As Multiple Crises Threaten Sustainable Development Goals, Sharing Science, Technology Key for Global Progress, Speakers Say as Economic and Social Council Forum Opens
The multiple crises of the last three years have dealt “a major blow” to the Sustainable Development Goals, requiring urgent action in sharing science, technology, innovation and digitalization to bridge that gap between haves and have-nots and ensure not just global progress, but survival, speakers told the Economic and Social Council today as it opened its two-day forum on the subject.
Opening the Forum, Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria), President of the Council, noted the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum is an opportunity to boost evidence-based policymaking, anchored in science, for designing and implementing transformations to implement the Goals. Moreover, the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the annual Council high-level political forum on sustainable development offers a space to embrace the interdependence of the three dimensions of sustainable development — environmental, social and economic.
She particularly cited Goals 6, 7, 9 and 17, which are under review. “There are clear connections among these Goals that can motivate cross-cutting actions,” she said, pointing to the role of consistent energy supply for the development of manufacturing capabilities, and increasing employment, industrial capacity and robust infrastructure in providing clean water and sanitation and partnerships for sustainable urban living. “As we reset over the next seven years, we can draw on access to more knowledge, technologies and resources than ever before,” she said.
Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, delivering a statement on behalf of António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stressed that “we are not on track” on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; of 140 targets, about 12 per cent are advancing, while 30 per cent of targets show no movement or have regressed. She called for extraordinary efforts to “do the heavy lifting”, as scientific innovation drives progress on the Goals — emphasizing that women and girls and other marginalized groups must participate in those domains.
Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, noted that 2022 was a pivotal year for technology breakthroughs — and that a net-zero and climate-resilient future requires ambitious science, technology and innovation policies to support the sustainability transition. The pandemic revealed that global health, social systems and economies are surprisingly fragile — but also that community-based technology and data-sharing are fundamental drivers of resilience. With scientists predicting the possibility of another disease as deadly and widespread as COVID-19 within 10 years, he called for moving “from fragile to agile,” in the scientific sphere.
Delivering a keynote address, Bonginkosi Emmanuel Nzimande, Minister for Higher Education, Science and Innovation of South Africa, noted that the pandemic affected some 500 million lives, with an estimated 15 million excess deaths by 2021 — expressing concern that most of the targets will not be met by 2030, with some gains threatened by reversal. Directly attributing some successes during the pandemic to science, technology and innovation, he called on the global scientific community to continue supporting sustainability and improved living conditions — even during economic downturn — as “we have entered an era of pandemics”, and his Government will establish a multidisciplinary centre to investigate them for the continent’s benefit.
In a second keynote address, Charlotte Watts, Professor, Chief Scientific Adviser and Director for Research and Evidence in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Offices of the United Kingdom, said that, as a chief scientist in her Government, her office leads development investment in innovations to tackle major global challenges. Recalling her earliest engagements with the United Nations as a professor and technical expert, she remembered how difficult it was to be in the room because she was not representing a Member State. “It is encouraging to see how far we have come in bringing the academic and innovation community into the conversation,” she said.
The two Co-Chairs of the 10-Member Group of High-Level Representatives of Scientific Community, Civil Society and Private Sector presented the Group’s report. Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA in South Africa, Professor at Columbia University, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Special Ambassador for Adolescents and HIV, stressed that “access to connectivity today is no longer a luxury” — noting a 10 per cent increase in connectivity in developing countries that has resulted in 1.38 per cent increase in gross domestic product (GDP). On the pandemic, the development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines in record time “was breath-taking,” she underlined — a preview of transformative possibilities of digital technology.
Cherry Murray, Professor of Physics and Deputy Director for Research, Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona in the United States, presented six proposals to greatly expand international efforts and cooperation on science, technology and innovation, including increasing funding and establishing a collaborative global sustainability, science and training network. She further called for Government investment in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, and the sharing of technology to address basic human rights issues, including water, sanitation, food security and health.
Throughout the Forum, a ministerial-level session and three panels with interactive dialogue assembled expert speakers under a number of themes centred on the importance of science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals. Stressing the urgent need for technology transfer, funding and digitalization, some noted that, while technology is a tool rather than a panacea, it is necessary not just for progress, but survival in developing countries.
The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 4 May, to continue its work.
