How climate change can benefit from mobilization and digitalization

On April 22, billions of people will mobilize worldwide in transformative action for our planet. This year, Earth Day is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Emelie Öhlander reviews how far we’ve come in reducing climate change and what more still needs to be done.

Cityscape with moving transport

Climate Action Program Manager

Climate Action Program Manager

Category & Hashtags

The first Earth Day started in the US in 1970, and brought together millions of Americans to demand increased protection of our environment. In 1990, it leveraged the power of digital media to build mobilization on a global scale. Today, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it will be held online, and will focus on Climate Action, which is the theme for this year’s event.

Fifty years of an environmental movement sure sounds like a long time, but we still face pressing environmental challenges. However, it’s easy to miss all the changes that have been made for the better thanks to these grassroots movements. For example, Earth day spurred the action that led to the development of The U.S. Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which led to many other countries following the same path and creating their own respective national EPAs.

In Sweden, where I was born, we created our Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL) in 1966 and in 1967 – our Swedish EPA. It was badly needed due to the large environmental degradation caused by the country’s heavy industrialization boom after the Second World War. The IVL started with a mission to investigate the forest industry emissions of fiber, organic compounds, mercury and sulfur dioxide. This led to the development of The Environmental Protection Act in 1969. For both IVL and our Swedish EPA, it’s been a long time – 50 years of dealing with water and air pollution. We’ve had several large-scale environmental problems facing us, including acidified soils, overfertilization, pollution, gravely polluted streams and bodies of water. We still have many problems to solve, but for those of us who grew up in the 1990s, we’ve been able to enjoy clean water, and forests that have started to recover from the crisis of the post war boom.

So, 50 years have made a difference. But what’s our timescale now that we face a global threat like climate change, while at the same time trying to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic?

The impact of 1.5 degrees and what it means

In 2018, The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 C , describing the changes between global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The report states that human activities have been estimated to have already caused approximately 1.1.°C warming above pre-industrial levels as a global average, which means that some regions have experienced an even larger increase in temperatures. We can already see impacts on natural and human systems from global warming, where many land and ocean ecosystems have changed.

The report also outlines quite meticulously a world with a 1.5°C increase versus a 2°C increase. In short, climate-related risks for natural and human systems will be worse with global warming at 1.5°C than present, but will be significantly less than a 2°C warming. The risks of course will depend on the magnitude and rate of warming, geographical locations, and will depend on the resilience of society.

The differences include increased average temperatures in most land and ocean regions, and a severe impact on biodiversity and ecosystems, including species and extinction, heavy precipitation in several regions, and a rise in sea levels. The projections of global average sea level rise (relative to 1986–2005) suggest an indicative range of a rise of 26cm up to 77cm by 2100 for 1.5°C of global warming, which is 10cm less than it would be for a global warming of 2°C.

We’ll also feel the impact on economic growth, which will also be lower for an increase of 1.5°C, compared to 2°C. And if a rise from 1.5°C to 2°C does happen, countries in the tropics and southern hemisphere subtropics are projected to experience the largest impact on their economic growth.

Additional global annual average energy-related investments for the period 2016 to 2050 in pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C, compared to pathways without new climate policies beyond those in place today, are estimated to be around USD 830 billion. But as this is the average, the models also predict a cost of up to USD 1700 billion.

Johan Rockström, Director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), discusses how telecommunications companies play a key role in tackling climate change through innovation.

What is required?

To limit global warming to 1.5°C the report states that net anthropogenic CO2 emissions need to decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and must reach net zero around 2050. For the 2°C scenario, CO2 emissions are projected to decline by about 25% by 2030 and reach net zero around 2070.

You may think that 2050 or 2070 is a long way away, and yes, to a certain extent, it is. The year 2050 is 30 years away, which is my whole lifetime. But for these projections, the common factor is that a major part of these reductions need to be done within the first 10 years, as the climatic system is already unstable, and everything we can do to reduce emissions now will be worth much more in the future. Essentially, we need to make a huge transition in the next 10 years, so it’s crucial that we act now.

In the Exponential Roadmap initiative, which Ericsson was a lead partner in developing, it clarifies that we need to halve emissions every decade in addition to using nature-based carbon sinks that draw carbon out of the atmosphere through good soil management and tree planting, for example. And as the IPCC states in its report, the way to limit global warming to 1.5°C would require a rapid and far reaching transition in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings) as well our industrial systems.

