Arenas of Digital Change
In view of the broad scope of the two topics of digitalization and sustainability, in this report the WBGU uses an approach based on examples, which it calls arenas of digital change. These are thematic 'deep drillings' that illustrate the prospects and challenges of digitalization in selected areas and provide a multifaceted impression of how they can be shaped in the service of the Transformation towards Sustainability. They deal with interactions between digitalization and the environment, key social and economic dimensions, and issues that will not have an impact on society until the longer term.
5.1 Introduction This chapter presents examples of ‘arenas of digital change’ relating to digitalization and sustainability. It gives concrete examples based on scientific evidence to illustrate the status, prospects and challenges of digitalization in view of the need for a global Transformation towards Sustainability. The arenas provide a varied impression of the manifold possibilities, on the one hand, of how digitalization can be shaped in a positive way and, on the other, of the dangers that digitalization can pose in the context of the Transformation towards Sustainability. The arenas of digital change are places or fields of action that have three things in common: (1) they allow an in-depth scientific view of specific subject areas, (2) they are significantly influenced by digitalization, albeit in very different ways, and (3) they have a connection with sustainability and illustrate how digitalization can be shaped in the service of the Great Transformation towards Sustainability. Furthermore, these insights provide a background that makes it possible to better identify the future Three Dynamics of the Digital Age (Chapter 7). At the centre of the arenas are initially topics at the direct interface between digitalization and sustainability, such as monitoring biological diversity, e-waste and
the circular economy, climate-change mitigation, the energy transformation and agriculture. In addition, further arena topics have been identified where potential for both digitalization and sustainability will already become relevant in the near future (e.g. workplaces of the future, sustainable consumer behaviour, smart cities and urban mobility). Finally, topics are presented which, although their full effect will not be felt until the longer term, they will have repercussions for the environment and the Earth system, so that the societal discourse should begin now (e.g. the technologization of human beings). The selection of the arenas was based, among other things, on the relevance and urgency of the topics at the interface of sustainability and digitalization, their potential and risks for social cohesion and environmental protection, but also their ubiquity and international significance. The sustainability goals of the 2030 Agenda were always kept in mind during the process (Table 5.1‑1). Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that the arenas do not claim to be a complete set, nor do they follow a systematic approach; rather, they are intended to provide examples to create an impression of the diversity of digitalization and concrete ways in which it can be shaped in the service of sustainability. A total of 21 arenas were analysed, and roughly divided into two categories: ‘Sustainable economic activity and the environment’ (Section 5.2) and ‘People