Welcome and Opening
LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, noted that the theme of this year’s Forum is “Science, technology and innovation for accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”. The multiple crises of the last three years have dealt “a major blow” to Sustainable Development Goal implementation efforts. The Science, Technology and Innovation Forum is an opportunity to boost evidence-based policymaking, anchored in science, for designing and implementing transformations to implement the Goals. Moreover, the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the annual Council high-level political forum on sustainable development offers a space to embrace the interdependence of the three dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, social and economic).
She particularly cited Goals 6 on clean water and sanitation, 7 on affordable and clean energy, 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure, 11 on sustainable cities and communities) and 17 on partnership for the Goals, which are under review. “There are clear connections among these Goals that can motivate cross-cutting actions,” she said. Citing examples, she pointed to the role of consistent energy supply for the development of manufacturing capabilities and increasing employment, industrial capacity and robust infrastructure in providing clean water and sanitation and partnerships for sustainable urban living. “As we reset over the next seven years, we can draw on access to more knowledge, technologies and resources than ever before,” she said, adding: “Our efforts can be focused on working together to leverage these to the maximum effect.”
MARIA-FRANCESCA SPATOLISANO, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, delivering a statement on behalf of António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the technology facilitation mechanism created as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development brings together partners around the globe to strategize implementation pathways for science, technology and innovation. Stressing that “we are not on track,” she said that of 140 targets, about 12 per cent are on track, while 30 per cent of targets show no movement or have regressed. Calling for extraordinary efforts, she said it is crucial to prioritize resources and “do the heavy lifting”. Scientific innovation provides the bedrock of progress need to achieve the Goals, she said, also reminding delegates of the downside of technology when it is not being used for the common good. Expressing support for reviewing how policy tools can mobilize resources for scientific advances, she underscored the importance of ensuring that women and girls and other marginalized groups can participate in science and technology.
CSABA KŐRÖSI (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, addressing the Council via a pre-recorded message, said that, with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals badly off track, it is crucial to mobilize science to accelerate action and develop transformative solutions. 2022 was a pivotal year for technology breakthroughs, he observed, adding that, to achieve a net-zero and climate-resilient future, ambitious science, technology and innovation policies to support the sustainability transition are needed. The Forum can help deliver on a scientific validation mechanism that improves the fulfilment of the Goals’ pledges, he said. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that global health, social systems and economies are surprisingly fragile in the contemporary interconnected world. However, it also demonstrated that community-based technology and data-sharing are fundamental drivers of resilience. Scientists predict there is a 25 per cent chance that another disease as deadly and widespread as COVID-19 could emerge within 10 years. “By incorporating science, innovation, technology and digitalization into our thinking, we can move from fragile to agile,” he said, highlighting the need to ensure more inclusive societies, more integrated systems and more resilient economies.
Delivering a keynote address, BONGINKOSI EMMANUEL NZIMANDE, Minister for Higher Education, Science and Innovation of South Africa, noted the COVID-19 pandemic not only led to millions of deaths, but destroyed many livelihoods. The United Nations Secretary-General’s 2022 report on the Goals noted that the pandemic affected some 500 million lives, with an estimated 15 million excess deaths by 2021. If progress on the Goals was slow before the crisis, he expressed concern that most of the targets will not be met by 2030, with some of the gains made threatened by reversal. Some successes during the pandemic can be directly attributed to science, technology and innovation, including science diplomacy in the management of transnational challenges. He cited recent subdued economic growth, calling on the global scientific community to continue supporting sustainability and improved living conditions, even during economic downturn.
He noted that South Africa has adopted a 10-year plan from 2021 to 2031 to address key areas including climate change and the focus on renewable and alternative sources of energy towards developing a hydrogen economy. It also focuses on health and establishing a multidisciplinary centre to investigate pandemics, and the local capacity to create vaccines. “As the President of the General Assembly has said, ‘we have entered an era of pandemics’,” he stressed. South Africa will aim for the multidisciplinary centre to benefit the continent of Africa as a whole. The plan also focuses on producing skills for the future, modernizing industry and agriculture, and new technologies for mining. “Partnership is absolutely necessary,” he stated.
