CE03 - Interactions Humains-Environnement

Regulating digital economy’s environmental pollution – DIGIPOLL

Submission summary

In 2021, the digital economy appears more than ever a wealth of opportunities for economic agents. However, behind the scenes also lie major environmental concerns. Digital devices are fueled with data which are processed, transferred and stored by data centers, which need tremendous electricity and cooling. We aim to better understand the environmental impact of the digital economy and to propose a set of adequate regulatory responses to reduce it.

The topic is attracting increasing attention among civil society and politicians. A legislative draft was introduced by the French Senate in October 2020 and the French government released last February a roadmap intended to bring together the ecological and digital transitions. However, many experts urge for more stringent action against digital platforms rather than adopting soft law instruments such as codes of conduct drafted in partnership with digital platforms, and the launch of public campaigns on sober digital practices. Moreover, France, Sweden and the Czech Republic (which together form the trio of presidency of the Council of the European Union from January 2022 to June 2023) have announced that digital governance will be one of their priorities. The project aims to contribute to this public debate and could allow to look afresh at other debates on digital technology (such as the deployment of 5G or the regulation of cryptocurrencies and data privacy policy) and their environmental consequences.

Specific features of the digital economy need to be taken into account to design an adequate regulatory response. First, the legal framework is still under construction, which complicates the design of regulation. Second, most online services are freely provided to users. In a market without explicit price signals, it appears insufficient to introduce taxes and price incentives to change users’ behaviors. Third, some digital platforms have considerable power to influence legislative processes and also use technology to push digital users to consume more data.

The objectives of DIGIPOLL are twofold: understanding how users behave online (objective 1) is key to design an adequate regulatory response (objective 2). With objective 1, we aim to identify the factors influencing these behaviors. Can the choice of digital users be explained exclusively by a lack of information? Is this choice rather motivated by a lack of attention or the existence of habits rooted in the user’s life? Do other cognitive biases or a lack of concern for the environment enter into play? . We are planning on using a representative panel of French households and implement three surveys on this panel. Altogether, the three waves of the survey will allow us to describe behaviors of digital users and assess the impact of different interventions. This survey will be particularly important to validate and select the right theoretical framework to study the optimal design of policies.

The second objective of DIGIPOLL is to examine what regulatory tools may be used to reduce the environmental footprint of the digital economy. It appears in this regard essential to identify not only the singularities of the phenomenon but also its similarities with other sectors of activities. We also propose to address whether the introduction of these environmental concerns would challenge the business models of digital platforms. Furthermore, we will assess whether these environmental concerns should be integrated into existing laws and regulations applicable to digital platforms and whether new regulatory instruments should be introduced to tackle this phenomenon. Finally, based on the results of the survey we will determine how to design instruments to change users' behaviour.

The project adopts a multidisciplinary approach and brings together economists from different specialties (microeconometrics, digital economics, behavioral economics, and environmental economics), a lawyer and a psychologist.

Project coordination

Jean-Philippe Nicolai (Laboratoire d'Economie Appliquée de Grenoble (GAEL))

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

GAEL Laboratoire d'Economie Appliquée de Grenoble (GAEL)

Help of the ANR 124,317 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2021 - 36 Months

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