Apple Inc last month ran an Apps for Earth promotion, a fundraiser for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to mark this year’s Earth Day. The company has announced that the proceeds from 27 apps — including popular titles like Angry Birds II, Cooking Dash 2016 and Candy Crush Soda Saga — between Saturday next week and April 24 will go to the WWF, a global conservation organization.
The cross-sector partnership between Apple and the the WWF illustrates a new technological frontier for raising environmental awareness and influencing conservation practices.
Four technological forces — mobile, social, cloud and big data — have emerged as “game changers” in the way environmental science, policymaking, consumer culture and democracy have developed.
Apps, such as Earth, give the campaigners the opportunity to engage worldwide, tech-savvy, middle-class customers and reach new financial sources.
However, billions of people around the world still live in poverty and lack essential technology for their basic needs.
Digital technologies can be environmentally unsustainable. Much technology, including smartphones, are designed to be thrown away at the first sign of trouble rather than be repaired. The volume of global electronic waste increases by a third every two years. The ugly truth is that developed economies dump most of their harmful and toxic e-waste illegally in developing nations — one in three containers from the EU contains illegal waste under false pretenses.
Moreover, the increasing scarcity of metal and mineral raw materials, the huge and irrecoverable environmental damage, and widespread bloodshed and use of child workers — also mainly in developing nations — do not prevent the development of the next “must-have” digital device. Technology can have deep geopolitical and social bias in favor of elites and to the detriment of poor people.
On Sept. 25 last year, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure prosperity for all. Following the Millennium Development Goals, SDGs are to define global development targets and goals for the next 15 years.
The UN has recognized that technology and development are indistinguishably connected. The implementation of the SDGs has to be guided by the principle of technology justice. Therefore, two new policy mechanisms — the UN Technology Bank and the Technology Facilitation Mechanism — have been proposed to assist the least developed countries to address technology injustices.
The system requires a greater role for states to harness investment in clean and environmentally sound technologies and to ensure that technologies do not exacerbate the vulnerabilities of poor people.
On the first Earth Day in 1970, about 2 million people marched down New York’s Fifth Avenue to express a new environmental paradigm for change and call for a healthy lifestyle for all — not just for the relatively small wealthy population.
Earth Day needs to be a day for demonstration of unity and ecological sustainability.
Lawyers might approach the issue by reconsidering international treaties that govern intellectual property rights, such as Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, an international agreement administrated by the WTO — of which Taiwan is a signatory — to rebalance in favor of the least developed countries and sustainable development agendas.
Yang Chung-han is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge and a member of the Taipei Bar Association.
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