Also giving a keynote address, CHARLOTTE WATTS, Professor, Chief Scientific Adviser and Director for Research and Evidence in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Offices of the United Kingdom, said that, as a chief scientist in her Government, her office leads development investment in innovations to tackle major global challenges. Recalling her earliest engagements with the United Nations as a professor and technical expert, she remembered how difficult it was to be in the room because she was not representing a Member State. “It is encouraging to see how far we have come in bringing the academic and innovation community into the conversation,” she said.
Highlighting her experience as a scientist during the pandemic, she said that, within weeks of the outbreak, research into the virus was collated and made available free of charge, thus enabling scientists around the world to understand, adapt and explore vaccine development. Scientists were also in regular conversation sharing lessons and evidence, she said, adding that the partnerships forged during the global crisis were diverse. “We maintained the necessary scientific rigor, but reduced unnecessary bureaucracy,” she said. It is crucial to bring the same urgency and resolve to tackle climate change and make rapid progress on delivering the Sustainable Development Goals, she stressed.
Next, the Co-Chairs of the 10-Member Group of High-level Representatives of Scientific Community, Civil Society and Private Sector presented the Group’s report.
QUARRAISHA ABDOOL KARIM, Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA in South Africa, a Professor at Columbia University, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Special Ambassador for Adolescents and HIV, said the overall aim is to provide a broad perspective of science, technology and innovation for expediting implementation of the Goals. Since 2015, the scientific and technological knowledge base has grown exponentially; some indicators of the rapidity of the growth can be gleaned from the fact that entire new digital infrastructures are emerging that necessitate access to large scale computational power. This presents challenges and opportunities in terms of governance, accountability, access, data privacy and security.
“Access to connectivity today is no longer a luxury,” she said, noting a 10 per cent increase in connectivity in developing countries that has resulted in 1.38 per cent increase in gross domestic product (GDP). The recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the world’s interconnectedness. “The development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines in record time — based on decades of prior investments in science, including HIV and tuberculosis — was breath-taking,” she underlined, citing such developments as a preview of transformative possibilities of digital technology. In preparation for future pandemics, she stressed that “this is more than a health challenge”, voicing concern over significant political, social and economic ramifications. Digital technology play a crucial role in shaping progress in science, technology and innovation, she observed, emphasizing that quality education provides long-term opportunities and serves as a societal equalizer.
CHERRY MURRAY, Professor of Physics and Deputy Director for Research, Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona in the United States, who also co-chaired the Group, presented six proposals aiming to greatly expand international efforts and cooperation on science, technology and innovation, including increasing funding and establishing a collaborative global sustainability, science and training network. The network would provide access to fundamental research infrastructures around the world, a global bank of ideas and enlarging the United Nations partnership and action on science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals. She further called for Government investment in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, and the sharing of technology to address basic human rights issues, including water, sanitation, food security and health. Proposal B supports the democratization of the Internet and building capacity for Web 3.0 technology, while Proposal C aims to understand the impact of generative artificial intelligence.
She noted that Proposal D suggests creating a United Nations programme on the digitalization of developing countries, aligned with the Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. Proposal E advocates for a global carbon-dioxide-removal fund, including funding research, establishing coherent international rules and creating a removal market that does not compete with greenhouse gas mitigation. She further cited Proposal F, recommending global public investment to reach 0.2 per cent of gross national income (GNI). These interconnected proposals can accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Forum then held a ministerial session under the theme “Innovating to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals”, moderated by Thomas Rathmelle Woodroffe (United Kingdom), and featuring Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs, and Ana Cristina Amoroso das Neves, Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development.
Mr. JUNHUA, speaking via video, noted that 575 million people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2030, and called for a radical shift in commitment to social, economic and environmental transformation in the seven years ahead. Stressing the need for transformative policies at all levels, from community planning to national budgets to the international financial architecture, he said that it is crucial to break institutional and other barriers, including access to financing for institutional development. “We need to bolster technology transfer,” he said, adding that the Technology Facilitation Mechanism serves as a catalyst for this. Also underscoring the importance of strengthening the science-policy-society interface, both to generate trust in science and to communicate critical knowledge to decision makers, he added that the international community must invest in research and development, and improve digital and data capacities at all levels of society to drive innovations. It is especially crucial to share national experiences when it comes to innovating for the future, he added.
