By Jane Wood

Scotland’s environmental aims are at the forefront of minds like never before. With COP26 fast approaching, our news, political and business agendas have been focusing on the climate crisis. But when the topic of sustainability is raised, people tend to think of a shift towards renewable energy, better recycling and active travel. What they don’t tend to think of is 5G. But they should.

BT's technology and communications networks have a significant role to play in enabling the innovative solutions and major change needed to achieve a greener economy. Our full fibre broadband and 5G networks will power the road to lower carbon ways of life and work. These updates bring with them huge energy efficiencies to help shrink Scotland’s environmental footprint.

Technology will help deliver the change needed. However, the true challenge ahead of us is how best to use it. While many of us are aware of how we can individually help slow down the effects of climate change, the ways in which organisations and governments can come together to tackle the issue are less obvious.

We recently published a report, Innovation Critical: Scotland’s Net Zero Mission and Climate Tech Opportunity, along with our partners SCDI, Royal Society of Edinburgh and ScotlandIS which explored this issue. It found that Scotland could be best placed to take advantage of new and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and data analytics, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. With the right focus and investment, recovery from the pandemic presents a huge opportunity for government, businesses and individuals.

BT is working on projects with this goal in sight – but the need for a joined-up approach requires lateral thinking from all. We need to start questioning how best we can partner with suppliers, customers, peers and government agencies to inspire change – and most importantly, how can we use technology to build innovative solutions at pace and scale?

Work from the University of Stirling provides a great example of how climate change action can be achieved through technology and collaboration. We’re supporting them with a 5G network to develop a first of its kind monitoring system, to deliver its digital-led green recovery programme. Using connected sensors, satellite data and artificial intelligence, the programme will provide vital information on water quality and other factors, to inform decisions that could deliver major economic regeneration and sustainability benefits to Forth Valley.

Climate change is currently one of the greatest challenges to humankind, and while digital technology is just one part of the solution, it is absolutely central to the net zero future we must build: it is the thread that knits together these great ideas and makes them possible. Our fixed broadband and mobile 5G networks will shape the way we all live, work and move – supporting everything from home-working, the development of smart cities, the ‘Internet of things’ and helping to build smart climate solutions.

But while we’re fortunate to live in a developed economy, with these tools at our disposal, it’s time for our nation to start asking "How can we better exploit the opportunities offered by our digital infrastructure to secure our future?"

Jane Wood is BT Group Scotland Director