Cover image created by Kristen Murrell (UBC)

Annex 1: Priorities and Processes in 2020 for a Digital Ecosystem for the Planet

David Jensen


Authors: David Jensen (UNEP), Karen Bakker (UBC), Christopher Reimer (UBC)

Contributors: Hamed Alemohammad (Radiant Earth Foundation), Christina Bowen (Digital Life Collective), Anne Bowser (Wilson Center), Steven Brumby (National Geographic Society), Anthony Cabraal (Greaterthan/Enspiral), Frank Dehnhard (One Planet Network), Laurent Durieux (French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development), Simon Gardner (Natural Environment Research Council), Terry Gunning (CGI), Pablo Hinojosa (APNIC), Cyrus Hodes (The AI Initiative), Tiare Irvine (InnerPlanet), Jason Jabbour (UNEP), Jovan Kurbalija (DiploFoundation), Alison Lowndes (Nvidia), Amy Luers (Future Earth), Jacob Malthouse (fmr ICANN), Anthony Mills (C4 EcoSolutions), Nicholas Niggli (Republic and State of Geneva), Tim Nixon (Constellation Research), David Oehmen (UNFCCC), Paul Quaiser (Human Sustainability Institute), Steven Ramage (Group on Earth Observations), Diana Mastracci Sanchez (University of Oxford), Gavin Starks (IceBreakerOne), David Thau (WWF), Annie Virnig (UNDP), Xiao Wang (UNEP-DTU).

Graphics/Visualizations: Albert Martinez (UNEP), Douglas Robb (UBC)

This annex provides supporting information for two articles we recently published to advance an agenda for a digital ecosystem for Earth.

The first article explored the top 20 priorities for a digital ecosystem for Earth in 2020. The second article identified 20 critical multilateral processes to take these targets forward. Both the priorities and the processes were divided into three sections: Track 1 (data/system architecture); Track 2 (applications); and Track 3 (governance and policy).

This annex provides more information on each priority, including a discussion of a baseline (where we are now, in high-level and qualitative terms) and a rationale (why this is a priority). It also provides more information on each process that we encountered during the collective intelligence exercise, including those that were not eventually selected.

Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash

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We welcome any feedback on this information or the pair of articles.

Paper on the Top 20 Priorities in 2020

This figure sets out the 20 critical priorities to advance a digital ecosystem for the planet. These are distributed in three tracks: System Architecture, Applications, and Governance and Policy. Below, we go into detail about each track, providing a baseline for where we are now, and rationale for each priority’s selection.

Created by Douglas Robb (UBC)

Track 1: Data/System Architecture

Target 1 SDG indicators: A method is developed for monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals, including an integrated, accessible dashboard. Over 95% of the environmental indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals can be measured and monitored on a global level using data-sharing methods adopted through the use of regional, sub-regional and country-level mechanisms.

  • Baseline: Multiple initiatives are working toward global databases and dashboards of environmental data. Often, these initiatives fuse statistical and geospatial data into a dynamic planetary visualization and data catalog. These initiatives include the World Environment Situation Room, Earth Pulse Initiative, Resource Watch, the Global Commons Alliance, the One Earth Initiative, the OECD Platform for Environmental Indicators, the World Bank Sovereign Environment, Social and Governance Data Portal, the Natural Capital Project, and the Google Environmental Insights Explorer. Many of these initiatives seek to harmonize and integrate discrete datasets for decision-support purposes. There are at least 670 different datasets that could contribute to a digital ecosystem for the planet, and this number is growing (our assessment suggests that, on average, one new platform is released every month). Many of these platforms are sizable; for example, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) consists of 182 open data catalogs from 7000+ data providers covering 45 million data sets.
  • Rationale: At present, many of these initiatives draw on the same datasets, but there is no documented strategy to coordinate their work or position their analysis for a specific set of end-users and decision-makers. A coordination strategy is urgently needed to avoid duplication and to agree on the comparative advantages and target use cases per initiative. We call on these various global initiatives to adopt a coordination strategy, agree on target use cases, and work toward fusing and visualizing complex environmental and relevant social data into a planetary dashboard and data catalog.

Target 2 Open Data: Environmental data held by governments and multilateral organizations needed to measure progress against the Sustainable Development Goal indicators is made open and released into the public domain in an accessible and interoperable manner. Data is consistently open and findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR). Documentation of data quality is sufficient for secondary users to assess fitness for use in research and policy purposes.

  • Baseline: The global Open Data Inventory and Open Data Barometer have compiled statistics for each country; coverage is defined as having social, economic and environmental statistics available for a minimum number of years while openness is a combined factor regarding the accessibility of the data. Together, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) and Open Data for Development (OD4D) are working to support National Statistical Systems (NSSs) to open existing data sets and to make use of new and innovative data sources.
  • Rationale: Opening official statistics can increase the use and impact of these data. By adhering to standards of openness, innovative data use by a variety of actors is made possible. Additionally, as more data sources are made available, NSSs can make use of new information to fill priority data gaps. These efforts should be conducted in accordance with the principles of the Open Data Charter — a collaboration between governments and organizations working to open up data based on a shared set of 6 Principles. Also relevant are the recommendations from “Counting on the World to Act: A Roadmap for Governments to Achieve Modern Data Systems for Sustainable Development”. A risk assessment should be undertaken for each data set and in some cases, only derived datasets should be published.

Target 3 Data Discovery, Access, Licencing: An international framework is proposed to enable the discovery, access, license and use of environmental data originating from different data custodians and regimes. This includes both governmental and commercial providers of Earth Observation data and analysis products. The framework includes a common code of conduct for partnerships with public institutions and civil society, focusing on adequate monitoring data for the Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Baseline: Current commercial cloud providers operating in the space of earth observation analysis for public institutions and civil society include Google Earth Engine and Google AI for Social Good, Microsoft AI for Earth, Earth on AWS, Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative, Serco/OVH, Creotech/CloudFerro, Airbus/ Orange/Cap Gemini, ATOS/T-Systems/Thales, Descartes Labs, and Planet.
  • Rationale: The large commercial cloud platforms provide near-free access to Earth observation data in an analysis-ready form. These platforms have accompanying initiatives providing grants, free software, low-cost computing, extensive online educational materials, and thriving research and development communities. These initiatives can enable democratized access to the digital ecosystem for the planet, for governments and citizen scientists across the world provided they adopt a common code of conduct. There is an opportunity to help these commercial initiatives maximize their impact by providing the best scientific data and contributing know how to improve and validate analysis while also helping them be more transparent about their underlying business models and terms of use. A successful digital ecosystem for Earth depends on the partners contributing to and using a shared platform. A common code of conduct for these partnerships that define guardrails around transparency and terms of use would remove barriers preventing the partnerships from easily forming.

Target 4 Standards and Scorecard: Leveraging existing frameworks and tools, like DOIs, a set of international technology standards, norms and best practices for a digital ecosystem for the planet are adopted, and a scorecard methodology is developed. These standards include crowdsourcing and citizen science, as well as the use of passive monitoring data.

