Science, Technologies Can Transform Global Challenges, But Need to Be Accessible to All, Senior Officials Stress, as Economic and Social Council Forum Concludes
Closing the Economic and Social Council’s two-day Multistakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals, senior United Nations officials welcomed the convergence of experts from Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, and stressed how rapid scientific progress can be leveraged to address pressing global challenges, so long as the technology emerging is accessible to all.
Delivering closing remarks, Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, pointed out that “we risk falling short on our promises” as the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda draws near. While the international community has lost ground due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it can build back smarter through decisions grounded in science and data. By harnessing science, technology and innovation, the world can transform its relationship with nature, reverse rising inequality and build resilience against the next crisis of conflict, natural disaster or future pandemic.
The world observed what science can achieve in mere months when efforts are aligned, she said, spotlighting the speed of the COVID-19 vaccines’ development and dissemination and the new technology that enabled students to continue their education remotely. However, these developments also highlighted long-standing divides and existing inequalities. Digitalization holds great promise, but this potential cannot be harnessed when only about 63 per cent of the global population uses the Internet, she said.
Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, similarly spotlighted the need to bridge the digital divide and enhance digital literacy, including by breaking down gender barriers and harnessing greater international cooperation. On that point, he said that the Forum served a crucial function in bringing together stakeholders beyond Member States, including the private sector, the scientific community and civil society.
While acknowledging that the unprecedented growth of digital technology offers significant opportunities, he stressed that it also poses risks. Efforts are needed at the international level to maximize and equitably distribute the gains of the digital economy, including greater assistance to developing countries for building capacity. Inadequate funding for the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the Forum itself has limited their scope of operations, and he called for this issue to be addressed going forward.
Throughout the day, the Forum held several thematic sessions featuring presentations by, and interactive dialogues among, representatives of Governments, the private sector and civil society on topics including innovation, digital public goods and harnessing technology to address climate change and connect the world.
One such session focused on the issue of “Emerging carbon‑dioxide removal technologies for addressing climate change”, in which speakers discussed technology designed to remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, reducing concentrations of the gas that represent the main contributor to climate change and global warming.
Keywan Riahi, Director of the Energy, Climate and Environment Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, said that carbon‑dioxide removal is necessary to stabilize the climate. The world must achieve net-zero emissions; yet not every activity can be de-carbonized. He also pointed out that the application of this technology can increase equity in climate solutions because it allows regions with high capacity to reduce their emissions further, while others with low capacity or higher challenges can remain at higher emissions levels.
Lee Kheng Heng, Section Head of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/International Atomic Energy Agency Centre of Nuclear Techniques for the Food and Agriculture Organization, also commented on carbon‑dioxide removal technology, noting that the agricultural sector can produce relatively low-cost carbon‑dioxide removal as soil is a major carbon sink. However, she cautioned that the international community must also consider the long-term balance between uptake and removal of carbon dioxide and monitor the effects of agricultural practices. Nuclear and isotopic techniques can be useful in this regard, she added.
Kathleen Draper, Chair of the Board of the Biochar Initiative and Director of the Ithaca Institute for Carbon Intelligence, pointed out that biochar is likely the oldest method of carbon‑dioxide removal. Indigenous cultures across the globe figured out thousands of years ago how to carbonize biomass and use it to enrich the soil to feed growing populations. This method is safe, scalable and can help countries increase their climate ambitions. Against that backdrop, she called for support to raise awareness, build markets, secure funding for scaling and encourage the development of biochar-based decarbonization plans.
Raising a related issue, Nikolay Durmanov, Special Representative of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, pointed out that, when discussing the transition to new low-carbon technology in industry and agriculture, it is necessary to develop national carbon accounting systems to assess carbon levels. For its part, the Russian Federation has created dozens of carbon‑testing areas across the country to calculate the carbon balance of its diverse ecosystems.
However, Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group sounded a note of caution, emphasizing that none of the proposed carbon‑dioxide removal technologies address the root causes of climate change, such as fossil fuels, industrial food systems and consumption and production patterns. They could even increase greenhouse‑gas emissions and there is no proof that they will function to address climate change. Such technology also provides an excuse for polluting industries and Governments to avoid making the necessary reductions of carbon emissions now, based on theoretical offsetting in the future. “This is a dangerous gamble”, she stressed.
Another of the day's thematic sessions focused on “Global, national and local innovation ecosystems”, during which speakers detailed national approaches to encourage innovation across stakeholders and sectors to achieve structural transformations in policy and development according to domestic particularities.
The Forum also explored the theme of “Global digital public goods, digitalization, artificial intelligence and connecting the world by 2030”, as presenters highlighted the need to create a just digital paradigm for the governance, financing and infrastructure of digital public goods to allow Governments and other stakeholders to freely adopt cutting-edge digital solutions, thereby reducing the digital divide between the global North and South.
