Emerging Technologies

How information tech can address challenges in climate change and education

cellular telecommunications mast in a rural area. Information communications technology (ICT) can play an important role when it comes to sustainability

Information communications technology (ICT) can play an important role when it comes to sustainability. Image: Ericsson

Heather Johnson
Vice-President, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Ericsson
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Emerging Technologies

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  • Information communications technology (ICT) has already changed the world and can play a major role in driving sustainability.
  • Ericsson's technology solutions have been used both to tackle climate change and education challenges across the world.
  • These solutions highlight how communication and connectivity are vital tools in tackling some of the world's biggest societal issues.

When I wrote my MBA thesis on the promise of mobile communications technology back in the early 1990s, I could never have imagined how much that decision would impact my life and, more importantly, how much the technology would impact the world.

For over two decades, I have been part of Ericsson, a company at the forefront of information and communications technology (ICT), which keeps people and industries connected.

The creation of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) further highlighted the important role the ICT sector plays in driving sustainability.

Ericsson’s collaboration with the Earth Institute at Columbia University highlighted the potential of ICT to underpin the achievement of every goal. And since the SDGs were launched in 2015, we’ve been working with customers and in public-private partnerships to make that promise a reality – and to tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time.

Information and communications technology can play a key role in tackling climate change

We are coming out of summer 2022, one that has been marked with some of the most remarkable and distinctive weather I have seen in my lifetime.

Temperatures in many places have lingered around 100F (37.8C) or higher for days, even weeks. Nearly 660,000 hectares of European land have already been destroyed by fires this year, according to EU data.

An early heat wave that hit India and Pakistan this year – causing at least 90 deaths – was about 30 times more likely to happen because of climate change, according to an analysis. This extreme weather is the clearest signal of climate change – and will get even worse over the next 30 years.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Let me give you a few examples of current cases around from Ericsson where we’re putting our ICT solutions to work around the globe when it comes to SDG Goal 13: taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Mangroves, for instance, can store large amounts of carbon for long periods. And, unlike rainforests, which store carbon in biomass and release it when the trees die, mangroves store most of the carbon in their soil and sediment. If undisturbed, it stays there for millennia. These ecosystems are crucial.

However, the effects of climate change has had a devastating effect on the mangrove populations. In Malaysia, only about 40% of mangrove seedlings reach maturity because of issues such as lack of water.

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Ericsson’s Connected Mangroves project, which uses IoT and mobile connectivity to help create healthier mangrove ecosystems.

This is where Ericsson’s Connected Mangroves comes into play – with the importance of the programme highlighted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at COP23.

Since 2015, Ericsson has been planting mangrove saplings in Malaysia that are connected with sensors, enabling real-time monitoring of the mangrove plantation conditions.

Thanks to this ICT, the team has managed to double the percentage of mangroves that successfully reach maturity—from 40% to 80% – leading to complete reforestation.

Another concrete solution is the Ericsson 5G Smart Factory in Texas, which has been designated a Sustainability Lighthouse by the World Economic Forum for pioneering sustainability achievements – one of only three factories in the world to have this designation.

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The Ericsson 5G Smart Factory is pioneering sustainability achievements.

Once again, the power of ICT connectivity comes into play when we look at the information we are able to access with sensors.

We gather vast amounts of real-time data collected through a network of hundreds of sensors connected via the factory’s private cellular network to improve efficiency gains and reduce the factory’s energy consumption by as much as 5%.

How ICT can address the education challenge

At the same time, as the world faces climate change, society is also in the middle of a learning crisis. Even before COVID-19 hit, UNESCO estimated that 260 million children between the ages of five and 16 received no schooling.

Many schools tried to transition to remote learning during COVID-19. However, in 2020, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) stated that 369 million young people don’t have internet access, leaving them completely isolated when it comes to accessing education remotely. If measures aren’t taken to equip people to take advantage of the digital future properly, vulnerable children and youth will be left behind.

This learning crisis really illustrates the importance of galvanizing all sectors of society to achieve SDG 4: ensuring inclusive quality education for all.

Closing the education divide requires a range of solutions – and ICT has an important part to play. Access to connectivity is the most fundamental requirement. When a young person has access to connectivity and through that the internet, that individual will be exposed to opportunities beyond their home and school.

At Ericsson, we are working to close the school connectivity gap through our support of UNICEF and the ITU’s Giga initiative. Giga aims to connect every school in the world to the internet by 2030, and by doing so connect every young person to information, opportunity and choice.

Ericsson is providing connectivity intelligence and data science capabilities, as well as financial support. This helps to provide an understanding of where connectivity is needed the most – a vital first step of Giga.

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Of course, connecting the schools is not enough. There is a huge need for the development and equipment of digital skills. Through Ericsson’s flagship ICT and education programme, Connect To Learn, we have been supporting the delivery of a quality 21st-century education and providing young people worldwide with digital connectivity, tools and skills.

However, the scale of the education challenge is huge and there is much more to do – and no one entity can solve the issue alone. That’s why we believe in the power of public-private partnerships and we’re partnering with our customers and organizations, such as the Broadband Commission, the World Economic Forum’s Edison Alliance, UNESCO and UNICEF, to drive greater digital inclusion.

It makes this year’s Transforming Education Summit (TES) a critical convening by the UN. Bringing together global, national and local education leaders, it offers an opportunity for inclusive and effective global dialogue what we need to do to reverse the slide on progress towards SDG4.

Technology and public-private partnerships are vital

Climate change and the digital divide are global challenges that impact the sustainable development of society. Technology alone is not a cure-all, but it can be a powerful enabler to sustainable development.

We can only realize this promise through collective action of the public and private sector. That is exactly what we will be focusing at Global Goals Week and NY Climate Week on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.

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How is the World Economic Forum fostering a sustainable and inclusive digital economy?

We will be meeting our partners and customers, to explore ways that technology solutions can help meet the challenges of our times.

Ericsson was founded almost 150 years ago on the belief that communication is a basic human need. Fast forward to today, and we see that communication and connectivity is a key enabler to solving critical societal challenges. We are bringing together ICT with purpose and partnerships for progress, to deliver solutions for lasting and positive change.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Emerging TechnologiesClimate Change
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