  • Baseline: A range of individual standards and international norms exist that will be essential foundations for a digital ecosystem for the planet. These could include FAIR Data; Open Data Standards, Creative Commons, Open Science, and Web Data Standards; Application of relevant ISO standards (19115, 19165 & 19157) and the digital object identifiers (26324); Statistical Data and Metadata eXchange standards (SDMX); OGC standards and the SpatioTemporal Asset Catalog (STAC) specification. The suite of standards that will support the digital ecosystem for the planet needs to be documented together with key gaps. Criteria proposed in the data collaborative disclosure template (figure 3, pages 2–45) should also be considered.
  • Rationale: With the proliferation of initiatives, clear criteria and international standards are needed to ensure interoperability, quality control, privacy, and security. Users also need to access transparent and comparable disclosures from each platform about their underlying digital architectures, business models and terms of use. This could be transformed into a scorecard system to help benchmark performance and/or determine the level of compliance against international norms. This could be similar to the LEED Green building certification, the Fairwork scorecard or the annual ranking of the 100 most socially reputable companies by RepTrack100.

Target 5 Data Collaborations, Commons and Trusts: Clear guidelines and decision-making processes are available for public-private collaborations on data commons, data trusts, and data aggregation to address different global environmental challenges.

  • Baseline: Data trusts, data collaboratives, and data commons have been proposed as different solutions for combining or leveraging private and public sector data sets. User-generated data could also form part of a “global data commons” that would be responsibly managed in a manner that sustains the business models of platform companies and also contributes to wider societal and environmental objectives. More than 150 data collaboratives exist around the world to address societal challenges, including many environmentally-focused collaboratives. Many of these collaboratives are listed on the Data Collaboratives Explorer managed by GovLab.
  • Rationale: The environmental community needs to understand which of these data governance modalities can be used for specific problems and how to manage the different trade-offs in their design, structure, and implementation. Each solution involves a series of choices regarding different variables — like access, engagement, and flow — and the interplay between those choices. There is currently no approach or grounded methodology for assessing the benefits, challenges, and tradeoffs associated with the myriad “equations” available to practitioners designing and deploying a data trust, collaborative or commons in different contexts. Further research and guidance are needed on designs and structures that may be fit for purpose for different environmental issues together with resource requirements, organizational commitments, timeframes, and the real-world impacts of different trade-offs. In addition, we need to foster the creation of communities of practice bringing together actors in this space, such as the Data Stewards Network.

Target 6 Indigenous Data Governance: Indigenous Peoples are engaged and active participants in the data space. Indigenous Data Sovereignty, the process by which Indigenous Peoples govern and control all aspects of their data, is embraced by both public and private entities. The CARE principles for Indigenous Data Governance (Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility, and Ethics) is a recognized international framework, complementing the existing FAIR standards by ensuring data guidelines address power imbalances.

  • Baseline: At least four international efforts to advance Indigenous People’s rights and interest in their data were launched in 2019: (i) the Oñati Indigenous Data Sovereignty Communique (ii) the establishment of the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (iii) the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance; and the Indigenous AI alliance. The Internet Society’s Indigenous Connectivity Summit included Indigenous Peoples in the decisions and solutions that shape the Internet in order to close the global digital divide. The Internet Society is also establishing “community networks” (CNs) to provide a sustainable solution to address the connectivity gaps around the world. As of today, nearly 50% of the world is still offline and Indigenous peoples are disproportionally affected.
  • Rationale: Indigenous and Tribal Peoples are managers and stewards of natural resources and guardians of biodiversity, for whom Indigenous data sovereignty and data rights are critical issues, aligned with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The current movement towards open data and big data raises some fundamental questions about Indigenous data ownership, representation and control. Indigenous peoples have been carefully observing, collecting and analyzing data about their environment for centuries. Historically, however, they have been excluded in the decisions regarding governance and stewardship of their data. As the data revolution accelerates, Indigenous groups around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about poor data practices and Indigenous data misuse. Indigenous Data Sovereignty is a concept which responds to these concerns and promotes Indigenous Peoples’ right to govern and control all aspects of their data.
Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

Track 2: Applications

Target 7 (Urban) SMART Cities: A global protocol and standard are proposed for publishing environmental and climate data generated through SMART city applications, designed in a manner enabling input into national and global Sustainable Development Goal monitoring processes.

  • Baseline: The smart city industry is projected to be a $400 billion market by 2020, with 600 cities worldwide. Two major international initiatives are underway to accelerate the adoption of SMART city applications. United Smart Cities brings together the public and private sector, as well as academia and international organizations to jointly discuss and implement new smart and sustainable urban projects and solutions. The United SMART Cities program is being implemented in 64 participating countries during 2015–2020 in Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa. Meanwhile, the G20 Global SMART Cities Alliance provides a platform for city leaders to share best practices and establish global standards, identify governance gaps, and develop new policies for the responsible and ethical use of smart city technologies. International policy discussions are underway on how data generated through SMART city applications, including IoT sensors can be published — but these need to be firmly connected to the wider vision of contributing to a digital ecosystem for the planet as well as Sustainable Development Goal monitoring.
  • Rationale: Given the current geopolitical roadblocks that are undermining national commitments to climate action and other environmental agendas, much of the concrete action in the coming years is going to take place at the urban level, led by municipal governments. A smart city is a general term used to describe a city that incorporates information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation and utilities in order to reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs. In general, IoT sensors and other digital technologies are used to collect data from different urban sectors in order to detect patterns and identify efficiency gains. Given the huge amount of big data on environment and climate change variables that SMART cities will produce, global protocols and standards are needed to publish this data in the public domain so that it can feed into a digital ecosystem for the planet as well as national and global Sustainable Development Goal monitoring applications. In particular, a data governance regime is needed for data generated by IoT sensors that are implemented through public-private partnerships.

Target 8 (Urban) Digital Twins: “Digital twins” are adopted as a planning and sustainability optimization tool for the 10 of the 100 cities with the largest emissions footprints.

  • Baseline: Only a handful of cities (Singapore, Palo Alto, Ålesund, Rotterdam, Cambridge, Boston, Jaipur, Amaravati, Newcastle, Stockholm, Helsinki) (referenced here) have adopted the digital twin approach, but estimates suggest 500 could be in place by 2025. Ongoing open source work is being conducted by platforms such as Sentient Hubs, Data61 and Augment City.
  • Rationale: Using frontier technology to generate big data and big insights on the environment is only useful if it can be transformed into a manner where it can drive day to day decision making of people — ranging from citizens to companies to policymakers. We must focus on the mantra of “right data, right time, right format”. Supporting platforms and initiatives that can showcase how to integrate complex data from multiple sources and help simplify it into data fusion products, dashboards, “digital twins” and other extended reality visualizations that can inform decision making. Data must be combined in a simple matter where combined environmental risks can be assessed, and trade-offs can be simulated. The key value proposition to digital twins for cities is in their ability to combine real-time data, physical dependency models and intelligence from different platforms to simulate, predict and improve decision-making.

Target 9 (Fintech) Fintech and SDGs: Establish principles, standards, and targets for the integration of Sustainable Development Goals with emerging financial technologies, with specific focus on government, corporate and private equity finance stakeholders that are funding this transition.