The final session focused on “Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals: Next steps for the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and its partners”, in which speakers highlighted the importance of collaboration — including through the Mechanism — to build local capacity for leveraging technology to enhance quality of life, including through inclusive access to the Internet, the digital economy and quality education.
Thematic Session 3
The Forum held a panel discussion and interactive dialogue on the theme “Global, national, and local innovation ecosystems”.
Moderated by José Ramón López-Portillo Romano, Science Diplomacy Advisor to the Mexican Government, it featured presentations by: Amos Nungu, Director-General of the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology; Joo Hyunghwan, Former Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, Seoul National University Business School; Oksana Krukevich, Head of the Expert Group of Innovation, Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine; Tom Peter Migun Ogada, Executive Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies; Alessandro Rainoldi, Head of the Territorial Development Unit of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre; Angelina Bekasova, Senior Expert for Innovation Policy, Ministry of Economics of Latvia; Slavo Radosevic, Professor of Industry and Innovation Studies, University College London; Carolina Rojas of the Major Group for Children and Youth; and Prasidh Cham, Senior Minister for the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation of Cambodia.
Mr. ROMANO highlighted the potential economic rewards of investing in innovation towards the Sustainable Development Goals. However, inertia, vested interests, ignorance, negligence, belligerence and abuse hinder the absorption and application of new technologies and societies’ capacity for innovation. This situation is evolving into a dangerous technological and digital divide between the global North and South and between able and vulnerable groups, threatening to detonate major inequalities. Encouraging the development of a global network of national funds for innovation under ethical, autonomous councils, he said such a system could serve as a repository for identifying problems and solutions that is open to all. He expressed hope that today’s discussion will be inspired by successful innovation ecosystems, and efforts at the national and local levels, that recognize the need to secure sustainable funding for innovation.
Mr. NUNGU, drawing attention to his country’s annual National Innovation Week, noted that there is also a National Fund for Advancement of Science and Technology, hosted by the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology. Through this fund, the Government is working with all actors to support innovation initiatives including launching innovation funds, innovation hubs, and arranging innovation events with partners. The United Republic of Tanzania is also part of a collaborative pilot funding proposal coordinated by the Global Research Council — a virtual organization comprised of global science, research and engineering funding agencies dedicated to the promotion and sharing of data and best practices for high-quality collaboration among funding agencies worldwide. The pilot call aims to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals through implementation of results from research and innovation projects. Those projects will be funded through international consortia where researchers together with implementation partners and stakeholders collectively and collaboratively aim to improve research outcomes for the best impact.
Mr. HYUNGHWAN, stressing the importance of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s involvement in the budgeting process of Government-wide research and development programs, said that, in the Republic of Korea, this Ministry has been given the mandate to review the research and development requests of all ministries. Thus, it is a key entity for coordinating budget proposals in this area. This process has enabled the Ministry to ensure the coherence of the Government’s science and technology policies to advance Government-wide agendas, including, among others, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. He added that, in building national innovation systems, Governments should focus on regulation to remove obstacles to supply and on providing unemployment insurance for workers displaced by technological innovations, such as self-driving automobiles.
Ms. KRUKEVICH said that Ukraine joined the Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals Roadmap pilot programme in March 2021. Since then, the country has been working on a localized and participative approach to research and innovation investments. A complex reform of the science, technology and innovation policy framework was launched in 2017 and included development of key strategic documents, as well as improvement of the national intellectual property rights protection system. Cooperation of a broad range of public stakeholders is required, she noted, due to the multistakeholder specificity of the Ukrainian framework. The Ministry of Education and Science is aiming to produce competitive and innovative projects. As the pandemic was hampering stakeholder dialogue, the country implemented special digital tools. Citing the Russian Federation military aggression on her country, she pointed towards a post-war social recovery, with the use of science, technology and innovation to aid the most affected regions of Ukraine. This would, in turn, create new value chains, relocate companies and reintegrate human capital in the country.
Mr. OGADA said that, following the disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kenyan Government restarted the process of finalizing its Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmap for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in November 2021, focusing mainly on consultation with stakeholders in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. This process, now completed, will be presented at the end of May and will promote, among other initiatives, the reduction of post-harvest losses, the use of intellectual-property rights and commercial-technology transfer. The Government also finalized a 10-year science, technology and innovation policy in 2020 that will pursue the development and implementation of a comprehensive national intellectual-property policy. He added that, to strengthen the Kenyan innovation ecosystem, the African Centre for Technology Studies, with various partners, is mapping such ecosystem to generate data that the Government can use to accelerate the growth of the same.