Ms. AMOROSO DAS NEVES highlighted the importance of digital technology in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In terms of science, technology and innovation for cleaner and more competitive production and for ensuring safe water and sanitation for all, she said that awareness of opportunities and ability for speedy implementation was uneven for many developing regions. To ensure safe water and sanitation for all, the high demand for water from all sectors of society — along with climate change — requires innovative approaches to water resources. For its twenty-seventh session in March 2024, the Commission plans to consider additional themes, including data — a key strategic resource for sustainable development — and global communication in science and digital technology. The Commission plays a vital role in promoting the use of science, technology and innovation and acts as a global platform for collaboration, she noted.
When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, SAIDZODA RAHIM HAMRO, Minister for Education and Science of Tajikistan, noted his country harnessed the achievements of science, technology and innovation to address the pandemic, as well as adopting a blueprint towards a digital education system up to 2042. IGOR PAPIČ, Minister of Education, Science and Sport of Slovenia, said the global community must better utilize existing and emerging innovative solutions to solve social and environmental challenges — citing the importance of an integrated approach and the principles of open science. ALLISON SCHWIER, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State of the United States, stressed the importance of good-faith cooperation based on openness, humility and diversity among scientists.
However, the representative of China noted that a scant few countries politicize and weaponize science, technology and innovation to serve their self-interests, investing energy in building walls and enacting unilateral sanctions to hamstring and stymie developing States and the international community must state a resounding “no” to such activity. GERARDO PEÑALVER PORTAL, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, echoed that sentiment, as major challenges facing developing countries in science, technology and innovation are affected by the unjust prevailing international economic order and the current international financial architecture, the dramatic increase in extreme poverty and wealth, and the growing weight of external debt.
Also speaking were ministers and representatives of the Philippines, Oman, India, Algeria, Brazil, Bolivia, Morocco and the Dominican Republic.
The Forum then held a session on “Strengthening trust in science and technology”, moderated by Quarraisha Abdool Karim, and featuring the following panelists: Joel Netshitenzhe, Executive Director, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection; Cary Funk, Director of Science and Society Research at the Pew Research Center; and Ana-Maria Cetto, Professor of the Institute of Physics of the Faculty of Sciences at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. The lead discussants included: Peter Gluckman, President of the International Science Council; Scott C. Ratzan, Executive Director of Business Partners for Sustainable Development; and Taffere Tesfachew, Acting Managing Director of the United Nations Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries.
Mr. NETSHITENZHE, noting that research concerning COVID-19 and mRNA technology took place within the well-endowed corporate sector, said tuberculosis, malaria and other such diseases are not receiving the requisite resources. Stressing the importance of directing scientific inquiry towards the global commons, he said it is essential to provide adequate resources for research, particularly for killer diseases in the developing world. Also highlighting the need for “transdisciplinarity,” he added that attention needs to be paid to health systems, but also to their sociopolitical environments. Transdisciplinarity is especially critical for biotechnology, nuclear power and generative artificial intelligence, he said, adding that societal partnerships are fundamental to trust. Calling on the international community to prioritize a multiple-helix approach, which includes civil society, as well as practitioners and repositories of Indigenous knowledge, he stressed that in many countries, “where poverty and opulence live cheek by jowl”, systematic science engagement is especially critical for public trust.
Ms. FUNK outlined key challenges for sharing information about scientific and technological developments, noting that information about COVID-19 and ways to prevent it changed repeatedly over time. In the United States, many cited the changing recommendations around the pandemic as “confusing”. Additionally, some people saw the changing information as a reason for suspicion. Officials were not always clear with the public as to why the information they were sharing about COVID-19 changed, or the degree to which their new information was certain. The degree to which people feel they are losing control over technology — “their sense of human agency” — is often connected with public concerns, she said, adding that the Pew Research Centre finds broad support for proposals that would put limits around the uses of artificial intelligence in autonomous vehicles, for example, giving more control to human users. Science, technology and innovation can re-enforce important values in a society; however, it can also create new challenges for those values, she said, pointing to the discovery of CRISPR gene-editing techniques and the ethical questions surrounding them. Highlighting the wide array of new applications of artificial intelligence in the workplace, in medical care and in how people get news and information, she raised concerns whether and how artificial intelligence applications may be widening inequalities both within societies and across countries.