  • Baseline: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will require a rough estimate of US$5–7 trillion dollars of annual investment across sectors and industries. This figure represents only 7 to 10 percent of global GDP and 25 to 40 percent of annual global investment. However, only US$1.4 trillion are invested annually, from both the public and the private sector, in developing countries — leaving an estimated funding gap of around US$2.5 trillion per year. At the current level of private sector participation, there will be a funding shortfall of US$1.6 trillion to be covered by the public sector including the official development assistance (ODA). If business-as-usual continues in the global financial arena, the public sector will not be able to finance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Therefore, a step-change in private investment in Sustainable Development Goal sectors is required. Consumers have the power to persuade boardrooms and cabinets to rethink policies and re-examine bottom lines. Controlling an estimated 60% of global GDP, citizens and consumers can change the market.
  • Rationale: Financial resources exist, in the form of savings and financial assets that belong to citizens around the world. The need is to channel these resources effectively through public and private means to finance the Sustainable Development Goals, including the various environmental goals. Digital financing, or so-called ‘financial technologies’ (fintech), includes mobile payment systems, artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things, blockchains and digital currencies. Global financing of fintech has grown to US$111.8 billion, up 120 percent from US$50.8 billion in 2017. Digitalization can help overcome key barriers to the alignment of financial flows with the Sustainable Development Goals, including a lack of awareness and capabilities, misaligned policies and broader incentives, and shortfalls in governance and accountability. Empowering people is ultimately how digitalization will help to finance the environmental Sustainable Development Goals. This includes a range of financial decisions from making payments, borrowing, saving, lending, and investing, as well as how they can hold those accountable who manage and spend money on their behalf. Robust governance innovations are also needed to ensure that digitalization supports the alignment of finance and money with citizens’ interests and sustainable development. The UN Task Force on the Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goal’s is currently assessing opportunities, risks and governance challenges with a flagship report expected for 2020. The Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance is also focusing on this opportunity space.

Target 10 (Fintech) Environmental Footprints of Products: At least one global e-commerce platform and one leading Fintech firm offer consumers information on the supply chains and environmental footprints of products using standard metrics that enable comparability and sustainability nudging.

  • Baseline: None of the major e-commerce platforms offer consumer information on product sustainability and certification in a manner that can drive forward more sustainable consumption choices or digital nudging. While some companies such as Amazon have supply chain standards, there is no information available for consumers on how individual products comply with these standards and many are difficult to quantify.
  • Rationale: In an era of big data, there is no longer any excuse for e-commerce platforms to not provide consumers information on the supply chains, including the environmental and carbon footprints of products in a comparable manner. While users can quickly compare products based on price, quality and more — there is no transparency or comparability on the sustainability of products. E-commerce platforms such as Amazon, eBay, Jingdong (JD), Alibaba and Rakuten offer huge potential for digital sustainability nudging if they could help consumers to compare and filter the sustainability performance of different products in order to make more informed lifestyle choices. This goes hand in hand with using the power of mobile phones and apps to help individuals seamlessly calculate their individual environmental and carbon footprints and understand how their individual impact can be reduced.

Target 11 (Citizen Science) Consumer Awareness and Behavior: Mobile phone apps are used at scale to help individuals seamlessly calculate their individual environmental footprints. Nudge technologies push citizens to improve their sustainable consumption choices and as well as contribute data to citizen science.

  • Baseline: Apps that embed or promote sustainable consumption practices and products are starting to emerge in four main categories. These include apps that: (1) reward sustainable behavior (e.g.Ant Forest); (2) offer payments for specific services (e.g. C4 EcoSolutions, Oxi-Zen); (3) offer tools to compare the sustainability of different products (e.g. USERs, Yuka); (4) and offer tools to calculate individual footprints across apps (e.g. Innerplanet). Apps that support citizen science contributions to essential global data sets are also emerging; some of the most popular include iNaturalist and the Map of Life.
  • Rationale: As smartphones proliferate throughout society, there is a tremendous opportunity to leverage these devices to study, understand, and positively affect human behavior. Smartphones are powerful gateways to collect and aggregate consumption data as well as an ideal platform for providing feedback to consumers and to suggest specific interventions such as behavioral changes or different products and services. They could also be used to directly connect individuals (and/or organizations) restoring ecosystems with funders (and/or commercial buyers) of ecosystem goods and services. It is not inconceivable that smartphone apps could also be used to collect biophysical and social data on ecosystem restoration (the credibility of which is analyzed through AI) triggering automatic payments directly to the restoration practitioners on the ground. This could be a game-changer in terms of upscaling ecosystem restoration because it will reduce transaction costs and catalyze ecosystem restoration initiatives that generate benefits such as increased water supplies (to be purchased by entities such as municipalities or local businesses), increased carbon capture (purchased by companies and individuals) and other benefits such as increased pollination of agricultural crops (paid for by farmer organizations). A critical feature of such an app would be that the data collected on the ground is scientifically rigorous and meets the quality standards set by the purchasers of the ecosystem goods and services. The positive transformational value of digital lifestyle mobile apps has already been demonstrated in the health realm (fitness, diet, nutrition content, emergency response). The same opportunities exist for the environmental sector if sustainable business models can be established. As environmental apps proliferate, it will be essential to ensure that the various apps adopt transparency measures to reveal their scoring criteria and adopt international standards driven by scientifically validated data-sets.

Target 12 (Citizen Science) Extended reality: International organizations release at least 3 new extended reality applications that allow users to downscale global reports and data on environmental degradation and climate change to the community level to enable broader understanding and appreciation of the projected impacts as well as practical solutions.

  • Baseline: Multiple extended reality (XR) experiences already exist to help explore the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change. These include: Tree; This is Climate Change; We Live in an Ocean of Air; Greenland Melting; Immerse; Osmose; After Ice; and the Anthropocene. A number of XR hackathons and competitions are also being held on environmental and climate topics such as EarthXR, ClimateVR and the WorldXR Forum. However, few international organizations engage in these processes or leverage the power of XR to help communicate their latest global assessments, reports, and data sets.
  • Rationale: Ongoing academic research has found that XR can be a powerful tool for improving environmental learning gains and attitudes. It offers users an immersive experience that can generate an emotional response and increased understanding of an issue. More applications are needed that can leverage global datasets and assessment reports in a manner where they can be downscaled to the local level to highlight projected impacts together with practical solutions. International organizations working on global level environmental and climate change assessments should increase their level of investment in XR as a communication, dissemination and engagement tool. The emerging digital ecosystem for the planet must be interoperable with XR applications so they can be cross leveraged.

Target 13 (Environmental Stewardship) Accessible Digital Resource Management Tools: Users in underserved communities are able to trial digital technologies as inputs for different low-cost commercial resource management applications. We suggest that this can be achieved through Open Data Cubes being completed for the world, focusing on Africa and Latin America.

  • Baseline: Geoscience Australia developed and released the Open Data Cube technology and it has subsequently been supported, developed and promoted by the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites and the Group on Earth Observations. It has been modified and deployed in Colombia and Switzerland with approximately 50 other countries at different levels of maturity and use. Digital Earth Africa has started to build on Open Data Cube technology to deliver a unique continental-scale platform. Google Earth Engine, Maxar GBDX, Planet and Descartes Labs have developed analysis-ready data for the whole world. National Geographic Society is developing Sentinel-resolution global land use land cover time-series products based on analysis-ready data on Google Earth Engine.
  • Rationale: The Open Data Cube (ODC) is an open-source solution for accessing, managing, and analyzing large quantities of Earth observation (EO) data. It presents a common analytical framework composed of an integrated gridded data analysis environment for decades of analysis-ready data (ARD) from multiple satellites and other acquisition systems. There are two current priorities to maximize the value of ODCs. The first is to connect the resulting Analysis Ready Data (ARD) to low-cost commercial resource management applications such as precision agriculture, forest management, and renewable energy, enabling wide-scale adoption and uptake in order to reduce materials use (and, ultimately, resource extraction). The second is to coordinate ODCs in the generation of national, regional and global datasets that can be used for monitoring specific sustainable development goals.

