The coronavirus pandemic has boosted digitalisation because it forced many people to do without business trips, work remotely and shop online, which offers new opportunities for climate protection, according to analysis commissioned by Germany’s environment ministry. “We are experiencing a break with many routines we had before corona,” said environment minister Svenja Schulze. “Nobody wants life to stay the way it was during the pandemic. But some new routines we should maintain, because they serve the environment and quality of life.”
The analysis conducted by the think tank Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy and the consultancy EY says it appears plausible that 25 to 30 percent of all jobs can be done remotely. “It seems realistic that in the long run 10 percent of all commuter traffic can be replaced by an expansion of the home office and 30 percent of all business trips by virtual meetings,” the report says. “Overall, this would lead to an eight percent reduction in passenger traffic. The possible reduction in office space that is expected from EY real estate experts could also create new potential for the design and use of urban areas in the long term.”
Online transactions increased up to 60 percent during the pandemic, but many consumers searched in vain for regional and local online choices, the researchers found. They said this trend offered an opportunity to stabilise investments in regional value chains and to use the momentum for structural change to reduce emissions. But the authors also say the significant increase in data traffic underlined the need to reduce emissions in the sector. “The surge we’re seeing in data traffic is just a harbinger of more. We need energy-efficient data centres and climate-friendly cloud infrastructures for administrations and companies,” Schulze said.
Greenpeace Germany head Martin Kaiser called on the government to speed up the energy transition in the face of this digitalisation trend. “Only if the growing electricity needs of a digital economy can manage without climate-damaging coal as early as 2030 and is increasingly covered by sun and wind will people and nature benefit from this development.”