COP28InterviewsSustainability

COP28: Ensuring an Equitable Digital Future Also Comes with Tackling Discriminatory Bias

Emmanuel de Roquefeuil, the Vice-President of Thales Middle East, says we can expect even more efforts in the areas of carbon capture and storage in 2024

Please tell us about your efforts that ensure a sustainable and equitable digital future.
For more than 20 years, Thales has pursued a robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy based on the highest international standards. The principles behind this policy are now captured in the company’s purpose of “building a future we can all trust”, which was adopted in 2020. Our goal is to make the world a safer place, one where we’re environmentally conscious, and one that’s inclusive for all.

We’re also harnessing the power of digital transformation to combat climate change. Indeed, we’re investing in and developing innovative technologies and systems to visibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, limit the use of natural resources and adopt more renewable energy practices. Moreover, we are also making eco-design the norm by adopting eco-design principles for 100% of our new products.

Ensuring an equitable digital future also comes with tackling discriminatory bias that acts as a barrier to inclusivity. Thales undertakes responsibility for detecting bias across its artificial intelligence systems, striving to ensure fairness and balance to achieve diversity and inclusion groupwide. For instance, our biometric solutions are designed to be as neutral as possible and are tested and assessed by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an independent standard-setting body.

We also recognise that one-third of the world’s population remains offline, while close to one billion of today’s population are yet to possess proof of legal identity. Through our solutions such as digital identification systems and telecoms satellites, we ensure that digital inclusion is brought to disadvantaged communities.

What is your commitment to combat climate change?
Thales has committed to a proactive approach in combatting climate change. For instance, we’ve adopted a low-carbon strategy since 2019, in the form of reduced emissions, and eco-responsible products and services for our customers. Moreover, we are staying energy efficient by developing solutions that are designed for energy efficiency in the areas of digital science, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

Another way we’re combatting climate change is by helping our customers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through eco-friendly systems. For instance, we have introduced the PureFlyt flight management system (FMS) in the Middle East to help airlines reduce fuel consumption, thereby reducing CO2 and NOx emissions. Thales PureFlyt Is the most powerful FMS solution available today.

We also place a keen eye on the earth through Thales Alenia Space. A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), Thales Alenia Space is our major player in understanding the current impact of climate change, having already monitored the environment for over 40 years. Moreover, we are committed to a strict resource management policy that ensures the Group produces less waste, recycles more, limits the use of raw materials, and largely evolves into an energy-efficient business.

What are the challenges in combatting global environmental issues?
Actively solving global environmental issues can appear a bigger challenge than climate change itself. There is a very high level of awareness, education, and proactivity needed for organisations to commit to and meet environmental goals by 2030, when the earth may reach tipping points right before 1.5 degrees C. One key challenge is that CO2 is a global pollutant, rather than a local pollutant, which means, to contain CO2 only locally may not drive the amount of change we need to effectively reduce emissions. To manage and regulate CO2 will require strict regulations that span over larger areas; this would require larger organisations to actively undertake carbon emissions reduction.

Another setback is how developing countries are, in actuality, the key to climate change, as they are responsible for at least 63 per cent of carbon emissions; developing countries other than China will be required to increase climate spending by four times the current amount up to around $2.4 trillion per year by 2030. Modern living is also a tremendous barrier to combatting global environmental issues. From electricity to transportation and more, resources continue to deplete at an alarming level. While battery-operated vehicles and reduced solar energy costs take centre stage, there’s still a long way to go.

Thales is confident in minimising these obstacles as we continue to find global solutions that effectively preserve the environment. From bringing in sustainable air traffic management systems to responsible resource management across our sectors in Defense and Security, Aeronautics and Space, and Digital Identity.

