Speech at the event on Digitalisation and Sustainability: "How can we align our strategies for a digital and sustainable economy? Let's go circular!"

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the conference that focuses on digitalisation and sustainability. This is a central question, which pulls together so many of our concerns. I want to thank the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety for organising this conference together, and I am particularly delighted to welcome the Ministry’s State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth and Ministerial Director Dirk Meyer.

The European Green Deal aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Digital technologies can play a key role to achieve this ambitious goal. They can cut global emissions by 15% if applied systematically across a wide range of sectors. 

At the same time, the ICT sector accounts for between 5% and 9% of total electricity consumption and estimates show that might double by 2030.   That is why, the footprint of ICT needs to be reduced, for example by improving the durability, maintenance, reparability and recycling of electronic devices.

Against this Covid-19 background we are very happy that your ministry sent us the request for an opinion on sustainability and development.

Some Member States had already started to weave those two megatrends together some years ago, but the pandemic has made it especially urgent to align the digital and the sustainable twin agenda, with the Circular Economy in a central role.

Today, sustainability has never been more important in all aspects of our life. To drive a sustainable future, we need to use the extraordinary leveraging of the digital transformation. That lies also at the core of my priorities.

The question is how we can best achieve a just transition to a digital and sustainable economy that leaves no one behind.

In times of COVID, it gets even more important that we do not only set the right targets but provide also the financial  support and set appropriate incentives for businesses and in particular SMEs. They remain the corner stone of the EU economy and of our recovery.

Starting from our agenda today and looking at the different questions we aim to address together, we face a complex challenge that requires to bring matters into alignment.

The questions are:

  • How can we best support uptake of digital and sustainable solutions ?
  • How do we ensure continuing political leadership and civil society engagement for a joint sustainable and digital transformation?
  • How can we do this in the midst of competing priorities as we move beyond the COVID pandemic?
  • How can we create opportunities for European SMEs and move towards more fairness and sustainability in the digital economy?
  • How can digitalization empower citizens and local communities, and assist consumers at making more sustainable choices?

At the EESC, we believe that the Circular Economy is one of the answers to many of these questions. We have been working hard to deploy Circular Economy practices across the European civil society since 2017.

Back then, we established the Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, ECESP, with our colleagues from the Commission, in order to involve stakeholders from across Europe in the transition to the Circular Economy. This virtual Platform is a highly innovative and successful model that links policy and practice. It is a great example of how to work in a digital AND sustainable way. As a "network of networks", it highlights cross-sectoral opportunities and challenges. ECESP is a knowledge-gathering hub, a place for dialogue, and a bridge between initiatives. It disseminates the concept of the Circular Economy at national, regional and local level by making the information more easily accessible.

In order to ensure the implementation of the Platform's objectives, we continue to work on its outreach. 24 representatives of Circular Economy stakeholders from across Europe's businesses, trade unions and civil society, national, regional and local networks, multi-stakeholder platforms, and knowledge and research communities will act as ambassadors in the Member States. 

It becomes clear that the Circular Economy is an extremely powerful tool that lies at the heart of the European Green Deal and will help us make the twin green and digital transition happen in a fair and balanced way.

Ladies and gentlemen, the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the impact of the digital economy across all sectors – work, transport, education, health, trade, food and may others. It is now our shared responsibility as civil society to promote the use of digital technologies that will ensure that our green transition in Europe is just and truly sustainable. As we do this, we shall take the lead in digital transformation and set the pace on a global scale.

We are grateful to the German Presidency for the opportunity to contribute to framing the future policy and I look forward to the rich panel discussions that will help share its perspectives and build on its recommendations.

I thank you very much for your attention and wish you a plain success in your deliberations.


Speech at the event on "Digitalisation and Sustainability"