Digitalisation and Sustainability – status quo and need for action in civil society perspective (Exploratory opinion at the request of the German presidency)

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EESC opinion: Digitalisation and Sustainability – status quo and need for action in civil society perspective (Exploratory opinion at the request of the German presidency)

Key points

The EESC calls for policies that further embed a digital economy incorporating our societal values, thus ensuring that a digital wellbeing economy is as inclusive as possible, allowing workers, consumers, SMEs, large companies and non-profit economic actors to benefit alike, especially in rural areas. Such policies include:

  • developing fiscal policy to ensure that digital businesses pay their fair share of taxes;
  • building upon the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to develop a distinctive law on data protection in the workplace, on social media and in e-commerce;
  • adjusting current competition and monopoly law in order to regulate digital platform markets
  • fostering open-source software and applications
  • taking a "public money – public data" approach, so that publicly-funded research data is publicly available
  • developing a strategic EU data governance policy, including new legislation for "public data trusts".

The EESC calls on national and local governments to support cooperative sharing platforms. It also calls for transparent, fair and green ICT production chains, ambitious energy standards and an extension of the EU eco-design directive, and asks the European Commission to:

  • adapt EU legislation to make online shopping more sustainable, and develop responsible policies on packaging, deliveries and return of packages;
  • protect small operators in the market against monopolistic platforms;
  • develop a comprehensive set of criteria and indicators for sustainable software products and a digital product pass;
  • improve GDPR regarding data sufficiency and data coupling;
  • impose restrictions on online advertising to create ad-free spaces.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a sudden and significant decrease in transportation, production and consumption; the increased use of ICT mitigated energy-intensive working practices and lifestyles. The EESC calls for appropriate political measures to help consolidate these positive aspects after the pandemic. This, of course, raises wider questions about the energy efficiency of the "cloud" and the data centres that sustain it. For example:

  • establishing an EU inventory of data centres (covering energy efficiency, lifecycle, construction materials, etc.) and a top-runner scheme, to ensure that the most energy-efficient data centres become the norm;
  • requiring new data centres to be run by 100% renewable energies;
  • using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to support the climate and energy transition;
  • suggesting measures for sustainable AI solutions.

The EESC recognises the central importance of sustainable smart city development, including innovative approaches to integrated mobility, energy and tourism.