Environmental impacts neglected

The discussion document asserts, with no supporting evidence, that the New Zealand tech sector generates 'low emissions' exports. Questions around increasing energy demands and physical waste from expanding digital technologies have grown in recent years, and there is still a lack of robust methodologies to measure the negative environmental impacts of growing digital technologies, nor a shared understanding of the issue or how to approach it. If New Zealand is seeking a leadership position on issues of ethical, responsible use of digital technologies, it would be valuable to consider how New Zealand could lead international progress on ensuring growth in digital technologies does not come at the expense of the environment and jeopardise international commitments and action against climate change. 

This could look at issues such as low-energy computing, and low-energy cyber security; consistency and standards in measuring environmental impact of digital technologies; where responsibility lies for managing and reusing/repurposing physical waste etc; when determining where to prioritise support for digital tech sectors and development, how are environmental impacts taken into account?

Why the contribution is important

There is a risk that focusing on growing digital technologies, without considering the negative externalities (negative environmental impact), forces New Zealand into a trade-off between a digital growth agenda and commitments to sustainability and tackling climate change. This is also a relatively nascent area, and one which New Zealand could be positioned to show international leadership in.

by inverseimage on October 13, 2021 at 03:20PM

Current Rating

Average rating: 4.5
Based on: 6 votes


  • Posted by Rialonic October 14, 2021 at 10:54

    I agree with this. The digital sector has huge potential to reduce carbon emissions and general environmental damage by reducing travel needs, use of resources (paper, plastic, ink), and more.
    However, there's a huge potential here to cause more problems that it solves.
    We need a reliable and sustainable method for recycling e-waste (that isn't just shipping it to China).
    We need to ensure the electronics we are importing are quality and will last many years, with a right to repair.
    We should ban the importing of junk electronics. The ones that cost $3 from Ali express and will die in a couple of months, ending up in a landfill despite this being a bad place for electronics.
    Electric vehicle problems are similar but probably don't fall into the bucket of "digital strategy", but then again, maybe they should? Currently we don't have a way of replacing the batteries in e-vehicles and recycling the old ones. We need a circular supply chain for this that does not have toxic environmental impacts.
  • Posted by AJ October 19, 2021 at 15:07

    I don't think the assertion is wrong, I believe it is generally correct to say that the tech sector generates low emissions value/exports.
    However also I agree that moving that idea from "implicit assumption" to "explicit requirement and goal" would offer strong value and differentiation - as well as the functional aspect of weeding out those few counterexamples where digital can be excessively consumptive
    (e.g. crypto/blockchain, disposable electronics, etc.)
  • Posted by Leeanna November 08, 2021 at 17:19

    Yes, agree with all comments so far that opportunities are plentiful in this space, as long as we are creating innovative solutions to mitigate the impact (ie driving cars that run on green hydrogen), and not just shifting the problem (ie moving from driving petrol/diesel cars to driving electric cars). And if we consumed responsibly (i.e. car-sharing) we are more likely to minimise the problem of waste.
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