Mr. RAINOLDI said the European Commission has invested in the transformational role of science, technology and innovation, as they are key enablers for the Sustainable Development Goals. Science, technology and innovation ecosystems and roadmaps are successful elements in transforming goals into concrete action, he noted, but roadmaps must be tailored to needs, strengths and ambitions and take into account local specificities. The Joint Research Centre also contributes to work of Technology Facilitation Mechanism and other initiatives. He suggested that voluntary national reviews of the Sustainable Development Goal contain a science, technology and innovation component as a horizontal enabler of development, and that those initiatives be localized for each country, including cities and remote or deprived areas. This would be a concrete step forward in bringing solutions closer to where people live, study and work, he said.
Ms. BEKASOVA, emphasizing that “Latvia is a country with a mission”, detailed Government efforts related to the Baltic Sea, one of the most polluted in the world, in the areas of international cooperation, industry synergy and technology transfer. As a result of this focus, she pointed out that even unrelated industries have looked for links to the blue economy in their innovation efforts, demonstrating that this mission-oriented approach is convenient for human psychology. As other countries are likely to be interested in innovation in this sector, Latvia will share its experience, she said, adding she looks forward to international cooperation in this area in the coming years.
Mr. RADOSEVIC said analysis indicates the need to reach beyond a narrow focus on research and development, and, instead, look towards structural transformation and how economies evolve regarding knowledge and technology exchange. He reported that countries show a limited ability to absorb technologies and that, while there are advances in digitalization, there are big differences from country to country, which may have a major effect on future growth. Upgrading technology along existing trajectories will not lead to sustainable development. Policies cannot be concerned only with one element of technology upgrading. Each country has a unique innovation ecosystem, and must understand its own technology upgrading profile and the direction of its structural transformation. “The main message is knowing yourself is very essential to forming effective policies,” he stated.
Ms. ROJAS said that the effective implementation of science, technology and innovation roadmaps requires a mission-oriented approach. While the Sustainable Development Goals frame that overall mission, challenges remain on how to implement the same in the local context. She emphasized that, for missions to become drivers of innovation, they must be inclusive and created with the participation of all stakeholders in a local ecosystem. Assessing the long- and short-term ethical, social and economic impacts of technologies is also essential. Further, she emphasized that young people are needed throughout the design, development and deployment of mission-oriented creation and implementation processes.
Mr. CHAM said science, technology, and innovation are crucial to Cambodia’s vision of becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050. Since March 2020, the Government has transformed the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft into the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation, and has assigned it a leading role in those sectors. Although Cambodia is experiencing challenges in achieving an inclusive and sustainable development, it is aiming for thoughtful, strategic, and sustainable investments in technologies in such sectors as human capital development, renewable energies and the circular economy. He noted his country’s Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmap 2030 was recently launched and now awaits cooperation and assistance from United Nations partners to implement its five pillars, including: improving governance of the national innovation system; building human capital; and strengthening research capacity. The Roadmap will also seek to increase collaboration and networking between stakeholders, and foster an ecosystem to attract investment.
The representative of China highlighted her Government’s policy of strategically developing and reforming national systems for science, technology and innovation and encouraging collaboration between industry, academic and research institutions. Further, the Government continues to improve laws and regulations in the fields of science and technology to strengthen the ethical governance of the same. She added that her country is expanding its international scientific and technological exchanges, noting that China currently enjoys cooperative relations with more than 160 countries in a range of fields including climate change and biomedicine.
The representative of Japan said his country has been working with developing countries through the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development. The aim is to produce research outcomes that benefit local and global communities by combining competitive research funding for science and technology projects and official development assistance (ODA). Some good practices include promoting a low-carbon society through the development of geothermal exploration technology in Indonesia and addressing lead contamination and development of prevention and environmental remediation technologies in Zambia. Japan also actively supports the Global Pilot Programme on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals Roadmaps, particularly in Kenya and India, among the five pilot countries. He noted that expanding cooperation and accelerating progress requires collaboration with various stakeholders at local, national and global levels, including the private sector, academia, research institutes, and civil society. He expressed hope that more Member States will be interested in developing the Roadmaps in line with their national action plans.
Thematic Session 4
The Forum then held a panel discussion and interactive dialogue on the theme “Global digital public goods, digitalization, artificial intelligence, and connecting the world by 2030”.
Moderated by Anita Gurumurthy, Executive Director of IT for Change, it featured presentations by: Liv Marte Nordhaug, Co-Lead of the Digital Public Goods Alliance; Maria Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Renata Avila, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Knowledge Foundation; Ally Nyamawe, Manager of AI4D Africa’s Anglophone Multidisciplinary Research Lab; Paul Mitchell, Chair of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group of the Internet Governance Forum; Abdel Karim Samakie, Director of Innovation Drive Enterprises, Digital Cooperation Organization; Reine Essobmadje of the Major Group for Science and Technology; and Ona Ambrozaite of the Major Group for Children and Youth.
