The Internet of Things meets climate policy

March 2016

Last year ended with global consensus to combat climate change. And this year began with a framework for action, in Davos.

A convergence of this magnitude is an invitation to reimagine the way public policy is co-created, how agreements are forged, and to unlock systems-change that reflects the complexity of our modern society.

The World Economic Forum’s theme in Davos last month was on a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) to describe how disruption, innovation and digital transformation have become the new engines of the global economy. And, in turn, how networks are digitized in ways that have transformed interactions between individuals, business and the public sector alike.

These buzzwords are commonplace in association with cutting edge ventures typically associated with the private sector but they are now seeping into development and governance considerations too.

This was most recently evident at the COP21 in Paris upon completion of the Climate Agreement. Historic not only in outcome, but also in approach, it was a remarkable example of problem solving at a global scale. Nearly 200 countries showed commitment to charting a common path to tackle climate change; signalling an end to business-as-usual and ensuring future investments are compatible with a carbon neutral world.

And they did so by breaking with convention and ‘disrupting’ the traditional practice of multilateral negotiations.

As a starting point, penalties and elaborate legal mechanisms were not enlisted to ensure participation and compliance by governments. No. Instead national governments were asked to individually submit domestic climate actions, and to make their commitments more ambitious every five years.

This shows an approach designed to employ transparency and incentivize a ‘race to the top’ through collective competition. It also reflects a common sense of shared ownership and purpose the world could use more of in international deliberations.

To the point of inclusiveness, the text also called on parties to reach beyond governments and incorporate so called ‘non state actors’ to complement the strengths of the public sector. In this context, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is a good illustration. This large-scale public-private-partnership filled a crucial climate-financing gap through billions in pledges by philanthropists willing to invest in a clean energy future.

In addition to infusing a multitude of stakeholders in the negotiation process, the Agreement wisely leverages technology and innovation as enablers to scale low carbon growth. This is crucial to driving financial activity away from fossil fuels and resource consumption, to maximizing efficiencies that redirect national interests sustainably.

So what’s next for the climate agreement?

Procedurally 196 countries adopted it last December. Now it must be ratified, or signed, by at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC representing at least 55 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. In so doing, countries consent to be bound by the Agreement and it will enter into force. Heads of State have one year to sign from April of this year.

And the journey continues on The Road Through Paris. Vested parties have a mandate to prioritize and aggressively address climate action, building from cities up to national governments and international bodies, alongside academia, civil society and business.

These antidotes from Paris should leave us optimistic about an injection of dynamism into dated global governance models, and a willingness of the public sector to work collaboratively whilst embracing digital innovation.

As the Internet of Things fuses with policy and subsequently climate change, we’re observing a generational shift that lays the foundation for inclusive and sustainable development models in the future.

This article first appeared on Virgin Unite.

Lara Birkes is Chief Sustainability Officer at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. She is a member of the E15 Expert Group on Agriculture, Trade and Food Security and is a Senior Fellow at ICTSD.

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