New report highlights key role of digital public infrastructure for environmental sustainability


UN Environment Programme report stresses importance of digital public infrastructure.

A new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report examines some of the common information challenges stakeholders face when making decisions related to environmental sustainability and explores the role that digital public infrastructure (DPI) can play as a key part of the solution.

The report, Digital Public Infrastructure for Environmental Sustainability, says that to tackle the interconnected triple environmental planetary crises, it is critical to have accessible, timely, credible, and insightful information that can support environmental sustainability decision-making.

Developing interconnected data exchange mechanisms has become a necessity, but sole reliance on private solutions will likely fail to comprehensively address the challenges and may result in further data fragmentation, the report says.

While making the point that a blend of private and public solutions is essential, the report says that there is currently a notable gap in DPI to facilitate the flow of environmental sustainability information to different stakeholders. The UNEP report analyses three cases related to the agri-food sector and identifies six categories of technology innovations (TIs) that could help tackle information challenges:

  1. Open data discovery for environmental sustainability.
  2. Privacy enhancing technologies to enable flow of environmental sustainability information.
  3. Data markets for environmental sustainability-related data.
  4. Computational law and data integration of green and circular economy policy measures.
  5. Using Large Language Models to ‘speak’ with green and circular economy policy.
  6. Tools and techniques for human-centred artificial intelligence in environmental sustainability decision-making.

According to the report, the proposed publicly supported digital ecosystem would enhance transparency and data availability. It would also create incentives and mechanisms for more efficient data generation and collection, ease the discovery of data sources, and reduce barriers to data sharing. The result would be an enhanced flow of information with improved data quality and interoperability.

It would also empower stakeholders by facilitating informed decision-making and promoting greater inclusiveness. Finally, DPI for environmental sustainability would serve as a critical foundation for transformative digital applications, such as digital product passports.

Concluding with a call to action, the report urges stakeholders to actively participate in data exchanges, leveraging DPI to maximise data’s potential for environmental sustainability and lists key recommendations for policy, standardisation, financing, innovation and collaboration.

Click here to access the report, Digital Public Infrastructure for Environmental Sustainability.