The French government has spearheaded several groundbreaking international efforts over recent years in technology tax and climate change – making them a clear leader in driving both multilateral and, particularly praiseworthy, multistakeholder initiatives. The two that are especially noteworthy – the Paris Climate Agreement and the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace – do not immediately come across as being connected, but in reality, the implementation of the Paris Call is directly tied to the success of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Information and communications technology (ICT), big tech in particular, play an important role in addressing climate change. ICT contributes to global carbon emissions and accounts for vast amounts of global electricity consumption – a number that is bound to grow in the coming years, as more and more devices connect to the Internet.
However, technology and data are also essential to the world’s fight against climate change. Calculating the impact human activity has on the environment is still just an estimation. Accurately mapping forests and waterways continues to be a challenge, and understanding why particular species thrive largely remains unknown. ICT helps us gather and analyze the data we need to inform the actions we take to protect the environment.
Technology is also replacing a number of physical activities, and nothing demonstrates that more than the last few months. The world has had to reimagine work, shopping, and learning amidst a global pandemic. The worldwide shutdown has made it abundantly clear that many of our jobs do not require daily commutes or in-person business meetings. Teleworking and videoconferencing have and will continue to reduce both car and plane emissions. Moreover, technology can enable smarter energy use and reduce annual electricity bills dramatically. Industrial processes are being digitalized to optimize production and cut energy consumption. Meanwhile, consumers use smart technologies and data analytics to ensure energy is consumed when and where it is needed. Intelligent transportation systems use traffic data to decrease congestion, reducing fuel use and CO2 emissions.
Unfortunately, as our homes, industries, and governments connect to the Internet in an effort to increase their efficiencies – and in the process reduce their impact on the environment – they need to deal with a new set of threats. Particularly, those lurking on the dark side of cyberspace. Ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and services is crucial for the most vital parts of our economies, including critical infrastructures in water, transportation, energy, and healthcare.
This was recently demonstrated by a series of cyberattacks on the Israeli water system, which could have poisoned hundreds with chlorine, were it not intercepted in time. Likewise, we have seen numerous attacks on healthcare facilities at the frontlines of the fight against the current pandemic, such as on the Brno University Hospital in the Czech Republic, Paris’ hospital system, the computer systems of Spain’s hospitals, hospitals in Thailand, medical clinics in the U.S. state of Texas, a healthcare agency in the U.S. state of Illinois, and even international bodies like the World Health Organization.
This is why we urgently need to protect these vital systems and reach a universal agreement that they should never be targeted by cyberweapons. The first principle of the Paris Call does just that – calls for all of us to work to “prevent and recover from malicious cyber activities that threaten or cause significant, indiscriminate or systemic harm to individuals and critical infrastructure.” In fact, it does more than that. Its last principle calls for broad implementation of existing norms, and therefore points to the agreement reached at the United Nations in 2015 that a “state should not conduct or knowingly support ICT activity contrary to its obligations under international law that intentionally damages critical infrastructure or otherwise impairs the use and operation of critical infrastructure to provide services to the public.”
Technology is essential to our fight against climate change, and the Paris Climate Agreement cannot be achieved without the commitments outlined in the Paris Call. That’s why it’s essential to secure internet-connected technologies and limit the ability of state-backed hackers. If we attempt to promote the success of only the Paris Climate Agreement, we will put the success of both initiatives in jeopardy and leave ourselves vulnerable.