Target 14 (Environmental Stewardship) Applications for Indigenous Peoples: ICTs are used by Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their culture through the use of EO data and in-situ observations. Further, Indigenous communities that share data on in-situ environmental monitoring maintain control and governance over their information, in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

  • Baseline: In addition to ongoing initiatives such as the Internet Society’s Indigenous Connectivity Summit, digital technologies have been used by Indigenous communities around the world for decades. For example, CyberTracker technology is being used for on-the-ground resource management by Indigenous rangers, and a range of geolocalized databases have been developed to house Traditional Environmental Knowledge.
  • Rationale: As noted above, to build a digital ecosystem of the planet, it will be of paramount importance to engage with Indigenous Peoples and to incorporate Indigenous Data Sovereignty in data policies. In order to create a global digital ecosystem that is inclusive and “leaves no one behind”, it is essential to close the connectivity gap. In order to give agency to those currently not connected, and to allow everyone to benefit from the digital revolution, technological disparities need to be addressed. Moreover, it will be essential to include Indigenous and local voices in the decisions and solutions to overcome connectivity gaps, while acknowledging [MOU1] the “right to be offline.”
Photo by patricio davalos on Unsplash

Track 3: Governance and Policy

Target 15 Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation: The environmental governance and sustainability agenda is integrated with the “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” by the UN’s 75th birthday in 2020, together with concrete actions and financing.

  • Baseline: Some foundational research has already been conducted on the potential implications for environmental governance of a Smart Earth revolution. However, a vision on how to embed environmental sustainability within the global commitment for digital cooperation has not been drafted or considered through a multi-stakeholder process.
  • Rationale: As many environmental problems transcend national borders, global cooperation is required for planetary-scale solutions. Similarly, a digital ecosystem for the planet can only be built when countries, companies, and communities collaborate in a manner where environmental data can be shared and aggregated into a global perspective. Ultimately, our global environmental governance framework needs to be digitalized. We must understand the implications of digital technology for environmental governance, capitalize on the opportunities and mitigate the risks. The UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation recognized the potential for digital technology and cooperation to contribute to environmental sustainability. This understanding must be embedded into the planned “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” as one of the key follow-up tracks to the high-level report.

Target 16 Digitization Strategy for Global Environmental Institutions: At least 90% of the key global environmental institutions, agreements and strategies complete a Digital Review, adopt a digitalization strategy and hire a Chief Data Officer or Chief Digital Officer.

  • Baseline: Among the key international organizations, only UNDP and the World Bank have adopted a digital strategy and established a senior position of CDO. UNEP, FAO, UNESCO, UN-Habitat, GEF, GCF, and the family multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) have not yet taken similar steps. The green economy policy landscape has not yet adopted a coherent digitalization agenda but calls in this direction are being made. Some policy work is being conducted on creating a digital roadmap for a circular economy.
  • Rationale: Many of our global environmental institutions, initiatives, agreements, and strategies continue to run in an analog manner and have only adopted digital technologies in a largely ad hoc manner. By the end of 2020, digital reviews should be completed and digitalization strategies should be adopted. A senior-level position should also be established such as chief data officer or chief digital officer to implement the digital strategy. This is one of the core recommendations of the recent report Counting on the World to Act: A RoadMap for Governments to Achieve Modern Data Systems for Sustainable Development. The recent announcement of the European Green Deal is an excellent example whereby all of the green economy, biodiversity conservation and net-zero carbon goals will be enabled by massive investments in digital technology and artificial intelligence.

Target 17 Global Environmental Data Strategy: International consultations are initiated towards the adoption of an inclusive Global Environmental Data Strategy.

  • Baseline: The 4th UN Environmental Assembly in 2019 mandated UNEP to develop a global environmental data strategy. An inclusive global process must be launched to develop the strategy and it needs to be connected to other global governance processes such as the WTO and different multilateral environmental agreements. The German Advisory Council for Global Change (WBGU) conducted a flagship study on how frontier technologies and the digital revolution can advance sustainability. They issued a 486-page flagship report “Our Common Digital Future” together with a draft “Charter for a Sustainable Digital Age”. A multi-stakeholder political process should be engineered to review and adopt the charter.
  • Rationale: A digital ecosystem for the planet can only exist if it is based upon a range of contributions and collaboration between different private sector actors, civil society and national governments. Any insights and derivative products and services will rely on large pools of global data combined with a relatively unhindered flow of data across borders. As data will pervade every aspect of our lives in the digital economy, it stands to reason that clear global policies and strategies for environmental data are also needed. An inclusive global data strategy will be fundamental to establish standards that support data sharing, harmonization, and the generation of global public goods while also managing and balancing the trade-off of conflicting goals between different actors. Our international trade regimes will also need to be updated to effectively support cross-border data flows for environmental data. The USA, the European Union, and China are using domestic and foreign policies to reap data-based economies. Essentially, they have created three distinct data realms with different approaches to data governance. These three data realms create pressure to use WTO mechanisms to find common ground among their approaches. The RECODE project and the International Council for Science have both issued policy recommendations for trans-border sharing of scientific data.

Target 18 Digital Charter: An international Digital Charter for Environmental Sustainability is initiated, as an inclusive process which co-defines, with a diverse set of users, an ethical framework to guide the development of digital technology and applications.

  • Baseline: Some UN Member States are have already set Digital Charters as rolling programmes that serve to establish digital behavioral regulations — this is the case of the United Kingdom and Canada. Such digital policies are a starting point to ensure accessibility and openness to the internet, citizen right’s protection, and data privacy.
  • Rationale: Digital technology is advancing at a much faster pace than governance. This leads to a gap that needs to be bridged to ensure that the internet is a safe place for its users. Governmental regulations must be developed to address this gap and tackle all the potential challenges that originate from it. In this sense, unethical behaviors and practices online shall be seen as offline.

Target 19 Indigenous Inclusion: Indigenous data sovereignty is incorporated into the other targets, through inclusive dialogue with Indigenous communities and initiatives.

  • Baseline: The Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA) is a network of Indigenous peoples from different sectors that advocate for Indigenous Data Sovereignty intending to protect their data sovereignty and governance, rights, interests, and reinforcing decision-making. Besides, a set of local processes are already taking place under this target all around the globe such as the Australian National Data Science institution, the Indigenous Data Network (IDN), or the Indigenous Governance Database (IGD).
  • Rationale: As it has been occurring outside the digital world, Indigenous rights are not always ensured and protected. It is mandatory that Indigenous peoples are included and protected in the digital world. This means facilitating Indigenous data storage, ownership, access and consent. Any framework that is developed for a digital ecosystem for Earth should affirm Indigenous peoples’ rights, including their right to set their data agenda and the right to choose the conditions of Internet connectivity. It is imperative to engage, learn from and (co-)design digital solutions with Indigenous communities. E.g. GEOHACK19 is harnessing the collective intelligence of the crowd to co-design innovative solutions with and for Indigenous peoples, combining traditional knowledge and science across cultural and generational lines.