Ms. GURUMURTHY, pointing out that digital technology permeates all aspects of life — especially after COVID-19. The accelerated pace of digitalization shows that democratizing digital and technological access is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The urgency for digital discourse is also reflected in the Secretary-General’s call for a rebooted multilateral approach to the digital age. She expressed hope that today’s discussion will feature expert perspectives on what must be done to create a just digital paradigm, including its governance, finance and infrastructure. Further, she encouraged presenters to discuss inclusive innovation ecosystems and how universal digital access can become a reality.
Ms. NORDHAUG said that digital public goods are open-sourced digital technologies, relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals and adhering to privacy laws and doing no harm. They allow Governments and other stakeholders to freely adopt state-of-the art digital solutions, leveraging common solutions to address challenges that stakeholders and countries are facing. The pandemic and the current food crisis underscore the vital importance of trustworthy digital public infrastructure, including digital identity systems and payment platforms, which can enable rapid responses to crises. They also allow for cooperation between countries, stakeholders and development banks in supporting the ecosystem in a new way, reducing fragmentation and duplication. She further cited the importance of securing funding without depending on volunteer labour, and ensuring that governance is inclusive, with Governments in the driver’s seat.
Ms. SPATOLISANO said that the international community cannot reap the full benefits of the digital age without mobilizing global cooperation to mitigate the potential harms of innovation. For its part, the United Nations has contributed to this end through the Secretary-General’s roadmap for digital cooperation and proposal to develop a global digital compact to bring together all Member States, the private sector and civil society to build a common understanding of the principles that should underpin the digital future. It is critical to leverage digital technology to leave no one behind. However, as geopolitical gridlock is at an all-time high, she said that “digital is the new face of global inequality”. Over 2.9 billion people remain offline, but the proposed global digital compact is a way to address this issue, she added.
Ms. AVILA stated that the 2.9 billion people still offline represent possibilities, not disconnected people who have been left behind. Stating that youth in both the Global South and Global North have everything to lose, she countered that they also possess all the potential to “unlock the tools of our times to solve the problems of our times”. Instead of thinking of digital regulations and overlords, the international community must think of a digital utopia — or a feminist, sustainable and inclusive utopia, embracing the realities of 195 countries. The Global South must push for that possible positive agenda, she stressed, opposing divisions, exclusion or a “splinternet”, rescuing the global arena from private hands. Instead of a metaverse, she proposed a “UN-verse”, moving towards an equitable vision translated into action. That movement must be avant-garde and exciting, as a rights-based digital culture need not restrict innovation, she said.
Mr. NYAMAWE said that artificial intelligence is a key technology that can assist both Africa and the world in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, notably by improving productivity in economic sectors such as agriculture, health care and environmental conservation. However, as other parts of the world are making tremendous progress in this field, Africa lags behind, due in part to the lack of necessary infrastructure. To address this issue, he pointed out that developing inclusive workspaces that foster building capacity in research and teaching is the best way to nurture young talent in developing artificial-intelligence-based solutions. He further encouraged the development of policies that recognize the benefits of artificial intelligence and promote gender equality and inclusion.
Mr. MITCHELL said effective governance of the Internet must be a priority, requiring action to reduce societal inequities, which may even be exacerbated by the Internet’s very existence. The Internet Governance Forum was created to address control over Internet architecture, built on the principal of multi-stakeholder participation, to bring about much better results for the future. It has since become a vibrant year-round platform, he continued, and is not hamstrung by fixed protocols. The Forum has created dynamic coalitions, best practice forums, and regional outposts that address problems at the local level, he said, underscoring that the Internet multistakeholder model has been a key enabler of all the benefits people receive. “It’s about global equity,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to the Forum event later this year.
Mr. SAMAKIE, noting that the digital economy will drive 75 per cent of global growth over the next decade, said that the Digital Cooperation Organization is dedicated to enabling digital prosperity for all. Among other initiatives, it develops research datasets to help Governments and the private sector develop effective digital policies and investment priorities. He stressed the need for an inclusive approach to driving the development of digital public goods, along with cooperation and co-creation among all stakeholders. Such cooperation is necessary at all stages of development, he added, from ideation to sustainability.
Ms. ESSOBMADJE said that her organization, representing professional engineering institutions in some 100 countries and more than 30 million engineers, is the only global platform that enables sharing of engineering practices and solutions. Noting that she is part of the small percentage of women engineers in Cameroon, she stressed: “The world is changing, and we are living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment,” with societies becoming more and more digital. However, this transformation is not only technological. It brings with it human and social challenges, including a lack of affordable, accessible Internet; lack of a safe online environment; and severe damage to privacy and data protection. It is important to ensure that societies are designed not according to technological values or innovation, but according to fairness, equality inclusivity and humanity. Engineers play a crucial role in developing technologies and ensuring sustainable implementation. “We must ensure fair access to broadband in each country as a public good for development as this paves the way to a connected world by 2030,” she said.
