Smart and sustainable: How can Digital help the green transition?

Speakers: Klesper Birgit, Gigler Björn-Sören, Berrutto Vincent, Fuhr Lise, Neves Luis, Ferber Markus, Barteková Eva
Moderator: Ingenrieth Anja

On the 12 July of 2021, PubAffairs Bruxelles organised an afternoon session on the role of ICT in finding smart and sustainable solutions for the green transition with Mr Vincent Berrutto, Head of Innovation, Research, Digitalisation and Competitiveness, European Commission – DG ENER, Mr Markus Ferber MEP (EPP/DE), Ms Lise Fuhr, Director General, European Telecommunication Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), Mr Luis Neves, CEO of the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Ms Eva Barteková, Policy Analyst, Environment Directorate, Environment & Economy Integration Division, OECD.

Ms Birgit Klesper, SVP Group Corporate Responsibility, Deutsche Telekom, gave an introductory speech.

Dr Björn-Sören Gigler, Senior Digital Innovation Officer, European Commission – DG CNECT, and Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University, held a keynote speech.

This event was moderated by Ms Anja Ingenrieth, Vice President, European Affairs – Brussels, Deutsche Telekom.

Anja Ingenrieth presented the issues at stake in the debate and introduced Ms Birgit Klesper before giving her the floor.

Birgit Klesper began her introductory speech by emphasising that climate neutrality is deeply intertwined with the digital transition of the EU’s economy. This approach is reflected in Deutsche Telekom’s (DT) corporate strategy, which has put sustainability at the core of its business activity. The speaker went into detail about the business strategy of Deutsche Telekom, which she described as driven by the concept of “acting responsibly”. Ms Klesper went ahead by explaining that Deutsche Telekom is not only aiming to offer the best communication network possible, but also pays particular attention to reducing the carbon footprint of business activities.

Subsequently, Ms Klesper stated that the goal of DT’s climate protection strategy is to reach net-zero emissions from its own business activities by the year 2025. Deutsche Telekom fosters the use of 100% renewable electricity for the whole group by this year, the energy need in Germany having already been covered by renewable electricity in 2020. Ms Klesper also highlighted how the company was able to cut its emissions by 64% between 2008 and 2020. This exceeded its original goal of 20% by utilising renewable energy and reducing its overall energy consumption, despite the roll-out of new infrastructures. Furthermore, she explained that in 2020 Telekom customers saved 7 times more CO2 emission by using DT products and solutions than the Group itself emitted.

The speaker went on to refer to the “Green Magenta Programme”, which seeks to address climate change through resource efficiency with special regard to sustainable packaging, reducing plastics, as well as facilitating circular networks. Regarding sustainable packaging, the speaker emphasised that all newly launched T-branded products are already sustainably packaged and the goal is to reach 100% circular, biodegradable and toxic-free packaging of third party devices by 2023. In this context, she pointed out how Deutsche Telekom joined forces with its competitors, creating an industry-wide eco-labelling methodology for mobile devices, with both the aim of fostering informed consumer choices and encouraging suppliers to enhance their environmental standards. Ms Klesper concluded her introductory speech by reiterating the efforts made by Deutsche Telekom in terms of reducing its own emission footprint and resource usage, while offering smart solutions that enable other industries to become more climate-friendly.

The moderator subsequently introduced the keynote speaker of the debate, Dr Björn-Sören Gigler and gave him the floor.

Dr Björn-Sören Gigler began his keynote speech by highlighting that, even though climate change and digitalisation have been an important topic since the 1990s, it was the Covid-19 crisis that demonstrated that digitalisation has become an indispensable and an integral part of programmes across all sectors and our daily lives. He proceeded to explain that it is crucial to combine digitalisation and sustainability and pointed at its cross-sectoral impact. Dr Gigler elaborated on this topic by stating that the policy debate often focuses on a few sectors, in particular on the energy sector, while other areas such as agriculture, mobility and construction are equally important for the reduction of the overall CO2 emission output. Moreover, he explained that the focus should lie more on both the production of goods and services and their consumption alike: in order to address the challenges of the climate crisis, digital solutions offer unprecedented opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance the sustainability of the economy. The speaker also emphasised the critical role of consumers and that behavioural changes will be needed when tackling the question of sustainability. Therefore, it is key to develop multi-stakeholder approaches that form strong alliances between governments, industry, SMEs, civil society and citizens.

