CODES Action Plan: between progress and doubts

The Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES) has finally published its final Action Plan. We discuss some of its aspects based on our comments on its preliminary draft.

Good news for us:

In general, it's challenging to compete with the imaginaries imposed by hegemonic digital technology where concepts such as “digital revolution” and “disruption” champion every time a problematic aspect is raised. The first reading of the CODES Action Plan draft, in this sense, raised an alert: once again, the mere (commercial) promise of digital technologies seemed to have more relevance than the scientific evidence on the effects of digitization (those we know and, also, very important in the planetary limits in which we find ourselves, those we do not know) on the environment. We made this apprehension known in our comments. On that occasion, we stated:

”...if CODES really wants to give greater importance to the promises of digitization concerning sustainability rather than to the environmental damage and challenges that lie ahead due to the deployment of the technologies themselves, we urge that this strategy be rethought for at least two reasons. On the one hand, and as various academic literature has recognized, the digital promise of the future is an integral part of the “capitalism as usual” engine that this same document points to as a problematic attitude. And on the other, because the environmental damage of digital technologies is real, as are its challenges, and it seems unrealistic – especially in line with official IPCC documentation – that it is not given at least the same level of importance in the text.”

We’re glad that a certain empty optimism about digitization has been left behind in the final document. A turnaround is visible from the very first pages:



We’re also glad to see that our suggestion to include a widely accepted concept such as “environmental justice” has been well received. We must recall that the concept was utterly absent from the draft, and in this final version, it appears at least twice. Of course, we would have liked it to have a more transversal presence because we believe that there can be no digitization for sustainability without incorporating environmental justice as a core principle. However, we value some positive language changes in the final action plan, such as including in the actions for directing innovation efforts toward digitalization for sustainability the idea of a “Realize Green, Digital, Just Transition: Prioritize innovations that catalyse the transition to a green, digital and just economy for sustainable development” which had a different approach in the draft.

Where we have doubts:

We also pointed out the over-sampling of examples and good practices from Europe and the almost complete absence of the rest of the world, which was especially aggravated when the document was full of images of people from the Global South. So the solution in the final paper was to take out the pictures and the boxes with examples and put them in an annex. It is, of course, a one-time fix: the lack of voices from the rest of the world on digitization and sustainability is tremendously worrying and persists, especially when an important part of the natural resources for digitization comes from the Global South.

Although it is implicit, we would have liked the document to be more decisive and make explicit that climate norms, policies, and actions taken in the context of the development of digital technologies guarantee that they do not negatively affect people's human rights. Nor should the excuse of climate action be used to violate their rights.

Finally, and in light of the IPCC mitigation report discussed in our institute, we continue to assert that it is a mistake for the UN bodies not to call for the adaptation of a precautionary principle concerning digitalization and its rebound effects on energy use. In that line, we welcome that at least this action plan takes up a fundamental challenge that we have repeated time and again concerning the position of the United Nations: “Undertake new research and/or leverage existing bodies of research to provide science-driven recommendations on accelerating sustainability in the digital age.”

What we regret:

We suggested that the document should include more prominently and deeply the water crisis and its relation to digitalization, which particularly affects Latin America due to the increase of drought periods due to climate change. In addition, it would align with Goal 6 of the SGDs. But unfortunately, our suggestion was discarded, and references to the use of water, timid, are subsumed in the section “Minimize Material Base: Address material use and waste linked to digitalization.”

About misinformation, we believe that the approach is very limited: it only looks at it from the need to have better sources of information and ignores the campaigns organized through the Internet by governments, the private sector, or often in coordination between these two, against land defenders that is sadly common in our continent. Therefore, for us is bad news that only this very liberal, very Global North view is adopted in the face of a very complex fact.