ICT: Critical Foundation for a Sustainable Common Future. Rio+20 Zero Draft contribution

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Robert Pollard

Dec 15, 2011, 5:15:27 PM12/15/11
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Information & Communications Technologies:
Critical Foundation for a Sustainable Common Future

In the twenty-one years since the initial PrepCom for the UN Conference on Environment and Development, no industry has come close to the exponential growth, rapid technological innovation, widespread adoption and affordability than the information & communications technology (ICT) sector; nor has any industry in human history so rapidly transformed the path of development and the global financial, economic and social landscapes./1

However, the significance of ICT in relation to sustainable development has gained scant attention, yet its growth and evolution continues to have profound impacts on a wide range of processes critical to the transition to a sustainable common future - including opportunities for access to information and citizen participation in decision-making/2, technology transfer, access to education and health care, real-time monitoring of industrial processes and of the environment, early warning systems for natural disasters and disaster relief.

The second key concept in the rarely-cited second sentence of the Brundtland Report's definition of sustainable development/3 - i.e. "the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs" - provides a valuable framework for understanding ICT's significance for sustainable development. That ICT has enabled unprecedented new, networked forms of social organization is undeniable, and the very idea of limitations has been transcended in a digital environment in which the constraints of the material world - imposed by the laws of conservation of mass and conservation of energy - no longer apply, for information has zero mass, zero physical size and takes virtually zero time to travel. Free access to knowledge is key to sustainable use of the environment.

The combination of the characteristics of information and rapidly increasing computing power, storage capacity, bandwidth, affordability and portability/4 has provided unprecedented access to knowledge - the key to a sustainable common future.

The recognition in the Brundtland Report of the interlocking nature of the crises relating to sustainable development/5 represented a major breakthrough in understanding; in this regard, advances in ICT have made possible analyses, models and presentations based on massive sets of data from the nature and specifics of relationships between the different sectors in ways that were not previously possible.

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