Ms. CETTO said the global society has the resources and technical know-how to improve living standards worldwide — and yet, globalization has increased inequality, with entire nations left behind, with a sense of frustration and little chance to get ahead. “So, where are we failing them?”, she asked, wondering if this is due to a lack of science, technology and innovation in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. She stressed the importance of turning the concept of innovation on its head, to bring in new thinking and redirect knowledge creation efforts to better understand social and human factors. There is a need for the critical insight of sociology, economics, political sciences, philosophy, history and ethics to change the way of thinking and acting, to provide politicians and decision-makers with guidance in addressing today’s challenges. Citing the World Bank Development Report 2023: Migrants, Refugees and Societies, she noted countries of origin should make labour migration part of their development strategy and teach skills that are in high demand elsewhere. Quoting Secretary-General António Guterres, she said the legacy of colonialism still reverberates in the Global North and South.
Mr. GLUCKMAN pointed out that science is still coming to terms with how it should best interact with both policy and policymakers. “Scientific hubris remains a challenge,” he said, also noting the undermining of science by interest groups, disinformation and willful ignorance. Distrust in science has been enveloped in an overall declining trust in elites and experts, and worrisomely, science denial has become a badge of partisan affiliation, he added. Stressing that science must learn how to work better alongside other knowledge systems and recognize where it has limits, he noted that, instead of science presenting itself as always having the answer, it should present “what we know, what we don’t know, the uncertainties that remain and the options that emerge from what we know”. Rapidly moving technology call for the skills of foresight and risk assessment. Conspiracy and misinformation cannot be dealt with through simple fact-checking, he pointed out, adding that it is by understanding the worldviews of others and entering dialogue that progress is made.
Mr. RATZAN said that trust in business has increased and now outpaces that in Government media and non-governmental organizations. Sharing what his organization instigated with the United States Council for International Business when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, he said Business Partners to CONVINCE was launched at the virtual meeting of the high-level political forum in 2020 to engage the private sector and motivate employers to build confidence, vaccine literacy and support the benefit of COVID-19 vaccines. In this context, he pointed to the campaign “There’s more to be done” that includes advancement of vaccine literacy and other key areas for employers to integrate in their workplace strategies. The campaign includes free open-access learning modules and resources promoting vaccine literacy and other key issues for trustworthy communication and effective COVID-19 recovery. At this historical time rebounding from the first pandemic in a century, he underscored the need to build support for science, technology and innovation with trustworthy partners.
Mr. TESFACHEW noted the world’s 46 poorest countries have serious structural deficits, lack of income, technology and skills, and limited productive capacities — lagging far behind on development. While science and technology are thought to accelerate development, latecomer countries may not take advantage of their position and access existing technology, due to mistrust or lack of confidence in those elements. He noted that it is important to demonstrate in real time the value and benefits of applying science and technology, as they make a difference for societies and individuals. Noting the importance of assessing impact when transferring technology and assisting countries with capacity‑building, he affirmed that a typical feature of technology is that it changes constantly — which makes it dynamic and ahead of the curve, but also susceptible to mistrust, either due to fear of the unknown or ignorance. Therefore, it is the international community’s collective duty to strengthen trust in science through communication and demonstrating that it holds the solution to survival.
When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, speakers highlighted national efforts to mainstream science and technology into development efforts, especially during the pandemic. The representative of the Russian Federation highlighted his country’s efforts to increase COVID-19 awareness through social media and a specialized web resource. China’s delegate warned against “technological hegemony”, while the representative of Slovenia stressed that policymakers must avoid politicizing scientific knowledge.
Responding, Mr. NETSHITENZHE highlighted sustainable development challenges for developing countries, as well as the issue of trust. Turning to the fundamental question of political economy and social equality, he said that, with emerging technology, there are major questions that the United Nations and other multilateral organizations cannot avoid addressing, including the regulation of artificial intelligence.
Ms. FUNK, noting that “science is terribly complex”, underscored the importance of transparency and accountability to maintain and foster public trust.
Ms. CETTO, stressing that science and technology are a necessary tool, said: “Science is complex,” however, “the world is more complex”. Evidence-based policy must include evidence of what works and what does not work, she said, adding that science, technology and innovation alone will not save the world from the crisis it is facing.
Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were the representative of Panama and civil society speakers from Global Vision India Foundation and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
In the afternoon, the Forum held a session on the theme “Integrated solutions to make progress across SDGs 6, 7 and 9”. Chaired by Thomas Rathmelle Woodroffe (United Kingdom) and moderated by Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Professor emeritus of the Technical University of Vienna, Austria, it featured several panelists: Keywan Riahi, Director of the Energy, Climate and Environment Programme of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria; Mónica Gutiérrez, Renewable Energy Engineer of Mott Macdonald and formerly Apü üya Wüin—The Guardian of Water, Colombia; Rao Narasimha, Associate Professor of the Yale School for the Environment at Yale University; and Catarina Baptista, Junior Water Engineer of VITO WaterClimateHub, Belgium.
It also featured the following high-level Government respondents: Shlomi Kofman, Vice-President and Head of the International Collaborations Division of the Innovation Authority, Israel; Nobuo Fukuda, Chairperson of the Carbon Recycling Fund Institute, Japan (via video recording); and an interactive discussion with Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and Jean-Pierre Cayol, Programme Coordinator of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Mr. RIAHI noted that energy, food and water systems are critical, and highly connected, with the polycrisis of the pandemic, conflicts and a lack of trust, and climate change exacerbating the challenges. “Scenario and modelling studies can help us to understand how different systems respond to specific policies and objectives,” as well as the investment objectives to set, he stated. It is important to understand the different trade-offs and synergies related to different actions, such as improving water availability and its affect on energy use. He cited studies on the transboundary Indus Basin connecting India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, and the investments needed in energy and water options, and how cooperation through integrated transboundary massively reduces costs. On transformation of energy and water systems, he called for a stronger focus on smaller technologies which accelerate more quickly into markets and show higher innovation and learning potential. He cited two critical initiatives: to establish a research community with a focus on end-use and demand-side perspectives; and capacity-building and training workshops.
Ms. GUTIÉRREZ, recalling her work in Colombia with Indigenous communities, highlighted efforts to address the lack of access to freshwater and energy in those communities. Such efforts are most successful when they follow a “co‑creation process,” she said, highlighting the importance of human-centered science and social appropriation of technology. She also underscored the importance of education, adding that workshops, trainings and surveys are necessary to understand what a community needs, as opposed to “what we think a community needs”. Emphasizing that it is vital to propose technology that is respectful to communities, she said that in order to do so, it is crucial to understand how communities interact with each other and with their land. When it comes to introducing devices and solutions, it is best to focus on devices that communities can build, maintain and repair themselves, she said. Finding the optimum technical solutions for a community means staying in constant conversation with them, even with the children in schools, she pointed out.
Mr. NARASIMHA focused on food, energy and security, outlining policy solutions, such as sustainable grain production to reduce poverty and electric cooking to alleviate energy poverty. There are over 800 million people in Asia alone who suffer nutrient deficiencies, including in iron and other basic minerals, he observed, noting that most of the poor rely exclusively on grains for nutrition. Historically, the green revolution has led to the proliferation of milled white rice and wheat that have provided food security for hundreds of millions of people. Highlighting the nutritional benefits of grains, he said they are resistant to drought, use less fertilizer and have a low impact on climate change. Against this backdrop, he stressed the need for policy attention and market support. Electric cooking is a solution that is starting to emerge without much regulation and attention to the broader integrated view that is necessary to address the needs of people, he said, calling for holistic planning and infrastructure to support such solutions.
Ms. BAPTISTA noted that last year’s drought in Belgium jeopardized most of the harvest, and soil and water levels have still not recovered; and yet in 2021, parts of the country suffered extreme floods, with casualties and houses destroyed. Water management is therefore a priority. Minimizing trade-offs and maximizing synergies requires a comprehensive approach, as without water there is no food or power generation for energy. Belgium is part of the Water4All Partnership, a strategic platform involving 70 countries and funding of €400 million, strengthening the science-policy-society interface. She also cited nature-based solutions in the country, including rain gardens and green walls, and is said Belgium is investing €300 million to implement concrete solutions. She stressed the importance of youth empowerment and giving voices to vulnerable groups to shape the future with long-term policies.
