Understanding how technology is being used to make the world a more sustainable place, can help increase awareness and interest in such technologies around the world. So, in the first place, why do we need technology for sustainable living?
Though technology was part of the problem, today it is an integral part of the solution.
97% of climate scientists agree that our weather is changing, and humans are the cause. Climate change is threatening the food we eat, where we live, and our personal safety. Carbon pollution, created by human-activity like fuel burning, has driven up the global temperature by nearly 1*C since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
While this increase in temperature may not sound like much, it has already caused an increase in extreme weather events, destroyed environmental ecosystems, and created a new generation of refugees. In order combat climate change, we must adjust the way we live our lives — from how we produce to how we consume to the how we interact with the habitats around us.
Sustainable agriculture and farming
There were 793 million chronically hungry people in the world from 2014–2016. To tackle existing hunger and to meet the growing demand for the expected nine billion people who will exist by 2050, agriculture will need to produce 60% more food globally. However, this increase in production cannot come with an increase in environmental damage. As FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva stated in 2017: “Today, it is fundamental not only to increase production but to do it in a way that does not damage the environment. Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet.”
Innovative new agricultural designs and big data reporting are being used to make farming more efficient and sustainable. For example, FAO works with small farmers in the Asia-Pacific to combine agriculture and aquaculture methods to create food systems that are more productive and sustainable. The World Food Programme’s Virtual Farmers’ Market app-based e-commerce platform shares real-time information about surplus and demand in order to reduce food waste and support local farmers’ income. Other solutions include:
– FAO helped implement a holistic agricultural approach at the Vegetable and Flowers Farmers Cooperatives in the Rulindo district of Rwanda, increasing income while supporting sustainability.
– UNDP used data monitoring and satellite imaging to create a vegetation map in Azerbaijan. This information was used to help protect and restore the local farmlands.
– SunCulture uses affordable sun-powered irrigation systems to empower Kenyan farmers to take charge of their crops even during droughts.
Sustainable cities and communities
Global Goal 14 focuses on the creation of sustainable cities and communities. This is especially important because, by 2030, almost 60% of the world’s population’s will live in urban areas. While cities take up only 3% of the Earth’s land, they account for 60–80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. We cannot combat climate change without fundamentally restructuring our cities.
Technology and innovation are being used to support these restructuring processes. From high-tech investments in public transportation and renewable energy to low-tech solutions like “car-free days” and rainwater harvesting, local changemakers are investing in rethinking the status quo and creating more sustainable systems. Some examples include:
– WeCyclers offers a rewards-for-recycling program, picked up by a fleet of locally assembled cargo bikes, that empowers low-income communities to capture value from recycled waste.
– x-runner works to bring reliable, safe, and sustainable sanitation to low-income urban households through the delivery of hygienic in-home portable dry toilets.
– In Bilbao, Spain, a major urban regeneration project will turn a former industrial and contaminated peninsula into a carbon-neutral island.
The United Nations leads the way
The United Nations has created strong frameworks and commitments to progress in both sustainable agriculture and sustainable cities. In addition to being integrated into the Global Goals, these concepts are being adopted by agencies across the board. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has put forward five key principles for guiding the strategic development of new approaches and the transition to sustainability in farming and agriculture.
Similarly, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habit III) conference in 2016 brought together over 167 countries to create the “New Urban Agenda,” which includes commitments made for its implementation and the creation of more sustainable cities.
The United Nations seeks to build innovative partnerships and support local entrepreneurs to help bring agriculture and urban innovation to scale. For example, the UN Global Compact works with the private sector to helps support food security, improved nutrition, and sustainable agriculture. This type of work makes sure that global frameworks are localized and that local solutions are shared with the world.