Digitalisation of daily life and impacts on carbon emissions

Charlie Wilson

Portrait shot of Charlie Wilson
Charlie Wilson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change, Energy Group Leader, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Summary:  Digital technologies and applications are shaping the way we shop, eat, travel, and manage our domestic environment. The digitalisation of daily life can have both beneficial and adverse impacts on climate. In this talk I consider how – for better or for worse – the digitalisation of our daily lives is inextricably linked to our efforts tackling climate change.

Digitalisation can help reduce carbon emissions by substituting physical activity for digital activity (e.g. teleworking), by accessing services instead of owning goods (e.g., peer-to-peer carsharing), by exchanging physical goods and reducing waste (e.g., food sharing apps), and by controlling and managing use of energy and resources (e.g., smart thermostats). Digitalisation can also help coordinate how services are provided, enabling provisioning systems to work more efficiently (e.g., urban transportation, electricity networks).

These beneficial outcomes are not deterministic. Digitalisation also brings significant risks. The digitalisation of daily life can lead to higher energy and material consumption through rebound and intensification effects, with detrimental impacts on carbon emissions. Digitalisation also risks dividing society into digital haves and have nots, while undermining trust in how data are collected and used. The ongoing digitalisation of daily life offers both large opportunities as well as considerable risks for reaching net-zero. ‘Digitalisation for public purpose’ is a major policy challenge.

Speaker:  Charlie Wilson is a Professor of Energy and Climate Change in the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, and a visiting research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria. Charlie’s research lies at the intersection between innovation, people, and policy in the field of energy and climate change mitigation. He works both at a systems level on scenarios and modelling of net-zero transformations, and at a micro level on innovation processes, technology adoption, and pro-environmental behaviour

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