Promoting the Carbon Law at the “Davos of Sweden”
As a member of the sustainability research team at Ericsson for the past several years, I have become increasingly aware of the fact that certain characteristics of my home country, Sweden, make it a great place to explore the role of ICT in moving societies towards a more sustainable future. Sweden scores well in terms of digitalization, innovation and sustainability in international rankings. Moreover, it has a long tradition of openness with regards to public sector activities, and the small population makes it relatively easy to get access to almost anyone and to form collaborations between companies, academia and policymakers.
This accessibility is very much in evidence at Almedalen, an annual event that some refer to as the “Davos of Sweden”, where I participated for the first time this July. Open to the general public, Almedalen takes place on the island Gotland and includes representatives of the Swedish government, academia, institutions, local authorities, companies, non-governmental organizations, and different political parties. This year was the 50th anniversary of the event, and it consisted of more than 4,000 different seminars. It was exciting to have the opportunity to meet so many knowledgeable and influential people in such a short time – including government ministers – as they walked around in the streets of Visby, easily accessible and open for discussions.
I was delighted to see that the topic of sustainability was omnipresent at Almedalen, with very few people questioning the relevance of applying a sustainability lens, and broad recognition of the fact that sustainability is an important innovation trigger. It was interesting to see how green financing is moving forward, and that discussions about companies’ activities are moving beyond the well-established sustainability areas of own operations, portfolio and value chain, to include questions about investments and the extended responsibility companies have through their membership in different organizations.
Recognizing the role of ICT
Through our research Ericsson has identified that the use of basic ICT technology could reduce global climate gas emissions by as much as 15% if leveraged according to its potential – a figure which does not include the additional promise of technologies such as 5G, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and blockchain. This potential could be put into comparison with the footprint of the ICT sector which represents only 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as shown by my colleague Jens Malmodin together with Dag Lundén from Telia Company, in a recent peer-reviewed paper, based on a unique set of extensive primary data.
At Almedalen it was clear that a growing number of people and organizations realize the sustainability potential of digitalization, along with the importance of defining frameworks in a way that allows us to leverage that potential. This confirms my observation that we are entering a less tech-naïve era and developing a more mature view on the complexities that must be tackled before ICT can fully deliver on its considerable decarbonization promise.
The Carbon Law
Ericsson co-organized two seminars during Almedalen on the subject of the Carbon Law, which was introduced in the journal Science last year by a team of international researchers led by Professor Johan Rockström, head of the Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC). Inspired by Moore’s Law, the purpose of the Carbon Law is to gain the necessary momentum in the decarbonization process to meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement – that is, to strive for an average global temperature increase well below two degrees centigrade.
According to the Carbon Law, global climate gas emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest and thereafter decline by 50 percent each decade. In addition, the world must aim at rapidly scaling up technology for CO2removal. The beauty of the Carbon Law concept is that it is graspable and applicable at all levels: country-wide, within industries and at a personal level. Still, although the basic concept is easy to understand, to decarbonize at this speed and scale is obviously a challenge and requires bold action in the short term – at the same time leaving the fossil-dependent society behind also comes with a large business opportunity for those who innovate and scale solutions for a low carbon society.
The decarbonization of frontrunner companies
The first seminar we co-organized at Almedalen focused on the emission reductions already undertaken by some Swedish companies and the pathways ahead, with the Swedish network the Haga initiative as the main organizer. It was impressive to see so many companies from sectors like food, transportation and retail telling their carbon reduction stories and sharing the challenges they see in their serious ambition to continue towards carbon neutrality.
I explained that Ericsson has already halved the emissions of our operations by 50 percent during the period 2011-17, and that we have now taken on the challenge of an additional 35 percent reduction by 2022 in line with our approved Science Based Target. In addition, we have worked hard to reduce the energy consumption of our products, as it makes up an important part of our indirect emissions, and lies within our direct sphere of influence. Currently, we are aiming for an additional 35 percent reduction by 2022 in the energy consumption of our products, also with a target approved by the Science Based Target Initiative.
The Exponential Roadmap Project
The second seminar focused more directly on introducing the Carbon Law and the Exponential Roadmap Project in which we have partnered with Future Earth, World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC) and others to promote the Carbon Law. The aim is to support the Carbon Law by showing the trajectories to follow, the innovations and technology solutions that could help us to follow them, and the importance of policy frameworks needed to get us to decarbonize at sufficient speed. At the seminar it was great to see the engagement and interest among the participants – and we got some really good feedback that will help us forward toward the launch of the project in conjunction with the Global Climate Action Summit in September.
The Global Goals and the importance of 2022
At Almedalen I also took part in a panel discussion arranged by the 2022 initiative that focused on the 17 Global Goals, also known as the SDGs. 2022 is an important year for the goals, as it marks the halfway point to 2030 (when the goals should be reached). Obviously Goal 13 (climate action) goes hand in hand with our work on the Carbon Law, but we are also using the goals more broadly as a framework to understand the sustainability potential of different solutions – not least on the IoT side. Using 2022 as a mid-term checkpoint makes a lot of sense and is in line with our SBT targets.
On our way
Those of us working in the ICT sector are used to disruptions and exponential development, and I hope we can use our experience and innovation power to support the important work to get our planet back on track with regard to climate. As a company we are proud that we have already halved our emissions once and we are not stopping our efforts to further draw down emissions and scale up on climate innovations. To halve global emissions by 2030, there is no time to waste!