Dr Gigler moved on by stressing that, even though the digital sector holds a share of 5 to 7% of the overall energy consumption, digital solutions can be displayed as an enabler for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 20%. The speaker from DG CNECT consequently urged for a holistic approach in pairing digital and sustainable efforts by giving digital solutions a meaningful purpose. He further stated that digital solutions have been successfully used to improve efficiency and productivity in several industrial sectors and that it is critical to give digitalisation a sustainable purpose. This process, however, requires a radical rethinking of business models that are based on highly innovative and sustainable solutions and business processes, he continued, which gives an opportunity to differentiate European companies from their global competitors, such as Chinese and US companies.

Dr Gigler subsequently described what he considered to be the main challenge of Europe in this regard, namely, how to transfer the EU’s excellence in science and innovation to marketable solutions. This “commercialisation gap” is mainly caused during two stages of the development of digital technologies: the early and the scale-up phases.

In order to address both the opportunities and challenges of the digital and green transformation, the European Commission has developed programs both on making ICTs more sustainable, on the one hand, and developing digital solutions for climate action, on the other hand. The speaker went into detail by listing the Commission’s fields of activity in this area, such as climate neutrality, energy efficiency, circular economy, and highlighted the Circular Electronics Initiative and the European Processor Initiative as important aspects of EU policies. Additionally, the speaker also emphasised how 5G connectivity can help enable the climate neutrality of networks and reduce the carbon footprint of the digital sector as such.

Dr Gigler further stated that the Digital Product Passport, which can exploit the potential of blockchain technology to track and measure the carbon footprint of goods, fosters transparency with regard to their environmental impact. He explained that this tool gives consumers the possibility to make more ecological choices, while digital technologies could be paired with monetary or fiscal incentives for the sustainable behaviour of citizens that could help reduce CO2 emissions.

With regard to the Green Digital Transformation Declaration, Dr Gigler explained that 24 EU Member States and Norway have committed themselves to investing more in digital green technologies and to adopt a regulatory framework that promotes the development and production of these technologies.

Furthermore, the speaker pointed out that the telecommunications sector has a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Regarding the European Green Digital Coalition, Dr Gigler stated that 30 companies have agreed to aim for carbon neutrality and to develop a taxonomy to measure these efforts. In this context, he stated that that the European Commission has started to work with the European Parliament on a pilot programme to find a methodology that allows measuring the impact of digital solutions as an enabler of sustainability. Finding a methodological framework that is commonly agreed upon is particularly important when it comes to avoiding “greenwashing” practices, the speaker from the Commission added.

He further stressed that, while the European Green Digital Coalition is mainly composed of large companies, it becomes crucial to increase cooperation with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups.

Finally, Dr Gigler highlighted the need for more investment in green digital solutions and technologies. Against the background of a global market volume of 19 billion euros in clean technologies, the investment in this field currently amounts to only 3 to 4 billion euros. The speaker stressed the disparity between climate change as a priority on the political agenda and the lack of willingness to invest in respective solutions.

He subsequently referred to the Digital Clean Tech Investment Initiative that was launched by Commissioner Thierry Breton in March 2021 as a dedicated programme to support the development of digital cleantech solution. This initiative was put forward as a response to the assessment made by experts of the United Nations (UN), which indicates that the cutting-edge technologies are not sufficient to reach climate objectives. Dr Gigler underlined the risk that is inherent in the development of clean technologies which, unlike apps or software, take up to five years to reach the final stage of development.

