The future of America’s climate policy is digital

a vector illustration of the earth with three people caring for it to symbolize sustainability

It is impossible to ignore the effects of the ongoing climate crisis in our daily lives. In June, Portland, Ore., reached 116 degrees, costing lives and damaging infrastructure. Along the Colorado River, record drought is dropping reservoirs to unseen levels, impacting millions of people. Unless we take decisive action, these extreme weather events will become more frequent and damaging. 

On the global stage, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its anticipated report detailing new impacts of human-induced carbon emissions and projections for future temperature and sea level rise. Heading into COP26, governments around the world will grapple with how to prevent this potential climate future. While rejoining the Paris agreement commits the U.S. to doing its part, we cannot achieve these ambitious goals without improving the identification, measurement and tracking of greenhouse gas emissions.  

As leaders in sustainable business practices and the software industry, we know digital technologies are foundational to understanding and addressing our carbon emissions. Digitalizing our economy can accelerate decarbonization and unleash more economic opportunities for Americans, but to realize this future, the government must do more to promote digitalization to achieve immediate and lasting climate solutions.  

Industry Shows What’s Possible

The necessary level of decarbonization need not come at the expense of U.S. economic prosperity and living standards. Rather, by mobilizing innovation and technology and adopting smart policies we can accelerate decarbonization without sacrificing quality of life. In fact, accelerating adoption of digital tools can both reduce emissions and improve living standards.  

One of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions is the construction and building operations sector, responsible for 40 percent of emissions globally. Autodesk’s digital design and construction software allows architects to design greener buildings and enables contractors to reduce embodied carbon of their materials. Improving the design, construction and operation of the built environment can reduce carbon emissions, cost and waste, and build more climate-resilient buildings and infrastructure. As policies accelerate the move to net-zero economies, Autodesk is continuing to invest in digital solutions that will help our customers meet their sustainability goals.  

Intel makes microchips — essential building blocks of computers, servers and “Internet of Things” solutions — helping sectors reduce their own climate footprints. Working with Dell, VM Ware and utilities, Intel is modernizing the electricity grid, using digitalization. By introducing servers into the distribution substation, Intel turns information into a two-way system, which allows for increased management capabilities, making the substation more energy efficient and enabling distributed renewable energy resources into the grid. 

Digitalization can bring about enhanced transparency, trust and transactability to accelerate the transition to a market-driven net-zero economy and serve as an enabler of climate solutions.   

The policy opportunity   

The markets for digital climate technologies are embryonic and will be heavily influenced by government policies that can both push and pull demand for specific solutions. Unfortunately, policy and regulatory frameworks have not kept up with technological advancements. As Americans demand a new paradigm that promotes both economic competitiveness and sustainability, policy will play a critical role in ensuring that digital technologies can be fully used to address the climate crisis.   

We see an opportunity for the federal government to shape a competitive, incentive-led market landscape for producers and suppliers to invest in technology proven to achieve emissions reduction goals. The increase in overall demand for sustainable and low-carbon products and projects presents a significant opportunity for climate policy.  

The federal government, working with the private sector, should also develop a plan to fully assess digital climate solutions, including the standardization of both climate disclosure protocols and interoperability of data formats, to ensure the utilization of crosscutting digital tools and platforms. 

In the private sector, we know there are tremendous opportunities when companies collaborate and work together. That’s why we are founding members of the Digital Climate Alliance, a coalition of companies dedicated to driving this conversation forward and developing a collaborative approach to unleash the power of digitalization to solve the climate crisis.  

To move this discussion forward, the alliance recently released their inaugural policy paper, which provides recommendations for federal policymakers to leverage digital technologies to address the ongoing climate crisis, and worked with the Senate to include one of the paper’s recommendations, the “Digital Climate Solutions Report,” in the bipartisan infrastructure deal

As the U.S. and the world races toward net-zero, digital technologies will prove critical to enabling the innovations that will drive a more efficient, resilient and decarbonized economy. Now is the time to embrace digital technologies to address the climate challenge. 

Joe Speicher is senior director of sustainability at Autodesk and executive director of the Autodesk Foundation. Todd Brady is the chief sustainability officer of Intel Corp.