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Although the environmental benefits of digital solutions can largely outweigh their negative environmental impacts, the pollution risks related to digitalisation should not be overlooked.

Digitalisation has a significant environmental footprint with the main impacts linked to energy and resource use. Different studies estimate the total greenhouse gas emissions of the ICT sector as a whole between 2-4% which accounts, e.g. for 8-10% of the European electricity consumption. Part of this energy demand is used to generate, store and use data. Some of this energy is used by digital technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, which can be deployed to aid the environment, but also consume a lot of energy.

Additionally, with 16 kg of e-waste per person in 2019, Europe is the continent with the highest per capita waste generation and although it is also the continent with the highest rate of formal e-waste collection and recycling, we currently recycle only around 40 % of our e-waste.

As data flows increase, the energy consumption of data centres is bound to grow. Within the EU, data centres accounted for 2.7% of electricity demand in 2018 and will reach 3.2% by 2030 (if development continues on the current trajectory).

Additionally, the potential risks to human health and the environment related to the production and use of chemicals needed for digitalisation should be recognised, while being already addressed under the relevant chemicals legislation.

What are the various steps to reduce digital pollution : -

  1. Smart mobility reducing air and noise pollution
  2. The Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy recognises the key role of digitalisation in modernising the transport system.
  3. The European Industrial Strategy points at the key role of smart and sustainable mobility industries in driving the shift towards a twin digital and green transition.
  4. Digital technologies provide a vast amount of solutions for reducing pollution from transport, ranging from solutions already widely in use such as digital navigation apps allowing to re-route along the most efficient or cleanest route preventing and avoiding traffic jams to solutions such as autonomous vehicles, one of the key application areas of AI. AI-based autonomous vehicles have been estimated to lead to annual emission reductions of 2-4 % eHealth and environmental pollution.
  5. The major non-communicable diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and mental disorders) together account for an estimated 86% of the deaths and 77% of the disease burden in the European Region.
  6. Environmental pollution has been linked as a cause to many of these diseases. Among the top 10 of non-communicable diseases driven by environmental pollution, cancer has the sad honour to rank first. Hence, linking efforts on eHealth with pollution data and solutions can make a tangible difference in addressing these health risks.
  7. Digital Water Protection.
  8. Digitalisation of the water sector through technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins, digital data spaces, disruptive technologies and instrumentation and circular economy digital water innovations can result in significant environmental, operational and economic benefits.
  9. Digital water solutions reduce the environmental impact of water operations via

a) reductions in energy demand for water supply and sanitation services;

b) better control of emissions from wastewater treatment plants;

c) enhanced capabilities for real-time, in situ water quality monitoring;

d) increased water use efficiency across sectors and reduced leakages .

10 Digitalisation is a critical tool in advancing global water security and protecting the planet’s water resources sustainably. Overall, digital technologies provide a wide array of possibilities for achieving the zero pollution ambition in the water sector.

11 Digital Marine Protection

12 The potential of digital solutions for the oceans is vast. New digital technologies can contribute to greatly enhancing our knowledge of the oceans – although our knowledge of our seas and oceans is constantly growing also thanks to the EU policy framework, much of the marine environment is still unknown to us.

13 By using new analytical tools such as artificial intelligence and machine learning and solutions such as cloud computing for storage of data, our understanding of the oceans can be increased and shaped into a form that is useful for decision-makers. Citizen science can also help contribute to an increase in marine knowledge, and digital solutions such as mobile apps make it increasingly easy to involve citizens in

14 knowledge-gathering and monitoring activities related to pollution