With regard to the InvestEU Programme, the speaker from DG CNECT stressed the need for the Commission, Member States, international financial institutions and national promotional banks to pool resources to raise the necessary funds for cleantech development. He then concluded his keynote speech by calling for a coalition of all relevant stakeholders to realise the potential of digital solutions for climate action.

Anja Ingenrieth presented the panel and began the discussion by asking Vincent Berrutto what policy actions the “Fit for 55” package will entail.

Mr Vincent Berrutto began his reply by elaborating on the follow-up on the EU policy initiatives which followed the proposal of the European Green Deal in December 2019 up to the recent adoption of the European Climate Law. The latter, he stated, added the objective of carbon neutrality of the EU by 2050 to the legislation and entailed the intermediate target of reducing CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Regarding the “Fit for 55” package, he explained, the European Commission is about to present the most comprehensive set of legislative initiatives in the field of climate and energy proposed thus far. He continued by explaining that the package will contain the Revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Revision of the Renewable Energy Directive whose targets will be updated according to the new ambitions but it will also propose new measures to use renewable energy sources, as well as increasing energy efficiency.

Mr Berrutto further stated that the EU Emission Trading System (EU ETS) will be expanded to cover further sectors and that part of the revenues stemming from the ETS will be used for poverty reduction and stimulating innovation. Additionally, the speaker drew attention to the update of the Effort Sharing Regulation (ERS) that will align national targets with the ambition of EU Climate Law. He subsequently elaborated on the transport sector, which has the potential for major energy efficiency gains, as well as for emission reduction through the uptake of renewable fuels. In this context, Mr Berrutto also pointed at the revision of the Regulation setting CO₂ emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles which he expects to have a major impact on the 2030 climate goals. The speaker from the Commission also highlighted the revision of the energy taxation Directive and the new Regulation on Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.

Mr Berrutto went on to touch upon the measures that are included in the “Fit for 55” package to foster the natural removal of carbon dioxide through land use and forestry improvements. Giving an outlook on the measures planned beyond the package, the speaker mentioned the adoption of the Revision of the energy performance of Buildings Directive, the gas decarbonisation package, as well as the measures to reduce methane emission from the energy sector.

He subsequently called for constructive negotiations on the various files of the “Fit for 55” package between the European Parliament and the Council.

The speaker from DG ENER also went into detail by expanding on the diverse solutions to improve the carbon footprint of the ICT sector. Among others, energy-efficient cooling systems, the reuse of emitted heat, as well as the use of renewable energy sources for making data centres more carbon neutral. Mr Berrutto concluded by describing public procurement as a tool to increase the energy efficiency of data centres and stressed the opportunity given to the public sector to lead the green and digital transitions by example.

Ms Anja Ingenrieth moved on by asking Mr Markus Ferber MEP about the issue of carbon leakage and the potential risk of deindustrialising Europe.

Mr Markus Ferber MEP began by drawing attention to the fact that a decarbonised industry comes with high financial costs, and adding revenues would decrease over time if it were created outside the EU. He then expressed doubts over the effectiveness of taxing products from third countries according to their carbon footprint while the EU industry decarbonises. In this context, Mr Ferber named the compatibility of the new CBAM with WTO standards as a key challenge of new legislation and warned against the risks of both retaliatory measures by third countries and the fact that the competitiveness of the EU may be seriously damaged. He also remarked that the European industry has to be given a real chance to develop clean technologies and raised the question of whether the industry is exploiting possible synergies between the various sectors of the EU industry to the full extent possible.

Against this background, the MEP called for the promotion of a neutral technology, regulatory and business environment that will be able to generate new opportunities for European companies. Only if the EU can find an approach that creates new opportunities while reducing the inherent risks of decarbonising EU industry, it will be possible to prevent deindustrialisation in the EU, the speaker stated. He concluded his remarks by drawing attention to the approach followed by the United States where the development of clean technologies is fostered in a different way compared to the EU, which, according to the MEP, has a bureaucratic rather than a business-friendly approach to the greening of the industry.

