There is great potential to transform sustainable development through the interface of technology and social organization, but also great risk that the technology may drive unsustainable practices instead.
Interview with David Souter on the development-technology disconnect
If “Sustainable Development Goals” are chosen as the vehicle for global development efforts post-2015, a comprehensive understanding of sustainability, including the impacts of the internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on development, will be a prerequisite to setting meaningful targets.
Sustainable Communication: How communication technology and the internet create both opportunities for and threats to sustainable development
Do we need to rethink Sustainable Development Goals? The internet and ICTs are changing the parameters of sustainability by creating opportunities and threats that simply did not exist when the 1987 Brundtland Report and the 1992 Earth Summit put sustainable development on the international agenda.
Changing our understanding of sustainability: The impact of ICTs and the Internet (PDF - 6.2 MB)
The papers in this report ask how and how far we need to change our understanding of sustainability to take account of the impact of the information and communications revolution. This report is the result of a series of dialogues held by IISD during 2012, led by two senior associates of the Institute, David Souter and Don MacLean. As well as wide-ranging assessments of the relationship between communications and sustainability by the editors, it includes keynote interviews with founding fathers of the Internet and of sustainable development, Vint Cerf and Jim MacNeill, along with other interviews and papers by international experts. Tell us what you think on our blog. Sign up, listen in and speak out. We need a global conversation on how our communications networks—wiring us across our social, natural and built environments—might take us to a better future.
Toolkit on Internet Public Policy Dialogue: Tools for the Practitioner
This Toolkit can be used by new or emerging public policy groups seeking to understand and support public policy dialogue with stakeholders. It is based on two central activities: the gathering of evidence to support policy recommendations, and the securing of consent among the stakeholders to be affected by policy change.
Our growing dependence on Internet technology as the backbone of a global society seems unprecedented. Many aspects of international trade and finance are now dependent on the integrity and global connectedness of the Internet. The choices we make regarding how we govern Internet technology could have far-reaching implications for economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Deregulation in many industrialized countries has encouraged an explosion of communication offerings. As a result, telephone, cable television and Internet service providers are increasingly invading each other's traditional markets, resulting in the convergence of voice, data and computing technology delivered over a combination of new and legacy infrastructure. These trends suggest a future where one will be able to connect to the Internet anywhere and at any time, as well as a future where the Internet will be the foundation for all information and communication exchanges. In other words, the future of global connectivity is that of the Internet itself.
Strengthening our understanding of the critical uncertainties about tomorrow's Internet is crucial for understanding what form the global connectivity system may take. The policies and agreements enacted by international, national and multistakeholder bodies to address critical Internet uncertainties could play a pivotal role in guiding the evolution of the global connectivity system and determining whether the transformations it is catalyzing contribute to global sustainability.
For example, failure to address how technology choices could be limiting access and use by emerging stakeholders could result in an eventual slowing of Internet adoption and the final few billion users never joining the Internet community or having only partial access. Further, failure to resolve disputes over perceived inequities could lead some decision-makers to choose the path of fragmenting the Internet as a last resort for addressing their local needs.
The research and work of the Global Connectivity team at IISD examines how technology, in particular information and communication technology (ICT), is supporting and changing how we organize our governing systems, our economies and our cultures, in unprecedented ways. This research and work is focused on three areas:
Policy and Governance
The Internet now underpins most aspects of our economies and societies in the global North, and increasingly also does so in the South. Technologies supporting the Internet are also being applied to the development of innovative ecosystem management systems, including energy and climate change solutions. Therefore, good governance of the Internet and its related technologies is necessary for progress on economic, social and environmental challenges.
ICTs and the Environment
It is becoming increasingly clear that we are unlikely to avoid major environmental challenges resulting from unsustainable practices to date. Our best option in many cases will be to enhance our capacity to predict and track such changes, develop appropriate management and adaptation strategies, and plot a course toward better environmental management. ICTs offer promising solutions for supplying the detailed trend and real-time data required for this approach to be effective. Examples include smart grids, wireless sensor networks and social networking for transformative change. At the same time, the sustainability of these technologies must also be managed to avoid unintended consequences such as increased consumption and environmental damage from electronic waste.
Large-scale economic and social choices made by individuals, organizations and communities about how to use ICTs to change their structures and behaviours will play a potentially significant role in determining whether there is a successful global response to the challenge of achieving sustainable development. For example, youth are a dominant force behind the development and adoption of social networking applications, which are just beginning to reveal their potential for facilitating transformative change. Youth and ICTs have long been a major area of focus for IISD through the engagement of young people as researchers, leading creators and earliest adopters of information and communications technologies.
 For more on Internet critical uncertainties, see "Critical Internet Uncertainties: How will governance, evolution and growth of the Internet affect sustainable development?"
 For more on the Global Connectivity System, see "The ICT Sector and the Global Connectivity System: A sustainable development overview"