Friday, December 2, 2022

AI and the Green Agenda – A European Perspective 

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Vice President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili, Chair of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) hosted the ‘European Tech Futures Summit’ at the European Parliament (14-17 November 2022). The eclectic week included numerous events calling attention to the state of the European Union’s technological innovation, and debated the way forward in transforming the Union into a leader in the fields of green technologies and regulation, taking into account the EU’s climate and sustainability goals as well as the citizens’ fundamental rights. 

MEP Eva Kaili opened the week on 14th November 2022 with a trans-Atlantic and pan-European digital function that brought together Deutsche Bank’s Jennifer Courant, Head of Sustainability at the division for Technology, Data and Innovation as well as Centre for Digital Governance’s Prof. Joanna Bryson and the Centre for Sustainability’s Prof. Lynn Kaack at Hertie School in Berlin. 

The three topics discussed were the following: 

Why do we talk about sustainability and CSR during a European Tech Future Summit? 

Embedding sustainability in a firm’s strategy and throughout all its operations is not just a business imperative, it is an increasingly challenging requirement. Sustainability objectives are shaping business models, and technology and data will continue to be the enablers. It is one thing to set overall sustainability goals and commitments, it is far more nuanced to recognize all the elements and the important adjacencies – beyond carbon and environmental topics and driving towards a step change in diversity, equity, inclusion and governance. This is the ultimate transformation of business models for organizations, and importantly, their people. To show that caring for these goals can change the way we work, the impact we have and the ability for capital markets to not just keep the economy strong, but resilient and with a mindset of sustainability in the most positive, life impacting way. To lay out goals, build thoughtful execution roadmaps and do this through informed, data-led decisions – we need to make the most of data. Data, technology and artificial intelligence allow us to connect business strategy, day-to-day operations and sustainability goals into business transformation and decision making. 

Which is the tech, and tech policy innovations being developed within the EU to boost our green/sustainability/CSR agenda through AI, and other new technologies?  

The EU is developing a plethora of initiatives in order to provide frameworks for businesses to live up to the green transition goals whilst remaining competitive vis-à-vis other large markets. The EU merely in June 2021 set up the US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) as the USA remains our major partner for technological exchanges.  

Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain are high on the EU’s agenda, the latter owing to the European Parliament recent approval of the Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) regulation, wherein the technology’s energy efficiency was put under the microscope by parliamentarians. The EU approach to AI regulation is forthcoming, yet it is reasonable to expect that sustainably compliant products shall be promoted. As a matter of fact, the European Union is already preparing a new proposal for a Corporate Sustainable Due Diligence Directive encouraging large businesses to anchor human rights and environmental considerations in their operations; trying not to overburden the SMEs but helping them to change their models. AI and other new technologies will likely fall hereunder. 

The World Economic Forum estimates that 70% of the new value created in the global economy over the next decade will be digitally enabled; AI, Big Data, Cloud, and blockchain will be major players, and the European Union is sparing no effort in setting green and sustainable standards from the outset through our regulation. 

How can we use AI to bring ourselves forward in our sustainable, environmental and social goals as a Union?   

Without question, the sustainability agenda is humanity’s most essential, because without our own persistence none of our other long-term goals can be achieved. The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often confused to mean “humanlike”, which historically, was even tied up with “divine” and other supernatural links. But framed as the subset of intelligent agencies for which humans are responsible for the construction and design, we can see why AI is not only something that can be regulated, but also that it can be used as part of the global approach to sustainability.  

The need to act on climate change has become more important than ever, and it is only one of many urgent sustainability goals. As the field of artificial intelligence, in particular machine learning, is developing rapidly we need to choose a path where AI tools are primarily deployed in ways that align with our sustainability objectives. AI can for example aid in designing new built infrastructure, optimizing energy systems to become greener, and provide better access to social services.  

Such changes will require not only technological but also cultural and political innovation. Governance is essential for implementing strategies that benefit all. We need to not just accommodate but fully embrace goals that are sustainable, and exclude the unsustainable. This includes embracing fairness, since unfair policies will never be stable. New technologies need to be accessible and beneficial for all, and this requires a conscious effort by society, industry, and politics. Now is a critical time to ensure that AI will help us as a Union to move towards a more sustainable future. 

For further information  

Vice President Eva Kaili – European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/125109/EVA_KAILI/homehttps://www.evakaili.gr 

Deutsche Bank Innovation Network: https://www.db.com/what-we-do/responsibility/sustainability/https://www.db.com/what-next/digital-disruption/better-than-humans/ 

Hertie School Centre for Digital Governance: https://www.hertie-school.org/en/centre-for-digital-governance  

Hertie School Centre for Sustainability: https://www.hertie-school.org/en/sustainability  

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