The moderator then asked Ms Lise Fuhr and Ms Eva Barteková about their expectations for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) regarding the set-up of an international carbon price.

Ms Eva Barteková replied by commending the international efforts that were undertaken to address climate change and highlighted the need for further global cooperation, financial investment and faster implementation of the existing commitments. She subsequently stressed the problems countries face while implementing the CO2 reduction. In this regard, the speaker urged for clear and precise monitoring that would help in terms of tracking implementation efforts on the one hand, and levelling up climate ambitions on the other hand. The expanded version of the OECD’s Environment at Glance platform gives access to about 50 climate change-related indicators, interactive graphics and key messages on major environmental issues.

Ms Barteková further stressed how the Covid-19 crisis and the response to the crisis have to be aligned with climate ambitions, as the OECD Green Recovery Database has shown that the recovery measures tagged as environmentally positive made up only about a fifth of total estimated COVID-19 recovery spending announced by 43 countries examined. This database has also unveiled that another fifth of measures had mixed or negative environmental impacts, the speaker concluded.

Ms Lise Fuhr began her reply by emphasising that the EU has to take up its role as a climate leader and should seize the opportunity provided by the COP26 to foster international cooperation, with special regard to the new US administration. Additionally, she remarked that digitalisation should be put at the core of the discussion on climate, as it has proven to be an effective enabler of emission reduction goals. Quoting an ETNO report, Ms Fuhr explained that a complete roll-out of 5G and fibre broadband would make it possible to reduce emissions in the EU by 15%. She concluded her remarks by calling on all stakeholders to embrace the opportunities ahead and to take action for greenhouse gas reduction.

Ms Anja Ingenrieth proceeded by asking Mr Luis Neves on the implications of the green and digital transitions regarding both the role of the EU as a geopolitical actor and its global competitiveness, with special regard to the US and China.

Mr Luis Neves replied by putting the approach of global climate leadership into context. While the EU Green Deal gives the EU the opportunity of climate leadership, the speaker emphasised that this legislative initiative has to be approached seriously also when it comes to financial commitments. Furthermore, he expressed his concern that an emission reduction of 55% by 2030 might not be ambitious enough and stated that he expects a revision of this goal in the next three years.

He went on to quote an IPCC report that indicated several thresholds which, once reached, would not allow a reversal of climate change, leaving globally millions of people exposed to its devastating effects. Mr Neves further explained that technology can offer solutions to the problem of climate change, as explained by a multitude of reports and analyses conducted by GeSI and its partner organisations. In order to provide a coordinated approach for fostering digital solutions to address climate change, GeSI launched the “Digital with purpose” initiative.

Mr Neves proceeded by stressing the three focal points that enable climate leadership in the industry. As a first step, companies need to revise the purpose of their activities and embed sustainability into their core business, he stated. A second priority, he continued, is to enhance the companies’ own responsibilities and identify the area in which they are able to contribute the most to climate change mitigation. Finally, it is crucial to take on the enabling effects of technologies to foster innovation in the so-called cleantech sector, he added.

Moving on from these considerations, the speaker from GeSI emphasised that companies need to turn their promises into reality when climate change is at stake. He further stated that the green and digital transitions should not be motivated by financial gains, but by the goal of upholding liveable conditions on our planet. This is only achievable, the speaker added, if the industry is able to move from a monetary approach to a sustainability-driven approach. Mr Neves concluded his remarks by stressing that increased sustainability will eventually result in financial success and the EU’s industrial leadership over the US and China.

The moderator moved forward with the debate by asking Dr Björn-Sören Gigler about the risks of the EU falling behind other major players in key clean technologies.

