Growing a sustainable digital future

New Zealand’s economic future must rest with sustainable, high-value tech jobs producing goods and services with a much-reduced carbon footprint, writes Graeme Muller.
Hi-tech and digital technologies can help Kiwi businesses prosper in many ways, such as improving productivity, reaching customers better, lifting employee well-being and reducing climate impacts.
 The new digital strategy for Aotearoa says, as a country, Kiwis can use technology to move towards a low carbon future.

•    Farmers can use smart agriculture tools to target where they place fertiliser and reduce runoff.
•    Businesses can use sensors or develop digital twins to check and reduce their energy use.
•    The weightless exports of digital services reduce the environmental costs that come with physically producing and shipping items.

The New Zealand digital strategy also says technology and data systems need energy and infrastructure to run.

Moving to a low carbon economy means we must make sure growth in our digital sector is sustainable. We need to find ways of dealing with e-waste, which is New Zealand’s fastest growing toxic waste stream, with 80,000 tonnes produced each year.

We must design digital technologies in energy-efficient ways and we must use renewable resources to power processes that use lots of energy, like cryptocurrency transactions and data storage.

NZTech, the national body for Aotearoa’s tech ecosystem, has introduced a sustainability sub-board to look into how to help organisations across the tech ecosystem proactively reduce their climate impact. The first phase of this initiative has been to analyse our own organisation’s impact. 

Globally, industrial sectors account for nearly 40 percent of global energy consumption and more than 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The transformation of these sectors is pivotal to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. While efforts are underway and commitments are being made, the reality of net-zero for these industries is lagging and, extrapolating from today’s speed of progress, will fall far short.

New Zealand’s economic future must rest with sustainable high value tech jobs producing goods and services with a much reduced carbon footprint.

Technology in New Zealand connects people and markets, is the pathway to tomorrow’s jobs, and helps combat climate change.

During the Covid lockdowns, New Zealanders showed the potential to adopt digital solutions to help support learning and working, connecting and doing business.

One of the key steps to ensure we reach our potential in the digital age is to create a blueprint that considers and supports the aspirations of all New Zealanders.

We have the opportunity to be a world leading digital nation built on trust and known for the ethical deployment of emerging technologies.

Our tech sector’s growth is outstripping growth in the wider economy and it is estimated that over the past five years, our tech sector has grown 30 percent faster than the economy overall.

Significantly, it is a sector that is low in emissions compared to other sectors and high in exports, bringing new revenue from overseas sales. Jobs in the tech sector are less vulnerable to external shocks and are less reliant on natural resources.

More than 110,000 people were employed in the tech sector last year and new jobs are being created annually.

Every sector of Aotearoa’s global economy needs to be transformed and climate technology is central to achieving this goal.

The world has 10 years to halve global greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050 the world needs to achieve net-zero to avoid global warming of above 1.5C.

Climate technology includes renewables such as wind energy, solar and hydropower; innovations in food and farming; green mobility – from scooter to car to cargo ship – and green financing and fintech moving capital to sustainable activities.

Climate technology is regarded as the new frontier for venture capital: as well as innovation in energy and agriculture, innovation in finance is required.  

Graeme Muller is the chief executive of NZTech, a NFP which brings together 20 tech associations and more than 1600 member organisations.
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