, it has an important role to play. Not only does it allow for increased efficiency, it is also uniquely positioned to positively disrupt industries.
As a researcher, I’m not fond of simplistic messages. Digital solutions can optimize any type of system and reduce the need for energy and materials. But advanced digital solutions could also make oil extraction more attractive and prolong the fossil era.
Our industry—the tech industry – will disrupt sectors, with 5G, IoT, and AI. It’s our shared responsibility to ensure that technology is put in the service of a stable climate – and it makes business sense to work towards a zero-carbon future.
At Ericsson, we’ve learned a few lessons from working with technologies as complex as mobile communication networks. First, not even the brightest experts know everything about complex systems. Second, complex systems can only be developed through partnerships. Third, projects and timelines that seem impossible at first can be managed—if you have leaders who give you the conditions to succeed. These are insights we can bring to the table when setting out to safeguard the climate — the most complex system of all.
Protecting the environment shouldn’t be viewed as a burden. After all, successful climate solutions come with great business opportunities and brings huge benefits in terms of increased health and achieving the global development goals, as well as security and independence.
In the new report the message is clear: we must move from incremental to exponential action without delay to protect the climate. For this to happen, we must invest heavily where we find the largest transformation potential, across sectors. We should break silos and put our technology in service of a stabilized climate. Let’s start today.