Huawei: How ICT can empower a sustainable post-COVID socioeconomic resurgence

By Charles Yang, President, Huawei Middle East, 14 Jul 2021

ICT is a crucial driving force of the global economy and is vital in creating value in all industries and sectors as well as in solving sustainability challenges.

Sustainable development has been on the global agenda for years now. While countries have made great efforts to fight climate change, expand access to education and health and bridge the digital divide, COVID-19 may have set back those efforts by decades. Technology offers the most effective model if the world is to catch up.

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises that the spread of ICT and global interconnectedness has “great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies, as does scientific and technological innovation across areas as diverse as medicine and energy.”

Member states agree that ICT is vital in driving progress towards achieving all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Technology is already empowering individuals worldwide by providing access to educational resources and healthcare, and services such as mobile banking, e-government and social media, among others, the UN observes.

While digitisation has accelerated in the last decade, billions of people worldwide still lack ICT access, with the digital gap prevalent between and within countries, between urban and rural areas, and between men and women. The challenge now is to ensure that no one is left behind as we embark on a post-COVID future.

By the end of 2020, Guardians had been deployed in 18 countries. The technology could potentially save enough forest cover to offset 30 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of taking 6 million cars off the roads or adding 400 million trees.

According to a 2020 report by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), about 2.2 billion people aged 25 years or younger still lack internet connections at home, underlining the global digital divide. Speaking at the Forum, Ban Ki Moon Center for Global Citizenship Board Member and former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova highlighted this gap, saying, “The digital divide impacts women more than men. Women have less access to the internet and this gap is widening. Women are now four times less likely than men to be digitally literate and represent just 6% of software developers. [An astonishing] 170 years are needed to close the economic gender gap between men and women.”

Then there’s the issue of climate change, one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. Though carbon emissions declined over the past year due to the economic slowdown and worldwide lockdowns, emissions will inevitably rebound as economies reopen. We have a chance to refocus efforts on sustainable development in our post-COVID recovery plans.

“In the intelligent era, network connectivity is no longer a luxury.”

ICT technologies are essential enablers of energy conservation and emissions reduction in other industries. It is estimated that the decline in carbon emissions in other sectors enabled by ICT technologies will be ten times the amount of carbon emitted by the ICT industry itself.

We in the tech industry should set an example for environmental conservation by optimising our manufacturing and supply processes. In 2020, the global ecological non-profit CDP scored more than 5,800 companies for their efforts to tackle climate change. Huawei was one of the few recognised companies with an ‘A’ score for its actions to cut emissions, mitigate climate risks and develop a low-carbon economy.

Each year, the mobile industry’s premier body, the GSMA, holds the GLOMO Awards to recognise pioneering feats of mobile technology. The 2021 edition of the awards recognised the various technology providers at the forefront in promoting sustainability around the globe.

The GSMA awarded the “Nature Guardian” project the 2021 GLOMO award for “Outstanding Mobile Contribution to the UN SDGs”. Nature Guardian, a collaborative initiative between the Rainforest Connection (RFCx) and Huawei, has deployed cutting-edge technology solutions to protect nature, prevent deforestation, and safeguard against biodiversity loss.

Solving the sustainability challenge will require collaboration between technology firms, businesses, governments, NGOs, academia and communities. Creating a digital-led common platform enables the various partners in the ecosystem to contribute their capabilities towards a shared goal.

Concept of green energy innovation technology. 3D computer generated image.

As we have seen, ICT is a crucial driving force of the global economy and vital in creating value in all industries and sectors. Advanced technologies have achieved significant results in advancing social-economic development goals, which will eventually lead to industry-wide sustainability. Ongoing innovation is crucial to bring these advanced technologies to market, therefore ICT companies need to further expand their efforts in research and development. Huawei is leading the way. In 2020, the company boosted our investment in research and development to $20 billion, an increase of $5.8 billion.

That said, cybersecurity threats could stand in the way of achieving our objectives. We collectively need to establish an effective cybersecurity framework which could empower any organisation to overcome challenges and recover from any cybersecurity adversity. It is essential that any developed framework is built around a responsible, transparent, and collaborative ecosystem to avoid the potential threat of huge losses caused by network security issues.

In the intelligent era, network connectivity is no longer a luxury. Rather, it’s a necessity that’s central to both our working and personal lives. Societal change and economic development are not mutually exclusive. Growing research shows that ICT-driven sustainable development is not only beneficial to society but can achieve significant cost savings in the long run. Therefore, we all have a responsibility towards ensuring this change takes place for a better, connected world.


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