Dr Björn-Sören Gigler replied by highlighting the human-centred approach the European Commission is following while shaping the digital and green transitions. He elaborated on this aspect by going into detail about the evolution of the measurement of economic growth. Following the wellbeing-oriented approach postulated by Amartya Sen, economic growth depends not only on factors such as income and consumption, but also on sustainability. Digitalisation can play a critical role in enhancing the economic and human wellbeing of people in all aspects of their lives, as is being discussed in his book Development as Freedom in a Digital Age.

In this regard, the speaker remarked that the focus in Europe should be on a human-centred approach that leverages the power of digital innovations and develops public-private partnerships to work together towards reaching carbon neutrality of the economy and society overall. The challenge is much too large to be addressed by a single actor alone.

To clarify his argument, Dr Gigler took the example of the Investment Fund for Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain for which the Commission was able to raise 900 million euros from private investors. The speaker highlighted this example as a possible role model not only for the cleantech sector, but more broadly for the synergy between digital and green technologies. This is crucial, the speaker continued, as the standards for these technologies are being set in a very historical momentum. Moreover, he compared the current situation with the issue of mobile connectivity, a case in which Europe lost its leadership role before the 4G roll-out, leaving the subsequent development of 5G and 6G mainly to its global competitors. This situation brought attention to both the matter of digital citizens’ rights and the question of whether European citizens want to give foreign companies access to their private data, Dr Gigler added.

In response to the statements made by Mr Markus Ferber, the speaker from the Commission stressed that the EU has to take on a leadership role in innovation, which is not just to be perceived as a cost but as a means to increase the EU’s competitiveness. He further stated that the cleantech sector is currently undergoing a revolution that will determine whether Europe can strengthen its digital sovereignty or, as in the cases of the network economy or cloud services, fall behind its competitors in the US and China. Dr Gigler subsequently analysed that the EU, despite its high-quality research, is not able to commercialise these innovations, due to a lack of a favourable business environment. Indeed, he concluded, 45 % of European start-ups in the cleantech sector are considering relocating their business activities outside of the EU as a result of lacking investment.

Ms Anja Ingenrieth proceeded by asking Vincent Berrutto about the EU’s competitiveness in renewable energy and what contribution digital solutions can have to decarbonise the energy sector.

Mr Vincent Berrutto replied by drawing attention to the fact that clean technologies perform better than conventional technologies in terms of added value, labour productivity, employment and growth. He further remarked that the EU holds a leadership position in several key clean technologies and explained that 93% of the offshore energy capacity in the EU has been produced locally by European manufacturers. In addition, the EU has a strong position in onshore wind energy production, a market that has good growth prospects, given the increasing demand in third countries. Indeed, European companies and scientists active in this domain are market leaders in the value chain of digital and cleantech products, such as sensors and wind turbines. By way of example, the speaker listed ocean energy, a sector in which European companies hold 66 % of patents for tidal energy solutions and 44% for wave energy technologies, making European companies responsible for 70% of the global ocean energy capacity.

Mr Berrutto went ahead by referring to the Work Programme for Horizon Europe that will fund innovation and research in those sectors and subsequently agreed with Dr Gigler on the need to address the gap between innovation and commercialisation in the EU. In this context, he named the InvestEU programme that has an investment window for research, innovation and digitalisation and referred also to the European Innovation Council, which is supporting SMEs in overcoming the commercialisation gap. The speaker moved on by calling for improved market conditions along the lines of the New Industrial Strategy and the “Fit for 55” package.

Mr Berrutto subsequently went into detail about the issue of raw materials, which are crucial for digital and clean technologies. Over 80% of the global production of raw earth materials that are used to build permanent magnet generators that find application in electromobility and wind energy is located in China. This means a high vulnerability for Europe in the raw material sector, which was addressed by the European Commission with the Action Plan on Raw Materials and the creation of the European Raw Materials Alliance. These initiatives aim to prevent a dependency on raw material imports while reducing the Eu dependency on fossil fuels, Mr Berrutto added.

