Submitted by Ericsson
Heather Johnson, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility
On the eve of the 77th United Nations General Assembly, Heather Johnson, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Ericsson, explores how ICT can provide solutions to the climate and learning crises that we face.
When I wrote my MBA thesis on the promise of cellular communications technology back in the early 1990’s, I could never have imagined how much that decision would impact my life, and more importantly how much the technology would impact the world.
For over two decades, I have been part of Ericsson, a company at the forefront of information and communications technology (ICT) which keeps people and industries connected. ICT generally refers to all devices, networking components and systems that allow people to interact in the digital world. The personal and industrial efficiencies that ICT has enabled have been nothing short of transformational.
The creation of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) further highlighted the important role the ICT sector plays in driving sustainability. Ericsson’s collaboration with the Earth Institute at Columbia University highlighted the potential of ICT technologies to underpin the achievement of every goal. And since the Global Goals were launched in 2015, we’ve been working with customers and in public-private partnerships to make that promise a reality—and to tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time.
The climate change challenge
We are coming out of summer 2022, one that has been marked with some of the most remarkable and distinctive weather I have seen in my lifetime.
Temperatures in many places have lingered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for days, even weeks. Nearly 660,000 hectares of European land have already been destroyed by fires this year, according to EU data. The scale of the destruction this year would be the worst since records began in 2006. An early heat wave that hit India and Pakistan this year—causing at least 90 deaths-- was about 30 times more likely to happen because of climate change, according to analysis.
A warmer atmosphere can also hold more moisture, meaning more rainfall comes in short, intense downpours, causing flooding. An example of this is the devasting floods that hit the United States earlier this summer, and the ‘climate catastrophe’ we’re seeing right now in Pakistan, where one third of the country is submerged and more than 33 million people affected. This extreme weather is the clearest signal of climate change – and will get even worse over the next 30 years.
Part of the solution
The ICT sector itself only produces 1.4 percent of global greenhouse gases. Ericsson’s peer reviewed research shows that ICT solutions have the potential to enable 15 percent reduction of emissions in other sectors—almost a third of the required halving of emissions by 2030. And that can be increased even more with accelerated roll-out of 5G.
Let me give you a few examples of current cases around from Ericsson where we’re putting our ICT solutions to work around the globe when it comes to Sustainable Development Goal 13: taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
You might not know this, but mangroves have among the highest carbon densities of any tropical forest. These ecosystems can store large amounts of carbon for long periods, and their protection reduces greenhouse gas emissions and supports climate change mitigation. And unlike rainforests, which store carbon in biomass and release it when the trees die, mangroves store most of the carbon in their soil and sediment. If undisturbed, it stays there for millennia.
These ecosystems are crucial as a nature-based solution.
However, the effects of climate change has had a devasting effect on the mangrove populations. In Malaysia, only around 40 percent of mangrove seedlings reach maturity because of issues such as lack of water.
This is where Ericsson’s Connected Mangroves comes into play – with the importance of the program highlighted by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23). Since 2015, Ericsson has been planting mangrove saplings in Malaysia that are connected with sensors, enabling real-time monitoring of the mangrove plantation conditions. Thanks to this ICT technology, the team has managed to double the percentage of mangroves that successfully reach maturity—from 40 percent to 80 percent – leading to complete reforestation.
The mangrove restoration project is not only reducing global emissions, but it’s also having a positive effect on the local community; with the mangroves regrown, they serve as a natural flood and typhoon barrier.
The work with the Connected Mangroves is far from over: the next step is the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled CCTV cameras to identify migratory bird species and enable better preservation of endangered wildlife in Sasmuan, Pampanga. This work has led to the first sighting of an endangered bird in over 100 years. These accomplishments are part of our commitment to World Economic Forum’s 1 Trillion Trees initiative.
Another concrete solution is the Ericsson 5G Smart Factory in Texas, which has been designated a Sustainability Lighthouse by the World Economic Forum for pioneering sustainability achievements—one of only three factories in the world to have this designation. It’s powered by 100 percent renewable energy and designed to be 24 percent more energy efficient than other factories by using innovation use cases such as energy and environmental monitoring and smart irrigation.
