The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out a transformative agenda that aims to simultaneously end poverty, address environmental decline, and reduce inequalities, all by 2030. But the SDGs missed setting a goal for governing perhaps the most powerful force defining humanity’s future: the digital age.
The Montreal Statement was prepared from discussions held during a 2019 workshop in Montreal, Canada, one of a series on AI & Society, funded by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Learning (CIFAR) in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), organized by Future Earth, the UK Office for AI, the International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of Artificial Intelligence and Digital Technologies (OBVIA), and CNRS. The workshop brought together 29 participants from around the world to explore issues related to the Digital Disruptions for Sustainability (D^2S Agenda), with a particular focus on near-term actions.
We ask leaders in business, government, and civil society to recognize that building a climate-safe and equitable world requires a conscious effort to steer the societal transformations unfolding from the development and deployment of new digital technologies.
Cite as: Sustainability in the Digital Age. (2020). The Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7140314
Immediate action is needed in five specific areas:
Build a new social contract for the digital age, which addresses individual rights, justice and equity, inclusive access, and environmental sustainability;
Ensure open and transparent access to data and knowledge critical to achieving sustainability and equity;
Foster public and private collaborations to develop and manage AI and other technologies in support of sustainability and equity;
Promote research and innovation to steer digital transformations toward sustainability and equity; and
Support targeted communication, engagement and education to advance the social contract.
Collaborators and Endorsers reflect on the Montreal Statement
Humanity today is interconnected through, and dependent on, both the digital and natural worlds. As a result, tackling the climate crisis and the broader sustainability agenda, and working toward a just equitable digital future are increasingly intertwined agendas. It is time to recognize the need to work toward a new SDG –SDG 18, focused on ensuring that the Digital Age supports people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships.Amy Luers – Senior Advisor, Sustainability in the Digital Age
I invite our leaders to act on the Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age, elaborated under the leadership of Future Earth and in collaboration with many international partners. The development of digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, which transform our societies and can bring growth and progress, should be done in conjunction with the achievement of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to create a climate-safe, sustainable, and equitable world.Rémi Quirion – Chief Scientist of Québec
As highlighted in this Montreal Statement, as the power of digital technologies such as AI increases, I believe that it becomes all the more important to set up social norms and encourage efforts towards both a wiser governance – to minimize misuse – and steering technological investments towards betterment of society – AI for social good, e.g. fighting climate change – rather than the additional concentration of wealth, power and inequity which is otherwise likely to follow, at the expense of sustainability and a just society.Prof. Yoshua Bengio – A.M. Turing Award, 2018; Scientific Director, Mila; Full professor, University of Montreal; Co-Founder, Element AI
AI technologies have an unavoidable role to play in reducing global contributions to the climate crisis. By embracing the fourth industrial revolution we may consciously create a future for AI development that is fair and equitable for the planet. The Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age outlines areas of collaboration needed to achieve this goal. The scale of disruption required to achieve net zero emissions requires a full transformation of our economies and societies, and must be embedded into national strategies if we are to match our words with actions. Having legislated for net zero, the UK is embracing the challenge and we continue on this path as a founding member of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), an international and multistakeholder initiative to guide the responsible development and use of AI, grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation, and economic growth.Sana Khareghani – Deputy Director, Head of Office for Artificial Intelligence, UK
We need to bet big on digital technologies, because they provide the kind of exponential transformative power needed to achieve the SDGs. We are making great progress applying digital technologies to help tackle sustainability challenges, but we are still not cooperating enough across the public and private sectors to drive the scale, speed and direction of change we need. We must urgently take more collaborative action to govern the technology sector and build a digital ecosystem for people and planet.David Jensen – Head of Environmental Peacebuilding, UN Environment Programme
Digital technologies are a major force in driving the changes in both society and environment we need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With COVID-19 disrupting economies, exacerbating inequalities and setting back developmental progress, countries with a stronger culture of innovation and more developed digital infrastructure have been able to mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis and set on the path to recovery quicker. Digital technology has shown the potential to be a development catalyst. The Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age sets out an important framework for collaboration to enable this important work.Robert Opp – Chief Digital Officer, UNDP
