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War to climate change—tech diplomacy can tackle global challenges. India must lead from front

The geopolitical landscape is more hostile than ever, which means technology has a vital role to play in ensuring cross-border data flows.

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The three-day Global Technology Summit to be held in Delhi next week has never been more important in its seven-year history. From the Covid-19 pandemic to climate change to Russia’s war on Ukraine and the US-China dynamic — the geopolitical landscape is more volatile than ever.

In this climate, the technology industry and technology itself have a vital role to play—to build trust in cross-border data flows, especially as they become critical factors for economic growth. Businesses require cross-border data flows to operate commerce platforms, conduct payments, engage with customers, do invoicing and accounting, store data in the cloud and leverage customer relationship management systems.

Building data frameworks on trust

During Japan’s G20 presidency in 2019, late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for the creation of a Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT) mechanism for cross-border data sharing. Abe’s vision was reflected in a G20 communique signed by most member states—a framework for promoting cross-border data flow with enhanced protections for intellectual property, personal information, and cybersecurity.

Open cross-border data flow is the lifeblood of the global digital economy.There is empirical support for this. Management consulting firm McKinsey estimates that cross-border data flows account for 3 per cent of global GDP output, the equivalent of $2.3 trillion. It is encouraging to see that India’s recent Draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill—which aims to regulate and safeguard personal data while laying out the rights and duties of users and businesses—includes a provision for data transfers.


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Impact on sustainability

Attitudes to sustainability are fast evolving as businesses realise what’s at stake if they don’t act quickly. Reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero (bringing greenhouse gas emissions down to zero) – once a footnote in corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports – is now an integral part of strategic discussions.

Salesforce’s commissioned report, Trail to Net Zero for India, found that more jobs, cost savings and improved business can be achieved with a net zero target. The report found the economic impact of businesses moving to the cloud could result in cost savings of $2.2 billion in 2022, $24 billion between 2022–2030, and a reduction of up to 60 million metric tonnes worth of carbon dioxide emissions between 2022-2030 if cloud operators source 100 per cent renewable power. In this scenario, technology has a vital role in helping address climate change.

Furthermore, among businesses surveyed in India, 63 per cent believe if a supplying business had a net zero target, then it would make them more likely to purchase their products or services.

Technology also has a role in tracking emissions. Governments and organisations should adopt a shared digital platform to track emissions and forecast emission patterns. Having a shared digital platform will ensure better decision-making and a single source of truth when measuring and tracking emissions within their own organisation and potentially, their supply chain. It’s difficult and near impossible to improve something that you cannot measure to a consistent standard.


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India’s role

As India takes on the presidency of the G20, it is poised to cement its place as a digital superpower. Global technology businesses already have a significant presence in India, with the information technology sector attracting the largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) over the last two decades and becoming a major employment generator in the country. However, there is still potential for India to grow and develop this sector into a formidable global economic engine by adopting a cross-border data-sharing policy aligned with the policy frameworks of its major digital trade partners.

India has an opportunity to lead and showcase its digital credentials and steer the global economy that can leverage technology for good. Whether it is India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI), which has enabled financial inclusion for millions of those outside the formal banking system, or the multilayered digital identity, payment and data management system through Aadhaar or its engineering muscle for large global technology companies, India is on the right path. It is now time to exploit technology to its full potential.

Tech diplomacy is underpinned by trust. India needs to lead from the front and demonstrate how technology can play a crucial role in overcoming global challenges.

Sassoon Grigorian is Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy, Asia-Pacific and Japan, at Salesforce. Views are personal.

The article is part of a series examining the geopolitics of technology, which is the theme of Carnegie India’s seventh Global Technology Summit (29 November to 1 December), co-hosted with the Ministry of External Affairs. Click here to register. ThePrint is the digital partner. Read all articles here.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)

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