29th EEAC Annual Conference: what did we discuss?

As a whole, the EEAC’s 29th Annual Conference addressed the twin challenges of sustainable development and the digital transformation. The digital transformation and artificial intelligence offer many exciting opportunities for addressing climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution of air, water, and soil, as well as health pandemics; educational needs; and other sustainability issues. Digital technologies and artificial intelligence enable us to collect and analyze information far more comprehensively and with a speed that is leading to major changes across sectors. Potentials for efficiency improvements, enhanced monitoring, and transparency of data are enormous. These opportunities have been embraced at the European level with the Green Deal, National Recovery and Resilience Policies, and the digitalization Agenda 2030.

At the same time, however, the conference pointed out various problems. Existing business models tied to digitization too often ignore privacy norms and basic ethics as their primary goal is increasing profits. There is a lack of integration of sustainability into digitalization policies and programs. Adam Smith’s free hand has led to very large ecological footprints. This reality calls for more integrative, collaborative, and participatory approaches so that the twin challenges can both be addressed. Inclusivity is critical to enhancing sustainability, both in urban and rural communities. Care must be taken to strengthen capacities, access, and skills for the digital and sustainability transitions.

Governance of the digital transformation should be broadly participatory, protect European norms of privacy and democracy, and advance sustainability. Controls are needed so that discrimination and abuses can be prevented, privacy protected (privacy by design) and distributive democracy promoted. Governance structures and processes will need monitoring and flexibility so that they can be improved over time and be robust against unforeseen developments. New frameworks and understandings are emerging at the European and national levels, but the work is just beginning and much more needs to be done to advance the twin transitions and European leadership in these areas that are so critical to our joint future.