Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | Multimedia, Content & Apps | SDG4 | Youth
July 16, 2020

Amid COVID-19, let’s not forget climate change. Earth School can help.

By Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

The world continues to reel from the immediate challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As teachers and parents search for alternative ways to engage students and children with the outside world, it is important that we do not lose our focus on global challenges, including sustainability and climate change.

The political will that has been summoned to fight this pandemic can be applied to climate emergency responses and sustainable development. Like the pandemic, their impact will reach far beyond public health and macroeconomics.

Tackling these crises requires international collaboration, cooperation and coordination between stakeholders in both public and private sectors. The younger generation must also be kept engaged and informed on these important topics.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) will be essential to facilitate this and deliver on every single one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

3 reasons to admire Earth School

Initiatives like Earth School are a brilliant example of how this can be done, even amid a global pandemic. Under the guidance and support of TED-Ed and United Nations Environmental Programme, Earth School has successfully brought over 30 organizations together to design a series of virtual adventures or “quests” for young people to discover and connect to the natural world.

While there are many reasons to admire the Earth School initiative, I would like to focus on three that are of particular relevance:

First, as sustainability and the environment are such an immense topic area, it can be difficult to know precisely where to begin – especially for parents who are taking on their children’s education for the first time amid the pandemic. Earth School cleverly aggregates a diverse array of lessons from trusted sources, helping parents around the world.

Second, it can be especially difficult for young people to understand how much of their very existence relies on planetary systems – especially when they are confined at home. Through the power of ICTs, Earth School brings the natural world into their lived experience in fresh and engaging digital ways.

And third, Earth School’s carefully curated resources are suitable for learners of all ages. By leveraging digital inclusion and creating highly accessible materials, Earth School does an excellent job of delivering on the promise of SDG4: quality education for all.

Earth School simply could not exist without ICTs, and ITU is proud to count itself among the collaborators that support the Earth School initiative. As the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs, our support of this initiative exemplifies ITU’s commitment to help reduce the growing carbon footprint of the digital ecosystem.

ITU has for many years contributed to this global effort, in particular through the development of technical standards (known as ITU-T Recommendations) to reduce energy consumption and e-waste as well as advocating the benefits of ICTs to mitigate and adapt to climate change at successive climate change conferences and with policy makers.

ITU’s role in helping to build a circular economy

With a unique membership consisting of 193 governments and over 900 private sector companies from the telecom and Internet sectors, academia, and a range of other regional and international organizations dealing with ICTs, ITU is well-placed to make sustainable ICT development happen – something we have been working towards over the past decade and more.

In particular, ITU has been working hard to develop international standards that support the sustainable use of ICTs and promote a global transition towards a circular economy.

From environmentally friendly standards for chargers and other devices to guidelines on how to recycle rare metal components and reduce the environmental impacts of ICT equipment, ITU works closely with its partners to reduce the amount of global e-waste and promote circularity in ICTs. ITU member states have committed to increasing the global e-waste recycling rate to 30% by 2023.

ITU has also established a Focus Group on Environmental Efficiency for AI and other Emerging Technologies. This topic is close to my heart, as it can directly impact the effectiveness and efficiency of emerging technologies on the environment.

Meanwhile, three new ITU standards from our Study Group on the ‘Environment, climate change and circular economy‘ have achieved the first-stage approval of their development cycle.

The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that leveraging ICTs to connect everyone, everywhere, is a vital step not only to fight the pandemic but also to achieving all 17 of the SDGs. But we cannot do this alone – we all have a role in tackling global sustainability challenges. We all need to contribute our own specific competencies to this global effort.

ITU will continue to bring its technical expertise in ICTs to this joint action and work with all partners, public and private, to transform the digital revolution into the environmentally sustainable revolution that is crucial in our fight to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


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Photo by Annie Spratt, via Unsplash.

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Amid COVID-19, let’s not forget climate change. Earth School can help.

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