Ms. AMBROZAITE, stressing the need to prioritize Internet access, pointed out that many areas in the global South still require further investment in reliable Internet infrastructure. She also said that, to promote a global digital commons, further efforts must be made to ensure strong, inclusive policies and governance for these resources. This governance must be multilateral and multi-sectoral to ensure that a variety of perspectives are represented. She added that strategies should be formulated to ensure that digital public goods are well-maintained in the long-term, including by providing incentives for efficiency and accountability.
Ms. SPATOLISANO observed that people must share data to operate in digital spaces. This creates tension between their privacy and that data. The issue of freedom of expression online must be addressed, she stressed, as a “laissez-faire” approach does not work in that arena. It is also crucial to advance basic connectivity, access and digital capacity building, which requires appropriate funding. However, concrete targets must be set when using terms like “affordable access”. She noted the United Nations has partnered with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to set connectivity targets for 2030.
The representative of Senegal, pointing out positive progress in Internet access in his country, stressed that societies must have fair access to the Internet to be strong and inclusive. As a developing country, Senegal must count on itself first and foremost, and therefore the Government works to ensure cooperation between itself, the private sector and civil society. He went on to suggest, in his capacity as a researcher from a developing country with limited resources, that overcoming the digital divide requires an international coalition to place all on equal footing.
Ms. NORDHAUG said that maximizing impact requires sustainable core funding for the digital public goods that most benefit the respective countries. She also noted there should be no pressure on the teams maintaining digital public goods to find a commercial model for them. The process is not expensive, she stressed, simply requiring effective use of official development assistance (ODA).
Ms. AVILA pointed out that innovation in the global North has room to fail, while the same in the global South is punished for small mistakes or delays. Global capital investment and trade rules do not mirror calls to connect the global poor and create unity and, without a global trade system responsive to different needs, the world will not move forward. She stressed that what must be addressed is the “one-size-fits-all” global trade system that restricts the global South to the advantage of a few countries in the global North.
Thematic Session 5
The Forum then held a panel discussion and interactive dialogue on the theme “Emerging carbon dioxide removal technologies for addressing climate change.”
Moderated by Cherry Murray, Co-Chair of the Secretary-General’s Technology Facilitation Mechanism 10-Member Group and Professor of Physics and Deputy Director for Research, Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona, it featured presentations by: Keywan Riahi, Director of Energy, Climate and Environment Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and member of the Secretary-General’s Technology Facilitation Mechanism 10-Member-Group; Jan Minx, Professor at Mercator Research Institute in Germany; Masoud Kipanya, Director-General of Kaypee Motors in the United Republic of Tanzania; and Aniruddha Sharma of India, Chief Executive Officer of Carbon Clean Solutions. The dialogue also featured Nikolay Durmanov, Special Representative of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, as well as discussants: Lee Kheng Heng, Section Head of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Kathleen Draper, Chair of the Board of the Biochar Initiative, and Director of the Ithaca Institute for Carbon Intelligence; and Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group.
Ms. MURRAY said one of the roles of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the Forum is to bring awareness of emerging technologies to help meet the Sustainable Development Goals. The panel was invited to focus on carbon dioxide removal technologies, used to remove that pollutant from the atmosphere. She noted the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report established the need for a massive scale-up in the use of these technologies to stay within the Paris Agreement on climate change and its global warming limit of below 2°C. Terrestrial and ocean carbon dioxide removal technologies are still mostly theoretical. However, the Frontier Fund, launched last month by several companies, is committed to spending almost $1 billion over 8 years to buy permanent carbon dioxide removal technologies. A similar large scale financial commitment to be announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos later this year.
Mr. RIAHI said that by removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, the world can reduce concentrations of the gas, which is the main contributor to climate change and global warming. Halting climate change requires achieving net-zero emissions, he said, detailing various biological and technological removal methods currently in existence. Carbon dioxide removal is necessary to stabilize the climate, because — while net-zero emissions are needed — every activity cannot be de-carbonized. Therefore, technology is required to counterbalance residual issues from other sources that remain even after the implementation of emission-reduction measures. Further, the application of such technology can increase equity in climate solutions because it allows regions with high capacity to reduce their emissions further while others with low capacity or higher challenges can remain at higher emissions levels.
Mr. MINX said one reason the international community needs carbon dioxide removal technology is that many States have already committed to net-zero targets, which means there is a component that needs to be compensated. He pointed to a variety of different technologies including land-based biological methods, including afforestation or reforestation, as well as geochemical and chemical methods. All can make a contribution but are varied in their characteristics and must be studied in the context of different countries. As well, there can be detrimental side effects to some of the land-based technologies, including direct or indirect land-use change. Countries must therefore develop their own portfolios in moving forward. Clarification is needed to determine how removal is reported, monitored or verified, as the technologies have been neglected for a while and there is a lag in scaling them up to meet climate targets, he said.
