In October 2021, IRGC convened an international and interdisciplinary group of experts to discuss concerns about the environmental sustainability of emerging technologies, and the extent to which these concerns are considered during the technology design and development stages, and in guidance from public policy. The workshop discussed these concerns, reviewed various response strategies and formulated some generic recommendations across technology domains:
- chemicals (advanced materials and smart nanomaterials)
- synthetic biology (gene editing and gene drives)
- digital technologies (machine learning, cloud computing and blockchain),
- carbon dioxide removal and sequestration, and
- space technologies.
Emerging technologies in these domains pose unique challenges to risk assessors and managers because there is a general lack of tools and data to evaluate their potential adverse impacts on the environment, and often pervasive uncertainty on how they will be deployed in the real world. Early-stage technology assessment and prospective life cycle assessment are not common practices. These challenges are compounded by ambiguity due to different interests and views.
Based on the workshop discussions, IRGC published in March 2022 a report describing the current attitude towards these issues, and instruments available or considered to help reach the goal of environmental sustainability. The report suggests ways to address ex-ante environmental risks that might manifest only after design choices for a technology are already made. The report and the executive summary are available below.
- Ensuring the environmental sustainability of emerging technologies (Workshop report, 2022) (pdf)