On Tuesday 20 July, PICTFOR hosted their seventh event of the Year, focused on how the tech sector can further support the net zero agenda and tackle the climate emergency, as part of the UK’s Net Zero Week.
We were delighted to hear from Chair of the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group (PRASEG), Bim Afolami MP (via pre-recorded video), Secretariat for PRASEG, Dom Goggins, Shadow Green New Deal and Energy Minister, Dr Alan Whitehead MP, CEO of OpenUK, Amanda Brock and Director of Communications at Smart Energy GB, Rob Cheesewright. Darren Jones MP, PICTFOR’s Co-Chair and Chair of the BEIS Select Committee of PRASEG, chaired the event.
Please see below for minutes of the session. You can catch up on the event in full, here.
- Bim Afolami MP listed the four things he is interested in when it comes to role of Tech in the Climate Emergency. He began with direct emissions, as the industry is a major contributor, before moving on to system change and the need to explore comprehensive ways to drive down emissions. He then listed preparedness, as tech needs to be able to help us predict climate changes and disasters, before closing with public confidence, as both government and industry needs to think about how they engage with the public in a meaningful way that doesn’t talk down to people, yet still allows them to fully understand the risks created by global warming.
- Dom Goggins expanded on Afolami’s talking points, beginning by debating the role that regulation can play in reducing direct emissions from tech, noting the historic delay in shaping regulation for the evolution of the digital landscape. Goggins then went on to use the recent floods in Germany to illustrate how we require tech to make us more prepared to face the natural disasters that will become more common because of climate change. He concluded that the push toward net zero had successfully found solutions to the ‘easy stuff’ to tackle climate change, but what is required now is asking people to make decisions that are more difficult, and these will have to be compensated or encouraged.
- Alan Whitehead MP talked about how the tech industry can be pointed positively towards action on climate change, as he believes it tends to take a neutral stance that prioritises green signposting over ensuring their overall activities are climate driven. He spoke about how a substantial part of the energy sector is stuck in the clockwork era and hasn’t yet made the change to a data driven system – noting that this was emblematic of the tech sector as a whole, whose companies do not use the data they work with in a positive low carbon way. Whitehead said that these companies already edit consumer choices in a high carbon way by omitting low carbon choices in their algorithms. He concluded that the tech industry has to confront this neutrality if it is going to be a positive partner in bringing about a low carbon future.
- Amanda Brock spoke about the importance of open software, hardware and data to promoting a circular economy that can positively impact on the UK’s sustainability goals. She gave the example of electric vehicles to demonstrate the need for cross-sector collaboration, as for these to work you need the energy company to have interoperability with a bank and automotive manufacturers. She added that greater collaboration and openness will lead to an ever-increasing focus on standardisation and to a state that she called ‘coopertition’. She then spoke about Open UK’s work looking to open up data centres to make them greener by creating a collaborative open environment to reduce the amount of hardware needed. She said that we should recognise the strength of the UK’s skills in this area, with many people being ready to support this transition. She closed by dicussing education, where Open UK have been rolling out courses to children that talk about emissions and sustainable development goals, helping them to build a basic understanding of the important issues of the future.
- Rob Cheesewright opened by describing reasons to be optimistic about the UK’s green energy sector. He said we are starting to see the promise of a smart and flexible energy system come to fruition and that we can now all be a part of an electricity system where energy can be cheap, abundant and green. He warned that with the exception of smart metres, many of the energy sectors green changes have been through big infrastructure, and that enacting change in smaller infrastructure will be harder as it depends on consumer uptake. He used the example of smart metres to show how the sector have on occasion got messaging wrong when explaining to the public how their behaviour can contribute to net zero. He ended by emphasising the importance of getting the interoperability and security of these systems right, so that data can be used for the public good and not just stored away by the big tech companies.