Aligning the digital transition with a sustainable, net-zero economy

Access to the internet for young people is paramount. Our ability to thrive depends on the internet and the functions it affords. However, there are environmental impacts and disruption that occur from the infrastructure that needs to be built and maintained. Banner image: David Herraez Calzada
Aligning the digital transition with a sustainable, net-zero economy
This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society—discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
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My name is Manpreet Deol and I am a mechanical engineer, a data scientist and a proud Canadian. I was a member of the OECD Youth Advisory Board Youthwise in 2021, during which I engaged with my peers on the Future of Work, and was also invited to participate in the OECD’s Environment Policy Committee Ministerial Environmental Policy in a Post-COVID-19 World: Ensuring a Resilient and Healthy Environment for All.

The topic of digitalisation and digital transformation is key for my generation, and one that I have been fortunate to have worked in and researched. Recently, as a student at Oxford, I am focusing on topics pertaining to environmental social governance frameworks. 

When I think about parallel or “twin” movements such as digitalisation and the transition towards a net-zero economy, I am immediately drawn to the inherent trade offs. We often speak about policy solutions, but the practicalities of implementation are sometimes overlooked—my generation and the ones that follow will disproportionately feel the consequences of these trade offs.

Read more: Enhancing environmental justice and the meaningful involvement of all people in decision-making processes by Xananine Calvillo Ramirez, Member, Youthwise

For example, remote working conditions have meant reduced commuting for employees, minimising firms’ scope 3 emissions (all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain). However, there are also knock-on effects that occur in terms of heating and cooling individual houses. 

Similarly, increased broadband connectivity for rural communities allows more individuals to be online, disseminate information and access key educational and governmental services. Access to the internet for young people is paramount. Our ability to thrive depends on the internet and the functions it affords. However, there are environmental impacts and disruption that occur from the infrastructure that needs to be built and maintained. The energy needed for computation and cooling of data centres is also increasing at an alarming rate as our economies become more digitised. 

Recently, I have been fascinated with the advent of blockchain applications for identity verification, transparency in supply chains, and decentralised governance. However, the energy input for mining and maintaining networks is significant. Once again, young people will disproportionally feel the consequences of these trade offs. 

To finish, I put these questions to the Ministers present: 

  • Given that these kinds of trade offs cut across borders, how do we build consensus and alignment among countries to address these transitions?
  • How do we include a broad range of stakeholders as we navigate these trade offs? 

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Find out more about the OECD's Youthwise project

Find our more about the OECD's Youthwise project

The OECD Environment Ministerial took place on 30-31 March. Learn more here!