Target 20 Detecting Fake Environmental News: Methods are identified and vetted for detecting information on social media platforms about the environment that are either fake, biased, discriminatory or scientifically unsound, and a user-friendly repository of these methods is shared with the international community, as the first step towards action on digital misinformation on environmental issues.

  • Baseline: UNEP and UNFCCC systematic observation and analysis of the status of the environment and climate change should be a model to advance scientific knowledge and inform robust policymaking and programme design. The reports of these organizations ensure that citizens can access the scientific information necessary to understand the risks and impacts of the consequences of human-driven environmental and climate change. Digital technologies have proved effective in spreading fake news that threatens the integrity of the research of these institutions and, ultimately, constraining the work done towards fighting environmental issues and climate change. As of now, there is not an independent institution whose mandate is to fact-check with substantial evidence and scientific analyses of fake news related to the environment and climate.
  • Rationale: Social media has the power to shape consumer preferences, election outcomes, and social mobilization against government regimes. There has been a strategic disinformation campaign on topics such as climate change that seek to reproduce fake or biased data as part of climate denial. As a result, detecting bias and misinformation about the environment is a critical priority.

Paper on the Top 20 Processes in 2020

From 38 total processes identified in a collective intelligence process carried by over 70 experts from the digital and environmental industries, the figure below shows a narrowed-down overview of the top multi-stakeholder initiatives that are capable of adopting our top 20 priorities above and leading the effort to construct a digital ecosystem for the planet. The table displays two sets of processes: the top 20 processes in black, and nine honorable mentions in navy blue.

We would like to explicitly call attention to the fact that many of the processes we engaged span multiple tracks. For now, we have positioned them in a single track based on where we feel the bulk of their work sits. However, moving forward (and with the help of our interactive map), we would like to do a better job showing the connections across tracks and targets.

Following the image below is a comprehensive list of all 38 processes that were considered, along with quick summaries and outbound links.

Summary table created by Douglas Robb (UBC)

Track 1: Data/System Architecture

1. ITU focus group: Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and other Emerging Technologies:

  • 80+ participants

On 22 May 2019, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Study Group 5 on the environment, climate change and circular economy (SG5) created a subsidiary Focus Group on Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and Other Emerging Technologies (FG-AI4EE). This is a technical group for pre-standardization discussions with industry and government representatives as well as academics. Membership to the group is open and only requires registration on the ITU site. FG-AI4EE will identify the standardization needs to develop a sustainable approach to AI, machine learning and other emerging technologies including automation, augmented reality, virtual reality, extended reality, smart manufacturing, industry 5.0, cloud/edge computing, blockchain, IoT, Big Data, space 2.0 technologies and 5G, among others. The Focus Group will develop technical reports and technical specifications to address the environmental aspects of emerging technologies, including water and energy consumption as well as emission impacts, and provide guidance to stakeholders on how to operate these technologies in a more environmentally efficient manner in order to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the first meeting of the focus group that took place on December 12 in Vienna, three distinct working groups were formed to focus on identifying the environmental requirements of emerging technologies, assessing their impacts and developing related implementation guidelines. In 2020, FG-AI4EE aims to deliver over 20 deliverables through a multilateral process to support global stakeholders toward the strategic and environmentally conscious implementation of emerging technologies in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

2. Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs)

  • 30 countries
  • 100 participants

On 6 March 2015, at its forty-sixth session, the United Nations Statistical Commission created the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), composed of Member States and including regional and international agencies as observers. The IAEG-SDGs was tasked to develop and implement the global indicator framework for the SDGs and related targets of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. The global indicator framework was developed by the IAEG-SDGs and agreed upon, including refinements on several indicators, at the 48th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission held in March 2017. At its third meeting, the IAEG-SDGs formed three working groups to address specific areas relevant to SDG implementation: Statistical Data and Metadata Exchange (SDMX), Geo-spatial information, and Interlinkages.

3. Global Environmental Data Strategy (UNEP/EA.4/RES.23)

  • 193 countries
  • 4,000+ participants

The 4th session of the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in March 2019 mandated UNEP to develop a global environmental data strategy within the program of work and budget. This strategy is to be elaborated in consultation with Governments, United Nations agencies, funds and programs, the secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements, and international and regional scientific bodies. It will also leverage earth observation data as well as citizen science. The objective of the strategy is to support regular regional and global analysis of the state of and trends in environmental parameters. This will feed into processes such as the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) and the World Environmental Situation Room (WESR).

4. Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM)

  • 90+ countries
  • 113 organizations
  • 400+ participants

Led by UN Member States, UN-GGIM aims to address global challenges regarding the use of geospatial information, including in the development agendas, and to serve as a body for global policymaking in the field of geospatial information management. The Integrated Geospatial Information Framework (IGIF) provides a basis and guide for developing, integrating, strengthening and maximizing geospatial information management and related resources in all countries. It will assist countries in bridging the geospatial digital divide, secure socio-economic prosperity, and to leave no one behind.The IGIF focuses on location information that is integrated with any other meaningful data to solve societal and environmental problems, acts as a catalyst for economic growth and opportunity, and to understand and take benefit from a nation’s development priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals. The IGIF comprises three parts as separate, but connected, documents: Part 1 is an Overarching Strategic Framework; Part 2 is an Implementation Guide; and Part 3 is a Country-level Action Plan.

5. Internet Engineering Task Force

  • 100+ active working groups
  • $9M Budget

The IETF is structured via volunteer ‘Working Groups’ that are international in scope and open to anyone interested in joining. The aim of the organization is to build open standards for internet architecture. Broader topics of interest include automated network management, the Internet of Things, new transport technology, and security & privacy. The group recently gathered in Singapore and shared their highlights from 2019.

6. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

  • 100+ governments, thousands of individual internet users

Per their website, ICANN is an international and not-for-profit organization started in 1998 that brings together individuals, industry, non-commercial and government representatives to discuss, debate and develop policies about the technical coordination of the internet’s domain name system. They coordinate the Internet’s unique identifiers — domain names and IP addresses — across the world and define policies for how these identifiers should run. This is done through a collective, bottom-up and open multi-stakeholder process. The group holds three international meetings each year to discuss solutions that ensure a stable and unified global internet moving forward. Some successes of ICANN include establishing a market competition for generic domain name (gTLD) registrations resulting in a lowering of domain name costs by 80% and saving consumers and businesses over US$1 billion annually in domain registration fees, as well as implementing an efficient and cost-effective Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), which has been used to resolve thousands of disputes over the rights to domain names.

7. Regional Internet Registries

  • 5 regional internet registries
  • 55,000+ members

Per the website, the Number Resource Organization (or NRO) was created to manage the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) in 2003. The aim is to manage, distribute, and register Internet number resources within their respective regions, with the broader group working together on global internet policy and governance.

8. Global Data Commons

  • 100+ organizations

Although numerous data sharing initiatives exist globally, there are significant gaps in the ecosystem to ensure that data sharing and data consumption is at the appropriate scale to be able to run AI systems that support the SDGs. The Global Data Commons (GDC) initiative aspires to set in motion a global movement to significantly scale-up responsible access to data, empowering an unprecedented number of public, private and social sector actors to use data for public good. This global data access concept is being developed as a follow-up track to the UN High-level Panel on digital cooperation. In particular, recommendation 1b on digital public goods. The Global Data Commons exercise was launched at the UAE during the World Government Summit. The GDC project is solidly anchored within the AI for SDG framework and part of the AI Commons project. Key collaborators include The Future Society’s AI Initiative, UN Global Pulse and McKinsey’s Noble Intelligence initiative. To date, more than 100 institutions to date have taken part in a series of 3 stakeholder consultation meetings.