Concerning the question of utilising digital solutions in the energy sector, the speaker from the Commission stressed the high potential of digital technologies for every component of the energy system. He went into detail about the efficiency gains digital solutions have in the production of renewable energy, giving the example of the predicted maintenance of offshore wind turbines and the fast detection of problems in the electricity networks. More added value is generated through the empowerment of consumers as part of the energy transition, the speaker added. He moved on by emphasising the wide range of possibilities of digital solutions in the construction and renovation sector.

Moreover, Mr Berrutto stressed the crucial contribution of ICT to sector integration by better linking distributed energy generation, generation of renewable energy, smart grid, connected appliances and energy storage. In fact, interoperability and data sharing are key for energy system integration and can be used to create new services. This will allow new players to enter the energy market and develop new business models, the speaker explained. Mr Berrutto concluded by stating that, while exploiting the benefits of digital solutions, it is also crucial to preserve digital citizens’ rights, foster digital skills, address the issue of the digital divide, ensure data protection and improve cybersecurity to foster a swift implementation of digital and green technologies.

Ms Anja Ingenrieth followed up on these considerations by asking Ms Lise Fuhr whether she deems the companies in the ICT sector as providers of solutions for mitigating climate change or as part of the problem.

Ms Lise Fuhr replied by stressing the fact that, despite telecommunication companies also being responsible for their share of greenhouse gas emissions, digital infrastructure is an important enabler for greening the economy. She then highlighted positive examples within ETNO members which already today are carbon neutral in their production of services. Moreover, the ICT sector was able to facilitate services and network capacities that helped other sectors of the industry reduce emissions. Network operators are responsible for their own emissions, the speaker continued. However, it is the whole value chain of the ICT sector that has to be taken into consideration when it comes to mitigating greenhouse gases in their entirety. Ms Fuhr reiterated her call for higher investment in 5G and fibre networks to create enabling capacities for other sectors.

With reference to the statement made by Mr Markus Ferber, the speaker drew attention to the costs of maintaining and expanding infrastructure and urged EU Member States to increase their investment to facilitate the digital and green transition. On another note, Ms Fuhr stated that the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive is an effective tool to support a swift roll-out of green networks, although it requires time to be implemented. She consequently called upon the European Commission to urge the Member States to deploy the network infrastructure more rapidly.

Dr Björn-Sören Gigler replied by highlighting the importance of the adoption of new technologies by companies, with a particular focus on SMEs, and across society as such. He elaborated on this statement by explaining that, even though Europe is highly advanced in terms of robotics and smart industry applications, it is mainly big companies that commercialised these innovations, while SMEs were left behind. He went on by explaining that data from the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) showed the increasing digital divide between the EU’s regions. He then urged all stakeholders to support a holistic European approach in terms of digital infrastructure.

The moderator moved on to question Mr Luis Neves with regard to suitable strategies to maximise the enabling effect of the ICT sector to achieve the goals of the EU Green Deal.

Mr Luis Neves replied by referring to three reports published by GeSI in 2008, 2012 and 2015 respectively which showed the increase of the expected enabling potential of digital technologies from 5 to 20 %, which relates to an estimated business value of up to 11 trillion euros. He further stressed that digital technologies can have a positive impact on 22% of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are able to compensate 23% of negative trends affecting the SDGs.

He subsequently emphasised the need for more investment and explained that the positive effects of the digital transition are worth the additional energy consumption that will be required to facilitate this transition. Indeed, every increase in investments translates into an increase in enabling effects, Mr Neves added. Despite the conversation around reducing energy consumption being important, he continued, this debate should not impede an effective policy framework for the digital transition. He also called upon all involved stakeholders to find a common methodology to measure the enabling effects of digital solutions for greenhouse gas mitigation.

