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Advancing digital inclusion for resilient, sustainable future

Technology and digital transformation are ultimately meant to benefit people’s way of life and the environment. To make the most out of technology, we have to confront the challenges it brings while optimizing its potential.

We should focus on sustainable and equitable adaptation to emerging technologies. If we fail to do so, we will only widen social divides and expose the most vulnerable among us to economic and environmental risks.

According to the Asian Development Bank, while it is true that the rapid expansion of digital services throughout the years brings in various opportunities, the pandemic highlighted the inequalities and digital divide among those that have high and low access to digital technologies and tools to support resilience and recovery.

Because of this, in the midst of the pandemic, ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa is urging the people to “close the digital divide and expand existing investments in digital infrastructure by building more and higher quality mobile broadband infrastructure and ensuring affordable internet access and coverage.”

We have to fight for a future that is economically inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

Access to the best technology neither defines sustainability nor guarantees economic prosperity. It is the government’s job to ensure that no one is left behind, and that as many people as possible enjoy access to technology and develop the know-how to sustainably navigate it benefiting both people and environment.

These are tools for achieving better quality of life and stewardship of the environment. Beyond obtaining the latest innovations, people should be able to use them to serve their own and the environment’s needs.

Meanwhile, the private sector has proven to be an instrumental partner to the government in this regard. It has visibly shifted capital funds toward tangible, measurable initiatives to this end.

Through environmental, social and governance (ESG)-based interventions, they have shown their capability to expand people’s access to education, proper and well-informed healthcare, and immediate financial support. They have enabled institutions to forecast and monitor environmental conditions in a timely manner to provide support, connectivity, and communication to those affected and threatened by disasters.

Companies like Globe Telecom Inc. even went beyond this. They integrated sustainability in their core business agenda by aligning their business operations and ESG practices with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to improve and strategically create positive environmental and social impact on Philippine communities.

Under their climate change agenda, the company committed to achieve its science-based target of reducing 50% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and attaining a net zero GHG emission by 2050. To show its commitment, the company adopted the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a corporate accounting and reporting standards established by reputable institutions such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Resource Institute (WRI).

Technology adds value to all aspects of our lives. For individuals, communities, and organizations alike, platforms and applications serve a purpose that furthers their environmental stewardship objectives and improves their well-being. We now have a valuable tool to help us prepare for environmental, physical, social, and economic shocks when disasters strike.

The convergence of digital technologies and how we interact with our ecosystems is clear. We should utilize it to better observe, analyze and respond to our environment.

Integrating technology and digital tools can pave the way for establishing better monitoring of carbon levels for better focus of interventions, capturing and storing of carbon from the atmosphere, strategic and efficient implementing of irrigation and water systems across communities especially in rural areas, and minimizing waste and pollution generation from business and households

Advancing the much-needed immediate transition to a data-driven and digital-enabled economy can help our communities better monitor the real-time environment and climate conditions that would allow swift responses to areas where needed, control pollution generation by enhancing circular economic and business models, and efficiently manage and utilize available resources.

Data gathered from businesses’ digital tools and platforms can be used to improve or create more sustainable, environmentally responsive, and compatible systems with the communities’ geographical, geological, and even demographic conditions.

This is also true in waste streams. Involving technology and digitalization in the process can reduce waste, and in turn, GHG emissions. Data gathered can be used to continuously find ways to design products and processes to make former wastes as valuable inputs to another process.

Digitalization will play a critical role in advancing sustainability and environmental stewardship. For a developing country like the Philippines, more investments in digital infrastructure are needed to meet the current and future needs of the people and the environment.

The government needs to step up and match the unwavering commitment and substantial investments of the private sector. This should be a priority of the next administration.

While the private sector provides expertise, financial, and technical assistance, the government must critically design policies and frameworks that abolish bureaucratic barriers hampering the much-needed transition for many years already. This would allow investments in the digital space that would strategically and efficiently link various ecosystems of the government, private sector, institutions, and individuals.

Digital technologies are essential to overcoming the pandemic and in building a resilient Philippines. Integrating innovative technologies is critical in implementing our environmental initiatives.

Technology does not have to come at the expense of turning our back on the environment; on the contrary, it helps us become more conscientious stewards of the environment, for the benefit of all. — Felix Vitangcol

Felix Vitangcol is Stratbase ADRi Environment fellow and secretary general of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST).

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