9. Icebreaker One

  • 50+ organizations

Icebreaker One gathers financial markets, public sector institutions, asset owners and the science community into a common space. It aims to unlock the finance, data, and innovation needed to address our climate and biodiversity emergencies. Icebreaker One is focused on the cultural mechanics of data publishing and use: developing common principles, practices, incentives, and safeguards. It builds on existing work (e.g. geospatial, Internet of Things), bringing together initiatives and organizations to demonstrate the investment case for development, and on specific interventions — such as data licensing — that require cross-sector action. Icebreaker One aims to unlock and integrate the data that can influence investment decisions of USD 3.6 trillion per year to deliver net-zero or net-negative emissions outcomes, unlocking a marketplace for data sharing through common principles and practice, and USD 50 million per year in leveraged finance for innovation. More information available in their collaborative report Environmental Intelligence for Everyone as well as the data ecosystem mapping initiative.

10. Future Earth: Sustainability in the Digital Age Initiative

  • 200+ participants

This initiative seeks “opportunities to disrupt the systems sustaining our unsustainability and building the knowledge and tools towards a more sustainable and equitable world in the digital age”. It is coordinated by Future Earth, an international organization, with offices in 20 countries, of scientists, researchers and innovators collaborating to accelerate transformations to a more sustainable and equitable planet. As part of the process, more than 200 diverse experts from over 30 countries were consulted to develop an agenda on Digital Disruptions for Sustainability, the “D²S Agenda”, which lays out research, innovation, and action needed to leverage the digital age to steer societal transformations to sustainability. This D²S Agenda, which will be released in Q1 2020, was developed as a core part of the Sustainability in the Digital Age Initiative.

11. Decentralized web (Dweb)

300+ participants

The DWeb is a community, a social movement, an emerging suite of practices for effective participatory governance, and a set of technologies aimed at re-decentralizing web technologies and architecture. Decentralization is a process of redistributing functions, people, powers or things away from a central authority (ref), including extensive use of peer-to-peer protocols and corresponding open-source software. Decentralized technologies include many kinds of projects, with many enthusiastic communities holding widely different values and goals. Multilateral processes about the governance of a DWeb architecture are not even in their infancy. There is however a huge grassroots conversation taking place about how to build the DWeb (the planned web 3.0), highlighted in events catalyzed and supported by the Internet Archive: a summit in 2018, a week-long gathering at the 2019 DWeb Camp over of 300 participants, and an anticipated event in summer of 2020. One of the key themes of the DWeb community has been supporting a call to action to “lock the web open”. A pilot network map of the Dweb community is under development.

12. Open Data Barometer

  • 100 countries

Produced by the World Wide Web Foundation with the support of the Omidyar Network, the Open Data Barometer (ODB) aims to uncover the true prevalence and impact of open data initiatives around the world. It does this through a global measure of how governments are publishing and using open data for accountability, innovation, and social impact. The Leaders Edition looks at the 30 governments that have adopted the Open Data Charter and those that, as G20 members, have committed to G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles. The measure for each country is based on a 1–100 scale from 3 measures: readiness, implementation and emerging impact.

13. Open Data Inventory

  • 125 countries

Led by Open Data Watch, whose work supports the implementation of change in the production and management of official statistical data, the Open Data Inventory (ODIN) assesses data provided by national statistical offices (NSOs) through their principal websites for topical coverage and openness. The results are tabulated to allow comparisons across different datasets within a country and between countries. ODIN’s unique methodology has so far been applied to over 125 countries, where they facilitate direct engagement with national statistical offices, and through this direct engagement, turn objective assessments into practical policy and technical advice.The ODIN annual report covers this year’s highlights. Full details and results are accessible through the interactive ODIN online system.

14. German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU): Towards Our Common Digital Future

  • 2,000+ participants

Under the leadership of Dirk Messner, the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) took an active role to study how frontier technologies and the digital revolution can advance sustainability. They issued a 486 page flagship report “Our Common Digital Future” together with a summary version and a draft “Charter for a Sustainable Digital Age”. The WBGU has also issued recommendations on a proposed focus for the German EU presidency on Digitalization and Sustainability. These documents will likely feed into the strategy of the German EU Council Presidency in Q3–4 of 2020. Dirk Messner became President of the German Environmental Agency in January 2020 and will likely continue supporting the ideas and outcomes of the WBGU.

15. Swiss Digital Initiative

  • 40+ participants

Launched in September 2019 to be hosted in Geneva, Switzerland and chaired by Doris Leuthard, former Swiss Federal Councilor. The SDI is a long-term and sustainable process for safeguarding ethical standards in the digital world. In particular, it seeks to strengthen trust in digital technologies as well as in the actors involved in ongoing digital transformation as outlined in their policy statement. The next big launch event will take place during the 2020 WEF meeting in Davos. One of the longer term ambitions is to consider the political appetite and process for establishing a ”Global Digital Convention”.

Photo by Stock Photography on Unsplash

Track 2: Applications

16. Group on Earth Observation (GEO)

  • 1500+ participants
  • 105 countries
  • 127 international organizations

GEO is an intergovernmental organization in Geneva that works to improve the availability, access and use of Earth observations for the benefit of society. With a voluntary and non-legally binding intergovernmental partnership of 105 member countries and 100+ partner organizations and associates, GEO plays a unique role in driving cooperative action and decision making by members in two main tracks. First, it works at the system architecture level by coordinating international efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) which aims to link existing and planned Earth observation systems and supports the development of new ones in cases of perceived gaps in the supply of environment-related information. GEOSS also includes work that supports open data sharing and data management principles. Second, it works at the applications levels by brokering partnerships around a common three-year GEO work programme supporting EO programmes, such as Copernicus, Landsat and others from Asia Pacific valued at over EUR 50 billion in Earth observation investments and related infrastructure. GEO’s global priorities include supporting the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The 2019 GEO Ministerial Declaration outlines current priorities while the GEO report on work from 2016–2019 highlights impact.

17. Data4Now Initiative

  • 11 countries
  • 250+ partners

Launched by the UN Deputy Secretary General during the 2019 UN General Assembly, Data4Now is supported by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, the United Nations Statistics Division, the World Bank, and the Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (TReNDS) at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. These organizations have joined forces on a tailored and collaborative process for aggregating, amplifying and scaling-up data solutions. Together they bring expertise in brokering and facilitation, access to governments and academic networks, and technical know-how on data for development. The combined efforts will increase the access and use of data for development at an unprecedented scale and pace. In 2019, TReNDS released a flagship report “Counting on the World to Act: A Roadmap for Governments to Achieve Modern Data Systems for Sustainable Development”.

18. World Data Forum

  • 100 countries
  • 2,000+ participants

To be hosted from 18–21 October 2020 in Bern, Switzerland. The World Data Forum is an annual event that follows-up one of the main recommendations contained in the report entitled “A World That Counts” presented in November 2014 by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Independent Expert and Advisory Group on Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. The UN Statistical Commission agreed that a United Nations World Data Forum on Sustainable Development Data (UN World Data Forum) would be the suitable platform for intensifying cooperation with various professional groups, such as information technology, geospatial information managers, data scientists, and users, as well as civil society stakeholders. The ‘Road to Bern’ process will include a series of big data, digital technology and AI discussions in Geneva throughout the year.

19. Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

  • 250+ global partners

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require unprecedented action to strengthen data as an essential part of the infrastructure for sustainable development. Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data has assembled hundreds of partners to galvanize political commitment, align strategic priorities, foster collaboration, spur innovation, and build trust in the booming data ecosystems of the 21st century. Their impact has included the creation of the Africa Regional Data Cube, the creation of an inclusive data charter, and many others.

20. Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics

  • 25+ global experts & institutions

The Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (TReNDS) mobilizes technical and policy-oriented solutions and research to advance the data revolution for sustainable development. They conduct original research on topics spanning the data realm, from standards to innovations to financing. In addition, they support emerging processes and tools and advise governments and other stakeholders on the production and use of data for development. Past work includes the Open Algorithms Project (OPAL) and Living Manual: Local-level blueprints for SDG monitoring, while current work five different big data & SDG-related projects.

21. Open Data for Development

  • 7 regional hubs

Open Data for Development (OD4D) works to advance the creation of locally-driven open data ecosystems around the world. They do this through catalyzing action to set a global open data framework for sustainable development agendas, support governments in their open data initiatives, scale data solutions for sustainable development, and monitor the availability, use, and impact of open data around the world. Current global initiatives include such things as the Feminist Open Government, the State of Open Data, the open data charter, and the global open data index (to name a few).

22. Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network

  • 300 entities
  • 50+ countries

The Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network is the multistakeholder organization addressing the tension between the cross-border Internet and national jurisdictions. Its Paris-based Secretariat facilitates a global policy process engaging over 300 key entities from governments, the world’s largest internet companies, technical operators, civil society groups, academia, and international organizations from over 50 countries. Stakeholders in the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network work in currently three Programs (Data & Jurisdiction, Content & Jurisdiction and Domains & Jurisdiction) to jointly develop policy standards and operational solutions to pressing legal challenges at the intersection of the global digital economy, human rights, and security. The organization is also the home of the I&J Retrospect Database tracking global trends and launches in 2019 the world’s first Internet & Jurisdiction Global Status Report.

23. European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)

  • 50+ innovation hubs across Europe
  • 1250+ start-ups and scale-ups supported
  • EUR 890+ million in external capital raised by EIT supported ventures

It is an independent EU Body created by the European Union in 2008 to strengthen Europe’s ability to innovate. The EIT is an integral part of Horizon 2020, the EU’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. The EIT’s Innovation Communities (Knowledge and Innovation Communities — KICs) bring together businesses (industry and SMEs), research centres and universities as partners. They allow: innovative products and services to be developed and launched on the market, new companies to be started and existing ones to be scale, a new generation of entrepreneurs to be trained. There are currently eight Innovation Communities and each focuses on a different societal challenge. Among them is the EIT Digital community which strives for strong and digital Europe. This pan-European ecosystem is located in Amsterdam, Berlin, Braga, Budapest, Brussels, Eindhoven, Edinburgh, Helsinki, London, Madrid, Milano, Munich, Nice, Paris, Rennes, Stockholm, Trento, and San Francisco. Through ARISE Europe, EIT Digital is active in countries located in Southern and South-Eastern Europe, CEE and the Baltics to pursue its activities in regions as well where the organisation doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar office. The organization budget is €2.4 billion for 2014–2020.

24. UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

  • 15 partners
  • 70+ countries

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 2021–2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration on March 1, 2019. In its resolution, the UNGA recalls the United Nations Environment Assembly’s resolution calling for the conservation and restoration of all ecosystems. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are tasked to lead the implementation. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration also aligns with the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals. November 2019 saw the conclusion of the first round of interviews and assessments for taking action, with January 2021 targeted as the official start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration via the establishment of a Secretariat, Advisory Boards, and Partnerships. Read the report here.

25. UNDP Accelerator Lab

  • 60 labs
  • 78 countries

The Accelerator Labs are UNDP’s new way of working in development. Together with their core partners, the State of Qatar and the Federal Republic of Germany, 60 labs serving 78 countries will work together with national and global partners to find radically new approaches that fit the complexity of current development challenges. The labs will transform the UNDP’s approach by introducing new services, backed by evidence and practice, and by accelerating the testing and dissemination of solutions within and across countries. Sense-making, collective intelligence, solutions mapping, and experimentation will be part of the new offer from UNDP to governments.

26. World Economic Forum / Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

  • 20 countries
  • 52 partners

The WEF Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution partners with governments, leading companies, civil society and experts from around the world to co-design and pilot innovative new approaches to policy and governance in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Flagship reports of the center include “Harnessing AI for Earth” and “Harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution for Earth”. The WEF has also recently issued a report on “Data Collaboration for the Common Good: Enabling Trust and Innovation Through Public-Private Partnerships”and also launched a Public Good Data Alliance. On 11 October 2019, 15 of the world’s leading city networks and technology governance organizations announced a new partnership to advance the responsible and ethical use of smart city technologies. The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance on Technology Governance will create global norms and policy standards for the use of connected devices in public spaces. WEF will act as the secretariat for the alliance.

27. Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GESI)

  • 75 partners
  • 200+ participants

GESI consists of 75 companies and partners, with 25 full members. The primary goal is to consider how Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) can advance sustainability and the SDGs. It is one of the few industry associations focusing on the positive applications of ICT for sustainable development and does high-level advocacy and outreach including events at the Climate Summit, High Level Political Forum, Davos and at the EU. The recent flagship report by GESI and Deloitte entitled “Digital with purpose: delivering a SMARTer2030”. Previous relevant reports include: System transformation issued in 2015 following the Smarter2030-ICT Solutions for 21st Century Challenges, Enabling the Global Goals and the Digital Access Index issued in 2018.

28. Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance

  • 50+ participants

Founded by ANT Financial and UNEP, the overall objective of the Alliance is to leverage digital technologies & innovations to enhance financing for sustainable development. In order to achieve this objective, the Alliance focuses on driving change in the following three outcome areas: a) Content: Improving the knowledge-base through research and analysis of leading sustainable digital finance practice and potential; b) Community: Creating a network of fintechs, financial players, policy makers and other stakeholders that collaborate and promote sustainable digital finance practices at national and international levels; c) Country: Supporting action at the country level to pilot innovative approaches and take successes to scale. Their flagship report “Digital Technologies for Mobilizing Sustainable Finance” was launched at the Singapore Fintech Festival on November 14th, 2018.

29. Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)

  • 150+ organizations

The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) is a multi-stakeholder partnership among USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Swedish government and the United Nations Foundation. DIAL works to identify the most effective and efficient digital solutions to speed service delivery to reach many more people and position countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). DIAL focuses on streamlining technology, unlocking markets and accelerating the rate at which others can deploy digitally enabled services. DIAL positions itself as a neutral broker, bringing together government, industry and other development stakeholders to promote new solutions to old problems. DIAL actively supports the Principles for Digital Development endorsed by 150 organizations..

