During the 2018 Internet Governance Forum, I watched the webinar titled “DC on Internet Rights and Principals: Sustainable Future: The Internet, Humans Rights, and Environmental Issues”. The seminar was an open-mic discussion of the connectivity between the Internet, human rights, and the environment and the goal was to serve as the beginnings of a coalition on this topic. It discussed some of the key issues of accessibility, energy impact of Internet infrastructure, and finding a balance between equal access and sustainable access.
Access to information and internet as a means for development has been established as a human right under the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet, but sustainability is something which historically has not been factored into the equation when it comes to striving for wider Internet access. The SDGs mention both sustainability and technology, but the link between them is left as something to be implied. But given the energy used in both creating the infrastructure for Internet use and in processing massive amounts of data, sustainability is absolutely something that needs to be brought into the conversation of expanding Internet accessibility.
One of the main themes of the seminar was the need to recognize and fill policy gaps. The fact that the SDGs don’t explicitly overlap energy, ICT infrastructure, and environmental sustainability is a major policy gap at the international level, but is also language that is missing at the state and local level. A new coalition called the Digital Cities Coalitions for Human Rights led by Amsterdam, Barcelona, and New York are working to create standards for companies and public spaces for the creation of data centers. Their goal is to incorporate internet as a human right into a holistic approach to sustainability for equitable, sustainable data centers which are popping up more and more in cities. A key takeaway from the seminar was the need to incorporate social inclusion and environmental awareness into the design of networks, products, and supply chains—regulation afterwards is less effective and more costly in resources and can delay equitable access.
Another key point was the importance of making this dialogue on internet, human rights, and environmental sustainability multi-stakeholder in nature. For example, the private sector has a critical role to play given that it collects massive amounts of data in comparison to the public sector. Additionally, local innovations and the formation of microgrids for internet as it were, could play an important role in achieving harmony between these three areas. Overall, the webinar brought together key themes of connection between the internet, human rights, and environmental sustainability in a manner that equalized the three fields and called for further collaboration to see sustainable, equitable access to the internet.