Mr. KIPANYA pointed out that, for many years, Africa has been treated as a dumping site for old products, including old cars whose engines create exhaust harmful to the environment. He said that, in response, he decided in 2019 to launch a company that would create electric vehicles, which has been working on a prototype for two years. Recently, the company launched a small electric truck in the United Republic of Tanzania that was well-received. Now, the company is working to acquire the certification necessary to begin mass production. While challenges exist — such as public fear of losing power while driving with this new technology — he said it can also be cast as a business opportunity to build battery-charging stations instead of petrol stations.
Mr. SHARMA said his company helps steel, cement and petrochemical industries to think about how to work towards carbon capture, net‑zero and negative emissions. The technology has been applied to smokestacks in India, Japan, United States, Germany and Switzerland, and is being ramped up to meet tremendous demand, with growth expected to triple or quadruple annually. Carbon dioxide removal is absolutely required even to keep temperature rise to 1.5°C, given the current rate of emissions, and is needed at local, national and global scales. The company works with many emitters, also on carbon recycling solutions, but there is a much wider level of effort required to make actions happen at a national level, and to move financing in the right direction. Noting this decade can witness a major scale-up in the technology, he cited the major role of the United Nations in helping emerging technologies like carbon dioxide removal to gain prominence and be deployed.
Mr. DURMANOV pointed out that, when discussing the transition to new low-carbon technology in industry and agriculture, it is necessary to develop national carbon accounting systems to assess carbon levels. Such national systems must coalesce into a global carbon control system if the international community wishes to achieve its goal of slowing global warming. For its part, the Russian Federation — interested in the carbon balance of its large forests and agricultural systems — has created dozens of carbon testing areas in different regions and ecosystems across the country. These collect data on the ground using various methods such as drones and satellites. Eventually hundreds of these sites will be created to calculate the carbon balance of the country’s diverse ecosystems. The Government’s end goal is to create a reliable system — both on the ground and in space — for monitoring greenhouse gases based on objective data from sensors and digital technology. He added that national accounting systems must be in sync with each other, be mutually accepted and comply with high standards of transparency and impartiality.
Ms. HENG said land use sectors contribute to 25 per cent of greenhouse gases. That share will rise, with a negative impact on soil quality and agricultural production. However, the sector has much to offer in carbon dioxide removal technology, including by stabilizing global temperature and increasing renewable resources. Soil is also a major carbon sink, which is good news. The agricultural sector can produce relatively low-cost carbon dioxide removal, she noted, but it is important to look at the entire picture to ensure the technology is acceptable to stakeholders like farmers. The international community must also view the long-term balance between uptake and removal of carbon dioxide, as well as monitor processes and the effect of agricultural practices. This is where nuclear and isotopic techniques can be useful, she continued. The Agency involves more than 170 Member States, with techniques adapted to be transferred to them.
Ms. DRAPER pointed out that biochar is likely the oldest anthropogenic method of carbon dioxide removal. Indigenous cultures across the globe figured out thousands of years ago how to carbonize biomass, fill it with nutrients and use it to enrich soil to feed growing populations. Biochar is safe, scalable and already produced by smallholder farms in Africa, Asia and Latin America and on industrial scale in Europe, China and North America. This method can safely store up to half of the carbon dioxide emitted from decomposing plants, as well as reduce methane emissions from livestock farming, landfills and the oil and gas industries. Stressing that biochar may be able to help countries increase their climate ambitions, she called for support to raise awareness of the method, build markets, secure funding for scaling and encourage the development of biochar-based decarbonization plans.
Ms. RIBEIRO said there is no time to waste in addressing the root causes of the climate crisis to prevent further impacts on communities and future generations. However, none of the proposed carbon dioxide removal technologies address the root causes of climate change — such as fossil fuels, industrial food systems and consumption and production patterns — and could even increase greenhouse gas emissions and perpetuate business-as-usual polluting industries. The technologies entail significant environmental, social, economic, and political risks and potential impacts, being that they are undeveloped or barely at research or pilot stage. Furthermore, there is no proof that they will function to address climate change. Proposals for direct air capture are extremely expensive and energy intensive, which could also lead to increased emissions or severe competition for renewable sources. Initiatives like biochar would compete with land for food production, with many proposals planned for indigenous territories, in violation of their rights. Carbon dioxide removal technologies also provide an excuse for polluting industries and Governments to avoid making the necessary reductions of carbon emissions now, based on theoretical technological offsetting in the future. “This is a dangerous gamble,” she stressed.
Mr. MINX stressed that carbon dioxide removal is not optional if the international community wishes to keep global warming below 2°C. Countries must determine how they can reduce their emissions and work to develop the capability to do so because innovation needs time. He went on to say that, while rapid emissions reductions are required to maintain a reasonable chance of meeting global targets, carbon dioxide removal is also necessary for the same.
Mr. SHARMA said there is no one silver bullet, but people need to keep their minds open as to what the lowest cost trajectory is to help countries achieve decarbonization in the very limited time at hand.
