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Towards a green, competitive and resilient EU economy: How can digitalisation help?

Green & Digital Transition / DISCUSSION PAPER
Annika Hedberg , Stefan Sipka

Date: 13/07/2020
EU leaders stress the importance of the green transition and digital transformation and consider it crucial to the EU's recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Rightly so. Aligning the EU's green and digital transition policies carries enormous potential and should become central to the Union's efforts to create a competitive and sustainable climate-neutral economy. 

The European Commission's Green Deal proposal – supported by, for example, the Industrial Strategy, the Circular Economy Action Plan and Digital Strategy – already recognises that the two transitions are closely linked. But the EU should go a step further. It should lead the way and ensure that digitalisation enhances environmental protection and climate action and that the digital sector becomes greener. 

The findings in this paper are the result of a year-long EPC research project commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). It puts forward three recommendations for the EU to get the most out of the EU's sustainability and digital agendas: 

  1. Create a European 'data space' to accompany the implementation of the Green Deal. The aim should be to optimise the management and analysis of data relevant to climate action and the protection of the environment. Reducing barriers to the free flow of information across value chains will also be vital, as that will enable the development of a sustainable circular economy.

  2. Develop and deploy digital solutions to support and accelerate the greening of our economy and society. This entails investing in digital solutions that can help to enhance climate neutrality, sustainable consumption and production, zero pollution efforts and biodiversity.

  3. Address the negative environmental and climate impact of digitalisation. The EU must ensure that its digital infrastructure becomes more sustainable. It should introduce requirements and financial incentives for developing and deploying ICT equipment that is circular and energy-efficient. 

It is in the EU's interest to use the COVID-19 crisis to start building the conditions for people and businesses to emerge from this crisis stronger, with the capacities to face the next one. It is essential to build on Europe's strengths and use all the tools available – including digitalisation – throughout this process. The EU must turn the ongoing digital transition into a catalyst for creating a sustainable economy, an enabler for the green transformation.

This paper, prepared for Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, serves to inform EU member states’ ministers of the environment on the rationale and prospects for aligning the EU’s sustainability and digitalisation agendas. It summarises the main findings and policy recommendations of the European Policy Centre’s (EPC) project ‘Digitalisation and Sustainability’, which was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and carried out between 2019 and 2020. 

Read the full paper here
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