Skip to main content
People walk past a 5G banner during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain
Report

Achieving sustainability in a 5G world

In September 2015, the United Nations established new global sustainable development goals and committed to “protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.”

In this paper, Darrell West examines the ways in which technology can help the international community achieve its ambitious sustainability goals. As the world faces major conservation and environmental challenges in terms of water and air quality, energy and transportation, and building design, the paper contends, technology advances are underway that will help people deal with those problems.

West details the scope of the environmental challenges facing our world, nothing that understanding their reach is vital to determining ways to mitigate their negative consequences and to identifying which emerging technologies are going to improve service delivery and further economic opportunity.

West goes on to examine the many companies and cities today that are deploying existing technology solutions that help with resource management and monitoring. And he discusses the intelligent devices of the future, including sensors and other connected devices, that will enable never-before-seen data analytics that will generate social and economic benefits including things like traffic alleviation, smart building design and energy management—all informed using advanced intelligent networking capability.

As governments prepare to adopt these new technologies, West cautions, officials should be cognizant of the rule of unintended consequences. Policymakers sometimes adopt measures that improve outcomes in some areas while hindering other ones. Recognizing the importance of maintaining technology neutrality, and supporting open, standards-based performance rules are a much better approach than issuing technology mandates.

Ultimately, West concludes, with the emerging 5G network and the internet of things, it is possible to deploy technology in ways that protect the environment and promote long-term sustainability. These new technology innovations have the potential to become an integral part of and accelerate global efforts to address the challenges of sustainability. With 5G, governments, industry, communities, and individuals will have the connectivity, capability and agility to meet many of the challenges the world faces as we work towards ensuring the lasting protection of the planet and its resources.

Please read the full report here.

Author

Viewed as a leading, independent voice in the domestic policymaking sphere, the Governance Studies program at Brookings is dedicated to analyzing policy issues, political institutions and processes, and contemporary governance challenges. Our scholarship identifies areas in need of reform and proposes specific solutions to improve governance worldwide, but with a particular emphasis on the United States.

Get daily updates from Brookings