Element AI firmly believes that we have a civic duty to contribute to environmental and social wellbeing, and as such we are proud to collaborate on the Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age, and will be active in our commitment to respond to the calls for action.Anne Martel – Chief Administrative Officer and Co-Founder, Element AI
The broader international science community is just beginning to explore the powerful opportunities and profound challenges of the digital age, both for science and for society. At the ISC we have adopted this as one of our four key domains of action. The Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age, outlines important areas of work that need to be pursued through the closer engagement of science with partners from policy and wider publics.Heide Hackmann – CEO, International Science Council (ISC)
As the international community reflects on how we can respond to the pandemic in a way that puts us on a sustainable recovery track, we are recognizing the central role that the digital world will play. This makes the challenges of access, equity, and trust in the digital sector urgent, if we are to be able to steer its massive potential towards a path that will accelerate SDG achievement. The Montreal Statement provides a guide for collaboration and action to steer the digital revolution in support of human-centred, sustainable development.Dirk Messner – President, German Environment Agency (UBA)
The digital system is planetary, we need a deepened cooperation and consultation to establish a just and equitable system of global governance.Lyse Langlois, Ph.D. – Executive Director, Observatoire international sur les impacts sociétaux de l’intelligence artificielle et du numérique (OBVIA)
AI is transforming the way we live and work so it is critical that we act now to find solutions that promote trustworthiness, equity, inclusion and sustainability. Through CIFAR’s AI & Society program, we were pleased to support the international workshop that catalyzed some of the early work in the development of the Montreal Statement.Rebecca Finlay – Vice President, Engagement & Public Policy, CIFAR
The Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age outlines crucial areas of collaboration needed to effectively leverage digital technologies, in order to achieve positive environmental and equity outcomes. For example, many are optimistic about the unprecedented transparency that the digital era makes possible, and its potential to enhance effectiveness and legitimacy of global sustainability governance. Yet, research suggests that transparency may not be all that it promises to be. Who gets to generate, have access to or use unprecedented levels of transparency, and to realize what governance ends, becomes ever more important to scrutinize in the digital era.Aarti Gupta – Professor of Global Environmental Governance, Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University
As a host of Future Earth, Concordia University shares its vision through the work of researchers across a variety of fields who are driven by the conviction that technological innovation should provide opportunities for greater social respect and inclusion while lowering our ecological footprint. This work can play a key role in ensuring a digital future that is both informed by, and continuously advancing sustainable principles. The Montreal Statement is a consolidation of this vision and a welcome call for transformative action now.Graham Carr – President, Concordia University
Here at BSC, we are committed to working with others to respond to this call to action. We are already doing work in several areas highlighted in the Montreal Statement using high performance computing and big data infrastructures to provide reliable climate services leading to resilient societies. We create public-private partnerships to provide stakeholders open and transparent access to data and knowledge.Asun Lera St.Clair – Senior Advisor, Barcelona Supercomputing Centre – BSC + DNVGL Digital Assurance
It often seems that the only feature of Earth changing faster than its biogeophysical environment is the information environment. And that Its speed and spread have resulted in these technologies, and their applications, expanding in ways that both connect and divide, protect or destroy, that can foster global empathy and action or amplify fakery, distraction and hate. That is why it is crucial, as the Montreal Statement urges, for those with influence to help foster an open, inclusive, generative use of these capacities, for the good of all humanity and the living sphere we call home.Andrew Revkin – founding director of the Earth Institute Initiative on Communication and Sustainability at Columbia University
Spaceship Earth is fragile and we are responsible for it. The Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age puts the requirements on technology design at the right level to comply with the development of human wellbeing in symbiosis with environmental flourishing. A new social contract for the digital age is also a contract with our planet, in which we must pledge to prioritize metrics of success for all technology design in accordance with its sustainability.Raja Chatila – Professor, Sorbonne Université, Paris
The current crisis highlights more than ever why we need a new social contract in the digital age. Digital technologies have been a lifeline for many during lockdown but they have also fuelled an “infodemic” and raised serious privacy concerns. It is time to write algorithms that support societal goals for wellbeing and planetary health.Owen Gaffney – Global sustainability writer, analyst and strategist, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
As an Artificial Intelligence consulting firm dedicated to sustainable use cases of AI and Big Data, it is with great enthusiasm and conviction that we endorse the Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age and the paramount actions that it is calling for. The statement also frames some clear and sound directions that will greatly help us set better goals for ourselves and guide our actions as a company. We will strive to convert these orientations into many innovative and concrete use cases for our clients.Alexis Hannart – Chief Scientific Officer, Axionable