Once again, the power of ICT connectivity comes into play when we look at the information we are able to access with sensors. We gather vast amounts of real-time data collected through a network of hundreds of sensors connected via the factory’s private cellular network to improve efficiency gains and reduce the factory’s energy consumption by as much as 5 percent.
With sensors in place, we have identified various energy-saving measures, such as turning off lights and heat in vacant spaces and using water reclamation for recyclable energy, as well as others. As more factory assets connect, more energy is saved – making the system fully future-proof.
The education challenge
At the same time as the world faces climate change, society is also in the middle of a learning crisis. Even before COVID-19 hit, UNESCO estimated that 260 million children between the ages of five and 16 received no schooling.
COVID-19 exasperated the problem. According to UNICEF, school children around the world have lost an estimated 1.8 trillion hours—and counting—of in-person learning since the onset of the virus, due to lockdowns and imposed isolations.
Of course, many schools tried to transition to remote learning during COVID-19. However in 2020, ITU stated that 369 million young people don’t have access to the internet at all, leaving them completely isolated when it came to accessing education remotely.
It’s clear that the need for educational infrastructure for hybrid learning is more important than ever. It’s a complex problem and the barriers are many: from access to meaningful connectivity, affordability of data and devices and digital literacy. If measures aren’t taken to properly equip people to take advantage of the digital future, vulnerable children and youth will be left behind.
This learning crisis really illustrates the importance of galvanizing all sectors of society to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4: ensuring inclusive quality education for all. It’s why Ericsson is an education champion of the Edison Alliance, a multi-stakeholder initiative from the World Economic Forum driving digital inclusion.
A key enabler
To close this divide will require a range of solutions – and ICT has an important part to play. Access to connectivity is the most fundamental requirement. When a young person has access to connectivity and through that the internet, that individual will be exposed to opportunities beyond their home and school.
At Ericsson, we are working to close the school connectivity gap through our support of UNICEF and ITU’s Giga initiative. Giga aims to connect every school in the world to the internet by 2030, and by doing so connect every young person to information, opportunity and choice. Ericsson is providing connectivity intelligence and data science capabilities, as well as financial support. This helps to provide an understanding of where connectivity is needed the most, a vital first step of Giga.
Of course, connecting the schools is not enough. There is a huge need for the development and equipment of digital skills. Through Ericsson’s flagship ICT and education program, Connect To Learn, we have been supporting the delivery of a quality 21st-century education and providing young people worldwide with digital connectivity, tools and skills.
I’m proud to say that since its foundation in 2010, Connect To Learn has positively impacted more than 300,000 children and young people in more than 30 countries around the world, and well on our way to meeting a commitment to positively impact 1 million children and youth by 2025 by providing access to digital learning and skill development programs.
However, the scale of the education challenge is huge and there is much more to do – and no one entity can solve the issue alone. That’s why we believe in the power of public private partnerships and we’re partnering with our customers and organizations, such as the Broadband Commission, World Economic Forum Edison Alliance, UNESCO and UNICEF, to drive greater digital inclusion.
It makes this year’s Transforming Education Summit (TES) a critical convening by the United Nations. Bringing together global, national and local education leaders, it offers an opportunity for inclusive and effective global dialogue what we need to do to reverse the slide on progress towards SDG4.
Technology and partnership
Climate change and the digital divide are global challenges that impact the sustainable development of society. Technology alone is not a cure-all, but it can be a powerful enabler to sustainable development. We can only realize this promise through collective action of the public and private sector. That is exactly what we will be focusing at Global Goals week and NY Climate Week on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York. We will be meeting our partners and customers, to explore ways that technology solutions can help meet the challenges of our times.
Ericsson was founded almost 150 years ago on the belief that communication is a basic human need. Fast forward to today, and we see that communication and connectivity is a key enabler to solving critical societal challenges. We are bringing together technology with purpose and partnerships for progress, to deliver solutions for lasting and positive change.
This blog was first published on WEF Agenda here.
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