Climate technology must go hand-in-hand with greater digital equality, minister says
Panellists at COP26 Fringe event call for focus on promoting connectivity in the Global South
Addressing digital inequality in the Global South will be key to tackling climate change, according to an expert panel of Scottish public sector technologists.
At the COP26 Fringe Festival hosted this week by PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, panellists debated how 5G and other connectivity technologies can help tackle the climate emergency
The panel was chaired by Holyrood journalist Andrew Learmouth included: Scottish Government minister for business, trade, tourism and enterprise, Ivan McKee; Dr Muhammad Ali Imran from the University of Glasgow; Paul Coffey of the Scotland 5G Centre; and Gwilym Gibbons from Crichton Trust, a charitable trust that manages the Crichton Estate, which houses university facilities, numerous businesses, and a church in the grounds of an 85-acre estate in Dumfries.
An audience member asked the panel: “How can we ensure the rest of the world is carried along with the technology we're developing here? Climate change was started in the west, but it is the Global South bearing the brunt of it.”
In response, McKee said that “issues around equality, both domestically and internationally, are fundamental to the Scottish Government’s approach to climate technology,” adding that “developing technology to help with the issues in developing countries is very much a two-way street and is something we'd be keen to follow up on”.
Imran said that rolling out 5G into rural areas and the Global South – a term used to describe the lower-income countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia – would allow those communities to find innovative ways of tackling climate change issues which are unique to them, adding that “as well as those larger scale disparities, we also need to remember the divide in tech access between communities in larger urban settings”.
“Inclusion and equal access is central to the Crichton Trust approach to researching 5G and connectivity,” added Gibbons, “as we function in a rural environment, that can give more insight into how this tech can benefit environments in the Global South”.
As an example of the disparity in connectivity between the developed world and developing nations, Coffey said: “Over four billion people globally aren’t connected, but new technological advances and innovation can bring connectivity to more people in a cost-effective way. In Nigeria, when the pandemic hit and school children were sent home, many had no way of being educated, as opposed to the home working and online classes we’ve seen here.”
Another audience member asked the panel if there are “women, people of colour and indigenous people at the design tables, inclusively, and not just on the periphery?”.
McKee said that “there is more awareness of the importance of an equitable and inclusive approach, particularly in business, but also in government,” adding that the importance of inclusivity is becoming more recognised because otherwise companies end up with products that have a limited number of uses.
Finally, Imran said “the challenges of diversity and lack of opportunities can be overcome by removing the digital divide, because it is the mother of many other divides”, and that economic benefits and jobs can be driven by this inaccessibility of digital solution and connectivity.
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