Halving emissions on a global scale until 2030, and within 10 years, is an exponential scale action that will be a huge challenge. Global companies play a crucial part in the mission to halve their own emissions during the next 10 years. For companies that have more financial capabilities, the transition needs to go even faster, and they must aim to replicate this target into their value chain, upstream as well as downstream.

Despite this massive challenge, I sense that the world today has the mindset needed for this fast transition. Innovation today is so grounded in sustainability, and approaches that consider many environmental aspects of a product or solution. Yes, some companies are better than others – but that’s why we, as consumers, need to take an active interest in the businesses we support with our money when we consume products and services, or when we invest our savings and pension funds.

The sectorial pathways needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, according to the Exponential Roadmap

The sectorial pathways needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, according to the Exponential Roadmap

A good start: the European Green Deal

For countries, this change is even more pressing. Wealthy nations need to make a faster transition, trying to halve their emissions in less than 10 years. But many countries do have a net-zero goal set with the Paris Agreement and the IPCC report on securing net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. However, the time to act is now if we’re to meet these goals.

The European Union (EU), has recently started its major shift with the European Green Deal. Launched in 2019, it’s presented as ‘a new growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use.’

According the Green Deal, the EU has already reduced emissions by 23% while growing the economy by 61% between 1990 and 2018. However, it also states that current polices will only reduce emissions by roughly 60% by 2050. In its 2030 Climate Target Plan, which is currently out for public consultation, the Commission presents the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reductions target for 2030, which aims to be at least 50% down and towards 55% compared with 1990 levels. This might sound okay, but it’s not. As stated in the IPCC report and the Exponential Roadmap, global emissions need to have peaked by now, as we must now begin to reduce global emissions annually. By having a goal with a 1990 baseline, which already includes the emission reductions made, the EU is not being ambitious enough. The 23% reduced between 1990 and 2018 is great, but the EU should increase its 2030 ambition further with a new baseline year for its 2030 target.

Even though the Green Deal is not as ambitious as we would like – something that has been pointed out by Sweden’s favorite activist, Greta Thunberg – it’s still a great deal, and is clearly a huge EU investment. In fact, it will be the largest EU-based investment pack and initiative ever implemented, and with the current COVID-19 crisis, it might allow for the development of a framework that guides financial crisis packages into a greener direction too. For example, developing new approaches to decarbonization when jobs and livelihoods are threatened.

The power of digitalization in tackling a crisis

The ICT sector has provided us with the tools to create a globally connected world, where information and knowledge sharing is limitless. Of course, we need to address the downside of the problem too: security, privacy, and particularly, the spread of online misinformation. However, as with most innovations, this can be used for both good and evil.

In the situation we have today, during a huge pandemic, and where life in quarantine has become the new normal for millions, I would personally like to thank the ICT sector. The economy would have been hit even harder if we didn’t have the possibility to access things like distance learning and working from home. And of course, it’s also allowed us to maintain contact with friends and family through digital initiatives and virtual gatherings. For me, quarantine life would have been much more challenging without the wonders of digital communication.

It’s safe to say that digitalization has been crucial in this time of crisis, which leads me to believe that if we use digitalization in the right way, with dedicated action and continuous innovation, we can make a huge change across society. First, governments can create the necessary frameworks to use connectivity for the decarbonization for our societies. Secondly, companies can leverage this opportunity to expand existing solutions exponentially and innovate in a way that creates even further decarbonization. And thirdly, what can an everyday citizen like us do? We need to realize that we can make a huge change in our daily lives for the common good of our society and the planet. We have already shown, through how quickly we’ve adapted to new common actions and our use of digital technologies, that we can achieve a lot with what we already have.

It’s important to remember too that we’re a species that always looks for solutions when we’re faced with problems. It’s from here that innovation is truly born. And, like Earth Day, which kicked off 50 years ago, when we’re faced with a challenge, we come together to take action that creates impact ­– both big and small. It all makes a difference. We just need to start NOW.

Learn more

If you live in the EU, and want to make a difference, please read and review the Climate Target Plan that’s currently up for public consultation until June 2020.

Find out how Ericsson is involved in climate action.

Read Emelie’s previous blog post about climate action and collaboration.

Read more about the European Green Deal.

The Ericsson Blog

Like what you’re reading? Please sign up for email updates on your favorite topics.

Subscribe now

At the Ericsson Blog, we provide insight to make complex ideas on technology, innovation and business simple.