In terms of the taxation of carbon emissions, the speaker stressed the additional revenues that can be generated through the enabling effects of digital solutions and urged the international community to incorporate this discussion into the agenda of the upcoming COP26. Mr Neves also named the digital and energy sectors as the most crucial on the way to creating a low- carbon economy and asserted that they will also be the sectors which will gain the most from integration. He concluded by reiterating his call for more investment in digital technology that will eventually elevate the EU in a climate leadership role.

The moderator then asked Ms Eva Barteková about the role of the circular economy in accomplishing the green transition.

Ms Eva Barteková started by amending Mr Neves’ list of key domains for decarbonising the economy by adding the resource sector to the aforementioned digital and energy sectors. Against the background of an expected twofold increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, the current climate policy packages are estimated to deliver only around 50 % of the emissions reductions required to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, she stated. Given the context of increased population growth, higher living standards and strong growth in global demand of goods and services, resource use has a critical role to play in terms of reaching carbon neutrality. She further noted that, according to recent OECD projections (Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060), materials management activities were responsible for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions related to materials management were projected to further increase from 30 Gt to about 50 Gt CO2-eq. by 2060. She added that a large share of greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture, manufacturing, construction, as well as combustion of fossil fuels.  Of this, 12% of emissions are stemming from the production of concrete and 12% accounting for the combined output of the extraction of seven key metals.

The speaker proceeded by stating that increasing material efficiency can have a major part in reducing the gap between the targeted measures for CO2 reduction and the commitments laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement. The circular economy model creates a paradigm shift that affects both production and consumption and is expected to play a crucial part in decoupling economic growth from resource use. She followed up on this statement by highlighting two reports by the OECD; one focused on circular business models and the other one is expected to be published soon and will cover the issue of digitalisation of the circular economic transition. With reference to previous speakers’ remarks, Ms Barteková described the matters of durability and reparability as examples of circular business models in which the reuse of resources creates value.

She proceeded to explain that digitalisation has disruptive effects on consumers, producers and the economy as such and detailed the findings of the aforementioned report on the combinatory power of digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and Cloud Computing, with regard to circular business models. In fact, the speaker pointed out that digital technologies make assets more intelligent by generating information and data flows around products, materials and components. This data allows for an increase of the lifespan of products, provides higher traceability of goods from production to waste management and enables shared consumption concepts. However, Ms Barteková concluded her remarks by elaborating on the negative externalities of the digital circular economy, such as the environmental rebound effect offsetting the increases in production and consumption efficiencies gained through digitalised circular economy activities, concerns about data security, privacy and ownership, as well as implications for the job market.

The moderator gave the floor to Mr Markus Ferber MEP regarding the question of the current and future Europe’s positioning on the global stage.

Mr Markus Ferber began his remarks by raising the concern over the effectiveness of importing hardware and software from third countries and making the final product subject to European data protection regulations in the context of the digital transition.

He moved on by questioning the functionality of the European Single Market, given its fragmented character as 27 national markets, and stressed the inefficiency of European competition law.

The MEP also remarked that European companies are compelled to choose the most economically viable products available on the global market, which in many cases do not originate in Europe and he subsequently pointed out that the EU’s capacity to both innovate and market new technologies is insufficient, which is expected to create a serious problem for the European economy.

He concluded his remarks by calling upon the European Commission to enable companies and SMEs rather than imposing stricter regulations on them and urged for a paradigm shift in terms of digitalisation of the EU’s Single Market.

As a conclusion, Dr Björn-Sören Gigler replied to the question of the moderator concerning the circular economy by highlighting the Circular Electronics Initiative and the Digital Products Passport as important steps in this regard. He agreed with the statement made by Mr Markus Ferber and added that European innovators need support to be able to exploit the full potential of their products. Dr Gigler concluded his statement by urging all relevant stakeholders to make use of the available data and to foster the implementation of those innovations in digital cleantech solutions to prevent the market from being taken over by the EU’s competitors.

Want to know more about the issues discussed in this debate? Then take a look at the selected sources provided below!

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