Brussels, Thursday 14 October 2021
Europe’s digital and green transitions – backed by the €750bn NextGenerationEU fund – must move ahead in tandem to ensure a post-pandemic recovery that is sustainable, inclusive and resilient, the annual State of Europe conference heard Thursday.
“We have to put up a new model that should be green, inclusive, prosperous and sustainable,” said Anna Ascani, Italian Undersecretary of State for Economic Development and Vice President of the Democratic Party. “The most important thing we can do is using the digital transition, because digital has a disruptive power that can boost the social and green transition.”
Friends of Europe’s flagship event, now in its 18th year, brought together top-level speakers from government, civil society, business and academia, for debates focused on how Europe should pull out of the COVID-19 crisis. The day-long conference covered issues ranging from climate change to heathcare reform and the fate of Afghan women following the Taliban takeover.
It saw the launch of the “Connected Europe: A digital brand for a just transition” report showing how the continent can achieve a successful, green and resilient digital transformation.
The report is the result of a year-long pan-European study led by Friends of Europe in partnership with Vodafone, which brought a cross-sectional assessment of today’s actions and investments in the drive for digitalisation.
“Europe’s recovery, resilience and global leadership depend on digital infrastructure. The pandemic has shown us just how essential connectivity is. At the same time, the EU has recognised the huge advantages of digitalisation for business, citizens, and society” explained Ben Wreschner, Chief Economist & Head of Public Affairs at Vodafone.
He was among several speakers who called for partnerships between the public and private sectors to drive forward the green digital recovery.
“This report is a call to policymakers, industry and society to work together to enable the digital ecosystem, drive the digital for green transition, develop systems that will power the next generation, connect remote communities, and bridge the digital divide,” Wreschner said. “Vodafone is committed to the benefits of digitalisation, however, we must ensure that Europe’s policy environment encourages the critical investment from industry that will underpin this bold digital ambition,” added Ben Wreshner.
Introducing the report, Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke, report editor, Founder & CEO of W4.org, a crowdfunding platform for women empowerment, and 2012 European Young Leader, highlighted some of its key findings: the green digital transition should be viewed as a combined process to lead Europe into recovery; social and geographical technology gaps must be closed to ensure nobody is left behind in this transition; emphasis should be placed on improving public trust in digitalisation.
Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), noted the importance of digitalisation in modernising energy systems, but cautioned on emerging security risks as energy infrastructure becomes more dependent on digital technology.
“On the one hand, digitalisation will make our energy systems more modern, cleaner, much more flexible, but we should be very careful about the cyber-security related issues, as energy is life blood of our economies and social lives,” he said.
Birol outlined the factors behind Europe’s current problems with energy supply and high prices, pointing to surging demand as economies emerge from pandemic shutdowns combined with extreme weather events and technical issues at production plants.
With just weeks to go before the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Birol said Europe has to step up efforts to bring other players on board in making emissions cutting commitments.
“The nations of Europe should also focus more on international climate diplomacy in addition to reducing the emissions at home,” he said. “If we cannot get the emission reductions in all the parts of the world whatever we do in Europe will not change anything.”
Access the full Connected Europe: A digital brand for a just transition report here.