A need for a sustainable environment discussion in the internet governance space

This blog post was originally published on the website of the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG).

I was really excited about my selection to participate in the 7th edition of the African School of Internet Governance which took place in the city of N’Djamena, Chad. The school hosted a diverse group of people from the African continent and outside the continent. The five-day training introduced fellows to a wide range of topics and discussions in the internet governance space. Not forgetting the Practicum, which is a practical adaption of multistakeholder discussion and dialogue on a salient issue. This year, fellows worked with the report of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation titled “The Age of Digital Interdependence”.

From all the topics taught at the school, I was particularly fascinated by the topic “Internet governance and sustainable development, climate and the impact of the environment of digitalisation”. I was interested in understanding how internet governance should address sustainable development and a sustainable environment.

A dive into the topic got me to understand, thanks to ITU data, that 44.7 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) was generated in 2016, which is an equivalent of almost 4,500 Eiffel towers and that these e-wastes contain hazardous chemicals such as cathode rays, beryllium, barium, nickel, arsenic, lead and mercury which are heavy contributors to the climate change challenges and as such they can contaminate the soil and underground water supplies when they find their way to landfills.

In a further discussion of the issues that arose from the topic, I was also hit by the amount of energy consumed by the ICT sector: Climate Home News stated in a report that with the tsunami of data fast approaching it is said that the sector could create up to 3.5% of global carbon emission by 2020, surpassing aviation and shipping, and up to 14% in 2040. So while everyone is more focused on the automobile industry and other industries that obviously emit greenhouse gas which causes the ozone lay to weaken, there is a need for policies that should address the environmental challenges the expansion of ICT could cause as a result of energy consumption and the improper disposal of e-waste.

With the more evolving technological advancement and emerging of new devices and infrastructures to sooth our modern-day technological reality what happens to our old devices and infrastructures. That’s the big question that struck my mind while the session was ongoing.

A visit to the Wanak Labs in the city of N’Djamena, Chad after that school ended rekindled my hope with the realization that one way of reducing the improper disposal of electronic waste is through the process of recycling. In the Lab, teenagers between the ages of 12-19 build Computer Processing Unit (CPU) from CPUs that have been disposed of by government ministries or individuals, they dismantled and rebuilt them into containers and then they had functioning CPUs.

I saw the possibility of reusing e-waste to build computer, smart devices and other electronic devices which will in turn reduce the environmental impact that comes as a result of these improper disposals and also reduce that high cost of purchase of electronic devices such as computers, smart devices and other electronic devices which in the long run can help build community networks and provide for affordable  computers, smartphone and other device for everyone especially for the unconnected to be able to access the internet.

Disposal of electronics is a major problem in Africa and recycling e-waste cannot be overemphasized, the high cost of electronic devices such as computers and smartphones have contributed to the gap of a large number of people who have remained unconnected. With recycling, this can provide a reduction of cost of electronic device which can be more affordable for communities that do not have access to the internet either because of lack of infrastructure or the inability to purchase devices that these communities can use to access the internet.

Another issue I see is digital security because of increasing data and metadata with emerging technology, improper disposal of e-waste can lead to a breach of privacy and vulnerability such as identity theft as the information once stored in some disposed e-wastes can be recovered with appropriate programmes and technology.

Hackers are now more sophisticated in their way of extracting data from smart devices even when users overwrite their device this is because residual data are left on the device which is enough to disclose the identity and vital information of the previous user.

Lastly, it is essential for the use reliable electronic data security expert to wipe the devices clean of personal information, reorient and create awareness on the proper disposal of electronic devices particularly the smart devices and it will also be necessary to enact and implement laws and policies that will ensure e-wastes are disposed of  safely and responsibly.

Morisola Moromoke is a legal officer providing support in advocacy, capacity building, and other legal issues at Media Rights Agenda (MRA). Alongside her colleagues in the FOI Attorneys, a division of MRA, she works on litigating Freedom of Information violations.
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