In the Green Deal the EU has set out ambitious climate targets. The German Advisory Council on Global Change (Wissenschaftliche Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen - WBGU) has noted that it will only be possible to meet these targets in tandem with a determined digital strategy. In its position paper, “A European Way to our Common Digital Future”, the WBGU sets forth the systematic interlocking of these two levers.
Digitisation for climate protection: creating opportunities
A study recently published by Bitkom quantifies the potential impact of digitisation on climate protection efforts. The study finds that CO2 emissions can be reduced by 120 megatons (million tons) in ten years “through targeted and accelerated deployment of digital solutions ”. This amounts to roughly half of the emission reduction target Germany has set itself for 2030. The study, conducted by Accenture for Bitkom digital association, stresses that greater speed will be called for to bring this about. If the digitisation of climate protection proceeds at the same modest pace as it has done to date, the savings achieved by 2030 will be just 78 megatons. Thus far, the fields of industrial production, mobility, buildings and work & business have been investigated, with agriculture, energy and health to follow in spring 2021.
At up to 61 megatons, the greatest CO2 savings potential from the use of digital technologies has been identified in the field of industrial production. Factors such as so-called digital twins yield substantial climate effects here. However, at 16 to 19 megatons the building sector also offers major digital CO2 reduction potential, thereby supporting the digitisation of climate protection. In particular, smart home technologies, including devices allowing consumers to monitor their own energy consumption, will make a vital contribution in this respect. The key point here is the availability of consumption information throughout the year.
WBGU: Use of private-sector data
According to the WBGU, ecological, social and economic goals can be pursued with equal vigour through digitisation. This requires an implementation strategy that puts digital technologies at the service of sustainability, while simultaneously addressing the risks. In particular, greater use must be made of private sector data provision, while the potential of digitisation must be optimally exploited.
Private companies are increasingly using their digital offerings to perform public interest tasks. In addition to search engines and map and navigation services, this also includes vehicles equipped with sensors which do jobs such as collecting wide-ranging environmental data of major public interest. The WBGU has expressed concern about a clear asymmetry in the information available to private providers as compared with public authorities, and has called for a sustainable data policy. Above all, this should facilitate improved access to and re-use of (non-personal) data collected by the private sector, with a view to creating “jointly usable digitised knowledge goods”.
Data as a central resource
Both social and economic added value can be generated through using this resource, which can be reproduced virtually free of charge, by combining the collection, exchange, aggregation and processing of data. That in turn forms the basis for sound decision-making, the creation of new knowledge and automated, learning systems. This allows production processes, agriculture, transport and logistics systems to be rendered more resource-efficient, while also generating new scientific findings, for example on the interconnections and impact of climate change. The WBGU therefore advocates viewing data policy as a new field of sustainability policy.
Motivation for the digitisation of climate protection
In the building sector too, data sources are key to achieving climate targets. When building data is networked with external data via cloud platforms, new added value and application opportunities are created. For example, a building’s energy management system can coordinate batteries and hot water storage tanks with the heat pump, the solar energy system or the charging station, while also processing the energy supplier’s price signals. This helps to stabilise power grids and facilitate the decentralised energy transition. Particular attention must be paid to the issue of data protection.
WBGU – distinction between personal and non-personal data
Data collection and access must be regulated in a restrictive way wherever there are special interests in need of protection. This includes such matters as guaranteeing privacy, protecting business interests or ensuring security. The GDPR, introduced in 2018, shows that data handling can be controlled, even if substantial private interests and various spheres of business and private life are affected. However, the WBGU still sees a need for research and action on a range of matters, such as the distinction between personal and non-personal data or the effective and permanent elimination of personal identifiability through anonymisation procedures.
Data on the energy consumption and lifestyle habits of tenants is highly private in nature, and the correct handling of this data must be given the highest priority. Tenants themselves have the individual right to decide on the use and location of their data. This right is protected both by legal provisions such as the GDPR and by companies’ prudent and responsible handling of data. European guidelines should be applied.
We believe in a strong European data economy as a powerful driver of innovation, and are committed to the common goals of data sovereignty, interoperability, portability and transparency.