Mr. RIAHI stressed that the deployment of carbon dioxide removal technologies must not give the impression that such technology is a substitute for mitigation measures. He underscored that 90 per cent of the pursuit of net-zero emissions should be achieved by mitigation, with the residual emissions offset by carbon dioxide removal technology. International organizations should provide a framework in which countries can collaborate on such technology as a risk-management option, but it should not occupy the same market as mitigation, he added.
Mr. SHARMA, responding to a question on public-private partnerships, noted that his company is working with the United Kingdom to decarbonize. The Government has created a high level of awareness, as possibly the first country to sign on for net-zero emissions by law. This represents an opportunity to create great jobs and skills. However, to do all that, it is important to democratize the infrastructure required to decarbonize heavy industry, by building decarbonization across clusters or hubs. It is not cheap, he noted, but the initiative could actually help a given industry decarbonize by 2030. It is a great example of a Government starting an initiative and getting his company involved. This led to his realization that they could standardize the product and make it available to other companies at the lowest cost possible.
VLADIMIR TERÁN GUTIÉRREZ, Executive Director of the Agency for Electronic Government and Information and Communication Technologies of Bolivia, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of science, technology and innovation both for confronting the health crisis and for sustainable development in general. It also revealed, however, the deep digital divide between developed and developing countries. Noting the benefits of Internet access for educational purposes as schools were forced to close during the pandemic, he said, however, that not everyone had access, particularly in rural areas due to costs involved or lack of computer equipment. To address this, Bolivia is championing a digital agenda, and various State policies aim to install or extend fibre-optic networks and other equipment necessary to provide Internet and mobile phone access across the country.
YURI BALEGA, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences of the Russian Federation, said building long-term scientific relationships and engaging researchers is the key to a better future. He noted the Russian Academy of Sciences will mark its 300th anniversary in 2024, and is participating in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommendations on open science. The Academy actively supports the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development and will hold 65 events on sectors from agriculture to astronomy. He further noted the Russian Federation is actively collaborating in creating climate policy and has launched a programme to create test sites for carbon balance control.
Thematic Session 6
The Forum then held a panel discussion and interactive dialogue on the theme “Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals: Next steps for the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and its partners”.
Moderated by Collen Vixen Kelapile, President of the Economic and Social Council, it featured presentations by: Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research and Professor at Columbia University; Cherry Murray, Professor of Physics and Deputy Director for Research, University of Arizona; Kennedy Godfrey Gastorn, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Republic of Tanzania; Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Ukraine; and K. N. Gunalan of the Major Group for Business and Industry.
Mr. KELAPILE noted that the Technology Facilitation Mechanism was created by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda in 2015 to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Since then, it has engaged thousands of scientific and technological stakeholders, many of them not previously engaged with the United Nations. He said that the discussion will feature updates on the Mechanism’s key activities and consider ways to strengthen their impact, which will provide a basis with which to identify key priorities for the Mechanism going forward. He went on to express hope that the dialogue will identify how best to leverage the Mechanism’s work to make it a relevant tool to harness the potential of science, technology and innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ms. KARIM underscored that a whole-of-society and whole-of-world approach is required, as the international community switches to living with the COVID-19 virus and its variants. Commenting on the global increase in natural and man-made disasters, she said one lesson drawn from the pandemic is the need to not only build institutions, but also local capacity. The international community must consider how digital technology helped countries continue to provide education, but also widened gaps for the most vulnerable populations. Innovation enables faster adoption and rapid change, she observed, but the Forum had heard little on the transformation of service provisioning systems that can boost well-being and economies. She further noted the importance of collaboration, both South-South and North-South. The global community has witnessed the importance of youth, who are the future, and of intergenerational communication, as well as ideas for job creation, what the workplace will look like, and how to improve on quality education. At the end of the day, all those issues must be approached with urgency, compassion and solidarity.
Ms. MURRAY said that she was optimistic following the positive momentum outlined in the Forum, despite the global challenges of COVID-19, ongoing conflict, natural hazards resulting from climate change, inequality and backsliding on the reduction of poverty and hunger. She stressed the need to accelerate collaboration and mutual learning, spotlighting the importance of networks like the Technology Facilitation Mechanism. The Forum heard many points pertaining to where the United Nations can work well, namely the strengthening of basic human rights such as equitable access to the Internet and to quality, inclusive education and open science. Further, innovation can build capacity in traditionally marginalized peoples, and the Mechanism can work towards better funding solutions for public goods, including digital ones. Echoing the previous speaker, she suggested that the next Forum be held in the Global South.