30. One Planet Summit (France)

  • 105 countries
  • 4,000 participants

The coalition of the One Planet Summit is an international forum for mobilization and action to implement the Paris Agreement on a schedule compatible with the accelerated pace of climate change. It brings together State and non-State stakeholders including world’s major sovereign funds, institutional investors, development banks and major companies to speed up the global transition to a low-carbon economy dedicating resources to 12 different action commitments. Launched in 2017 by the French government, the UN and the World Bank this platform for commitments and projects includes direct actions to improve digital technology applications on environmental issues such as the Space Climate Observatory, and structuring actions to advance a digital ecosystem for the planet such as scientific research with The Make Our Planet Great Again Initiative or the One Planet Fellowship and institutional Investors mobilization with for example Climate Action 100+.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Track 3: Governance and Policy

31. European Union Green Deal & Digital Europe Programme

  • 28 countries
  • 32,000+ staff in the EC

The European Union (EU) Green Deal strategy contains a total of 50 policy measures, including a legally binding target of reducing EU emissions to net zero by 2050, a carbon border tax to prevent companies from relocating outside the EU to avoid climate legislation, a EUR100 billion just transition fund to help spread the burden and help coal-reliant regions, and a policy to not conclude any free trade agreement with a country that is not a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement. The overall value of the Green Deal is EUR 1.1 trillion — with EUR 9.2 Billion to be earmarked for Digital Europe Programme to cover the deployment of innovative digital technologies in five key areas: supercomputing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, advanced digital skills and ensuring a wide use of these digital technologies across the economy and society to enable to EU Green Deal. It will also address important questions linked to: data sharing, governance, interoperability and infrastructure. A public consultation process for Digital Europe was launched in July 2019 for 2021–2022. One of the objectives is to build on the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to create a common European Digital Data Space that would be regulated by EU law. The European Policy Center has recently issued a policy report entitled Creating a road map for a digital circular economy as a contribution towards the Digital Europe Programme.

32. UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation

  • 104 countries
  • 4000+ participants

The panel was convened by the UN Secretary-General to provide recommendations on how the international community could work together to optimize the use of digital technologies and mitigate the risks. Its final report “The Age of Digital Interdependence” makes five sets of recommendations: (1) build an inclusive digital economy and society; (2) develop human and institutional capacity; (3) protect human rights and human agency; (4) promote digital trust, security and stability; and (5) foster global digital cooperation. There are three important follow-up tracks that link directly to establishing a digital ecosystem for the planet. Recommendation 1B recommends that a broad, multi-stakeholder alliance, involving the UN, create a platform for sharing digital public goods, engaging talent and pooling data sets, in a manner that respects privacy, in areas related to attaining the SDGs. Recommendation 3C that calls on enhanced digital cooperation with multiple stakeholders to think through the design and application of AI standards and principles such as transparency and non-bias in autonomous intelligent systems in different social settings. Recommendation 5a is also important in terms of achieving a “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” by the UN’s 75th birthday in 2020. This would help enshrine shared values, principles, understandings and objectives for an improved global digital cooperation architecture.

33. Internet Governance Forum (IGF) & World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS)

  • 100+ countries
  • 2500+ participants

The Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the IGF was hosted by the Government of Germany in Berlin from 25 to 29 November 2019 under the overarching theme: “One World. One Net. One Vision.” Many discussions focused on how to strengthen the role of the IGF as the global policy forum for internet governance-related issues and as a follow-up track for the report of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (a proposal known as IGF Plus). The French government proposed that “environment” be one of the focus points during future negotiations. The intent was to ensure that emerging international digital governance structures may have specific responsibilities and goals in this field, be it to restrain environmental damage caused by the digital sector or to put this industry at the service of the protection of the environment. The IGF is one of the three key follow-up tracks to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The other two are the WSIS Forum and the implementation of WSIS action lines. The WSIS Forum 2020, to be held in Geneva from 6–9 April 2020, will represent the world’s largest annual gathering of the ‘ICT for development’ community. It is a key forum for discussing the role of ICTs as a means of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets.

34. Secretary General’s Task Force on Digital Financing of the SDGs

  • 17 member experts
  • 100 participants

Mandated to identify how digitalization will reshape finance and to identify, theorize, and propose how best this transformation can support the financing of the SDGs. According to the UN, SDG financing will require an estimated USD 5–7 trillion in annual investment. This undertaking requires consideration of the broader context of finance, technology, and the SDGs, and the narrowing to those areas of SDG financing that are changing due to digitalization. The interim report of the task force was titled “Harnessing Digitization in the Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals”. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) serves as the co-chair for the task force while the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) acts as the Task Force secretariat. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is contributing to the work of the task force through the UNEP Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, the report “Sustainable Finance: Progress Report” and the Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance.

35. UN Science Policy Business Forum & Working Group on Big Data and Frontier Technology

  • 2000+ participants

A UN-hosted multi-sectoral platform designed to strengthen cooperation among stakeholders working on the intersection of frontier technology and the environmental dimensions of the SDGs. The overall objective of the working group is to influence the form, function and governance model of the emerging digital ecosystem for the planet so that it achieves key environmental sustainability goals and generates important digital public goods on the basis of collaboration between public and private sectors. The first discussion paper of the working group was entitled “The Case for Building a Digital Ecosystem for the Environment: Bringing Together data, Algorithms and Insights for Sustainable Development”. This was also transformed into a think piece on Medium entitled “The Promise and Peril of a Digital Ecosystem for the Planet”. There is potential for the working group to issue policy recommendations to the overall form that can eventually be channeled into resolutions of the UN Environmental Assembly or other related bodies.

36. The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development

  • 43 countries
  • 200+ participants

The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) is a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It holds an annual intergovernmental forum for discussion on timely and pertinent issues affecting science, technology and development. Its members are composed of national Governments, with civil society also contributing to discussions. Outcomes of the CSTD include providing the United Nations General Assembly and ECOSOC with high-level advice on relevant science and technology issues. UNCTAD is responsible for the substantive servicing of the Commission.The twenty-third session of CSTD will be held in Geneva from 23 to 27 March 2020. The Commission will address two priority themes: a) harnessing rapid technological change for inclusive and sustainable development; b) exploring space technologies for sustainable development and the benefits of international research collaboration in this context.

37. Resilience Frontiers Initiative

  • 100+ participants

Resilience Frontiers is a foresight-driven interagency initiative, led by the UNFCCC secretariat, to address long-term global resilience to climate change beyond 2030 by following 8 pathways around the three main objectives: fostering a “nature-first” global culture to ensure environmental stewardship; retooling global cooperation to effectively respond to future climate risks; and transforming sectoral approaches to sustain long-term regenerative resilience. By the end of 2020, it aims at defining policy-relevant roadmaps which identify milestones for the achievement of these visions during the next decade. These milestones will reflect concrete actions and turning points that would incentivize the move towards the identified desirable futures that will characterize a resilient world post-2030.

38. Internet Society

  • 100+ organization members

The Internet Society was founded in 1992 by a number of people involved with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) as a non-profit organization. One of the principal goals is to provide an organizational home for and financial support for the Internet standards process and developing multi-stakeholder governance processes. The Internet Society also publishes concise policy briefs on critical Internet issues. Presently, the Internet Society has not yet considered how the internet architecture and related standards need to be shaped to contribute to a digital ecosystem for the planet, but this could be addressed in a future policy brief.



David Jensen

Working for UN on digital governance & mapping environment, security & peace dynamics using frontier technology. Co-founder MapX. Alumni: TedX, Oxford and Uvic.