What sort of trends do you foresee in the areas of sustainability and technology?
The trend I see is these two words, together — ‘sustainable technology’. While it is already popular, we can expect even more efforts in the areas of carbon capture and storage in 2024, as well as the growth of more efficient energy technologies to make a slow and gradual complete shift to renewable energy. Moreover, we will witness increased circular economy practices that promote the reusing, recycling and repurposing of materials built directly into products from the initial design stages. Sustainable technology will also embrace greener cloud computing, wherein infrastructure and services prioritise and proactively pursue net zero commitments to reduce their carbon footprints.

2024 will also witness the rise of AI applications in sustainability. With AI enablement in sustainability, we can expect more optimal utilisation of resources, improved energy efficiency, and more across key sectors such as transportation and aerospace. Organisations will be pressured to consider this route to fast-track their decarbonisation goals and play their part in environmental preservation. As we continue to track our efforts and successes in becoming more sustainable, it is key for organisations like Thales to place a keen eye on these trends, and implement them in our operations for a climate-proof future.

How do you envision your role in shaping a more sustainable future in 2024 and beyond?
As a leading technology company with a presence across key markets worldwide, Thales is committed to playing a pivotal role in shaping a more sustainable future in 2024. We envision a low-carbon future across all our operations, as well as greener and ‘cleaner’ products that also significantly reduce the carbon footprints of our customers. Altogether, we’re making a considerable difference Groupwide to visibly reduce environmental harm on our planet.

Thales will continue to invest in research and development, focusing on innovative solutions that contribute to environmental sustainability. This includes developing technologies and systems that reduce energy consumption, enhance the efficient utilisation of resources, and address global sustainability challenges. Our commitment to carbon neutrality will also remain airtight, as we reduce embodied and operational carbon while offsetting remaining emissions with the support of strategic partnerships or internal initiatives. Our other strategies for a more sustainable future will focus on increased transparency in our efforts, ensuring regular reporting on key performance indicators about our environmental impact.

Let’s take the aviation industry as an example. It is widely recognised as a hard-to-abate sector. Airplanes have a long lifecycle and the latest aircraft are already at the cutting edge of what is technologically viable. Efforts to reach net-zero emissions in this sector generally rely on technologies that are still under development or experimental, such as Sustainable Aviation Fuels. However, at Thales, as a unique global player in-ground and onboard systems, we are leveraging all our expertise in digital identity, airport security, cybersecurity, connectivity, explainable AI, trusted certifiable avionics and air traffic management to optimise airport operations and passenger flows.

Our Fly to Gate solution, which uses biometry, tokenisation and cybersecurity, provides a seamless passenger journey, reducing boarding times by 30%. On the operations side, Pureflyt, our flight management system (FMS), has collectively flown over 200 million flight hours, proving itself as a safe and reliable FMS for passengers, while simultaneously reducing fuel consumption, thereby optimising resources.

Our strategy is threefold: Evaluate the climate impact of aviation, propose solutions to mitigate this climate impact, and verify, through measurements and observations, the actual benefits of our solutions. This is something that we spoke about extensively at COP28 discussions.

How are you aligning your sustainability initiatives in line with the themes of COP28?
At COP28 this year, core themes are focused on clean energy transitions, putting people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action, delivering on climate finance and boosting inclusivity. Our sustainability initiatives are well aligned with these themes, both on a broader and granular level.

We’re also providing eco-friendly SIM cards to COP28 visitors and participants this year. This is important, because while it may seem like one of the smallest pieces of plastic that we use, a whopping 20,000 tons of plastics and polymers are used annually to produce SIM cards. Widespread adoption, or even moving carriers, travelling, and replacing lost or broken SIM cards, are all contributing to the waste.

Manufactured from recycled consumer electronics, the new cards that we have brought to market are more environmentally sustainable than traditional cards and have a much lower carbon footprint. Over half a million of these cards have been introduced to cater to visitors and attendees arriving in the UAE for the COP28 event.

You’ll notice that we look at a product from the birth of the product in raw material extraction to consumer use and proper disposal or recycling. This is a philosophy that we embrace wholeheartedly at Thales, ‘Life Cycle’ thinking. Our mission is to minimise carbon footprint and environmental impact at every turn.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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