Mr. GASTORN said that several priorities must be addressed going forward. First, there is a need to accelerate progress on addressing the challenges of the digital economy. These include ensuring meaningful connectivity for the 2.9 billion people still without access to the Internet. Science, technology and innovation capacities in developing countries must be strengthened, he said, drawing attention to the potential of developing greater partnerships, including South-South, North-South and triangular partnerships. Investment must be increased in national innovation systems, measured not just in terms of research and development, but also in terms of secondary and tertiary education, innovation financing, and Government support for fundamental research. Under the Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmaps programme, the United Nations’ Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the Interagency Task Team are encouraging countries and all stakeholders to participate in developing an effective, coherent, interconnected and collaborative global system. Such a system will stimulate, focus and channel creativity, and help protect, promote and finance all stages of innovation. These are only some of the recommendations made at the rich discussions over the past two days.
Mr. KYSLYTSYA noted broad agreement on the crucial role played by science, technology and innovation in responding to COVID-19. However, there is a need to strengthen preparedness and overcome inequities in the distribution of vaccines, develop manufacturing capacities in more countries, counter misinformation, and continue the research efforts to battle future virus variants. Another issue is the role of science, technology and innovation in education. Digital technology was key in enabling the continuation of educational activities for millions during the pandemic. However, technology was not a silver bullet, and further efforts are required to bridge the digital divide. Too often investment in educational technology was focused on technology, rather than the human being, he said, stressing the need for evidence-informed policies and multistakeholder partnerships to make an impact. Another key aspect to address is the continuing gender divide in science, technology and innovation. Women make only a third of the workforce in these field. He expressed hope that the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, in cooperation with the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, will be able to take up these issues.
Mr. GUNALAN, speaking on behalf of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, said the Federation is the only global platform that enables sharing of engineering best practices and solutions. Technology when available can be a huge asset, as was proven during the recent pandemic. The Technology Facilitation Mechanism was meant to facilitate multi-stakeholder collaboration and partnerships through sharing of information and best practices. Stressing the need for global cooperation, transparent governance, and inclusive policies, he said the Mechanism and the Interagency Task Team should work more closely with the Science and Technology Major Group and the Federation to better understand the distinct roles of science and engineering in creating and delivering technology. He then asked for continued support in establishing confidence in scientists and engineers to develop sustainable and affordable technologies and infrastructure to enhance the quality of life. Engagement of the entire science and engineering community, including students, is critical to accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the theme of this Forum conveys the complex challenges that lie ahead. As the midpoint of 2030 Agenda draws near, “we risk falling short on our promises”, she said. Attaining the Sustainable Development Goals is vital for the future, for giving children the opportunity to live in a world that is more sustainable and equitable, and where climate change is under control. The world has lost ground to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it can build back smarter, making decisions that are grounded in science and data. It can transform its relationship with nature, reverse rising inequality, and build resilience against the next crisis be it conflict, natural disasters, or subsequent pandemics. One of the most promising developments from the last three years has been a full understanding of the transformative potential of science, technology and innovation for human lives.
The world observed in real time, what science can achieve in mere months when efforts are aligned, and knowledge is pooled around a common goal, she continued. COVID-19 vaccines were developed and disseminated at unprecedented speeds. New technologies enabled students to continue education remotely. At the same time, these developments have also demonstrated long standing divides threatening to perpetuate existing inequalities and create new ones. Digitalization holds great promise but this potential cannot be harnessed when only about 63 per cent of the world’s population uses the Internet. Science, technology and innovation may be the best hope for overcoming global challenges, but they must be actively directed towards reducing inequalities. In his recent report, Our Common Agenda, the Secretary-General was clear about the importance of science, technology and innovation and its role in managing greenhouse gas emissions, improving education systems, expanding healthcare and building resilience. The United Nations remains committed to strengthening the role of science and technology and stands ready to facilitate global cooperation and help restore trust in science.
Mr. KELAPILE, President of the Economic and Social Council, said that innovative solutions based on science, technology and innovation, like the ones presented at the Forum, are needed more than ever, as they can contribute to an inclusive and resilient recovery and support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Science, technology and innovation have helped achieve gender equality in education, and have strengthened access to healthcare, education and finance for the most vulnerable populations. Those contributions have also been used to combat COVID-19 and mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, he reiterated, it was important to bridge the digital divide, enhance digital literacy, and strengthen national technology, science and innovation systems, including breaking down gender barriers and harnessing greater international cooperation.
The Forum served a crucial function in bringing together stakeholders beyond Member States, including the private sector, scientific community, and civil society, he continued. While acknowledging that the unprecedented growth of digital technology in the global economy offers significant opportunities, he stressed that it also poses important risks. He cited the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-Commerce and the Digital Economy, reporting that efforts at the international level are needed to address interconnected challenges to maximize and equitably distribute the gains of the digital economy, while minimizing any dangers. Such efforts should include greater assistance to developing countries — particularly least developed countries — to build up their capacities. He further warned that the Technology Facilitation Mechanism — including the Forum itself — has not received dedicated financial support, thereby limiting the scope of its operations. Citing difficulties in scaling up the efforts of the Interagency Task Team, he called for the funding issue be addressed going forward.