Mr. KOFMAN said the Innovation Authority is focused on identifying technological trends and multidisciplinary methods to find the best solutions for current challenges. It funds major consortiums that are developing infrastructure for future technology, he said, highlighting some important trends in this area, including food tech, alternative protein and smart agriculture. Highlighting a major climate initiative spearheaded by his organization, which will invest $1 billion over five years in start-ups in this field, he said that climate technology encompasses a variety of solutions and fields, such as energy, water, construction and food transportation. Noting the importance of bio-convergence technology, he said they combine multiple areas of biotechnology to create new solutions. This technology can be categorized as mitigation and adaptation technology, he said, noting that the former includes carbon-capture, synthetic biology and bioplastics, while the latter refers to climate-resilient agriculture and infrastructure. Stressing the importance of collaborations, he called for more synergy between disciplines as well as between academic institutes, companies and Government.
Mr. FUKUDA, addressing the Council via a pre-recorded message, said his country’s recycling research programme accepts applications every May. In 2021, Japan had 16 projects, including joint research projects with universities in the United States and Indonesia. Stressing the need to quantitatively assess the impact of green and blue carbon, he said that the Carbon Recycling Fund Institute remains committed to the construction of a sustainable carbon system.
Ms. ELOUAFI echoed the importance of trade-offs, synergies and interconnectedness, as agriculture uses 70 per cent of freshwater — requiring integrated management and governance to deal with water scarcity and droughts. She called for meaningful engagement with farmers, pastoralists, foresters and small holders who are directly engaged in water management, as well as diversification of the food basket, bringing back production of thousands of species of plants, animals and bacteria. Over 30 per cent of energy is consumed in agri-food systems, with 33 per cent of emissions produced therein. She stressed that global food production must increase by at least 50 per cent by 2050 to nourish the global population, calling use of big data a “game-changer”.
Mr. CAYOL, outlining his organization’s efforts to highlight that nuclear power is clean with regards to carbon emissions, said that 176 IAEA member States are using or are planning to use nuclear power as a source of energy. Food and agriculture represent over 31 per cent of IAEA efforts in terms of research and development, he said, noting that the Agency, together with FAO, manages a joint centre to develop technology that can help assess the authenticity and safety of food products, develop plants that are more adapted to climate change, detect and diagnose animal diseases and provide tools for assessing the water and nitrate needs of agricultural soils. He also highlighted a nuclear technique named isotope hydrology, which helps locate groundwater reservoirs. This technology was critical in assessing the water resources in the Sahel region in the past years. Nuclear techniques are also used to monitor ocean acidification, he pointed out.
When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, speakers highlighted integrated technological solutions to the energy, food, water and climate crises, with the representative of the Russian Federation detailing concrete projects his Government has undertaken to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 6, 7 and 9. Nepal’s delegate emphasized that developed countries must be faithful to fulfilling their commitments, giving particular attention to the least developed countries. To close the existing technology gap, the role of the United Nations Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries is crucial, he said. Calling for a holistic approach to strategies for inclusive industrialization, Brazil’s delegate pointed to his country’s fourth-generation light source and the Amazon observatory, which gauges greenhouse-gas emissions.
The representative of the Information, Technology and Innovation Foundation highlighted the potential of artificial intelligence in improving water-treatment efficiency. Furthermore, information and communications technology (ICT) solutions can reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 15 per cent by 2030, he noted, stressing that these solutions require careful public policy.
Mr. RIAHI, responding to the representative of Oman, said a number of elements come through in scientific studies, particularly the emphasis on the demand side of systems to increase service quality and quantity while keeping systems small. He also cited access to digital technology for new solutions and moving away from supply-side electricity grid back-up systems to smart connected appliances.
Ms. GUTIÉRREZ said that Indigenous communities can guide people on how proposed solutions can optimize resource use. She highlighted the sustainability of financing and how her team has struggled in that domain.
Mr. NARASIMHA, emphasizing the priority well-being, cited the importance of ensuring that investments accrue to those who need them the most, broadening the metrics of electricity access, and nutrition over average calories.
Ms. BAPTISTA said stakeholder engagement is key, with a participatory bottom-up approach relying on citizen science — as people must feel that they are heard when it comes to solutions on the ground. Simple low-tech solutions and decentralized systems can be most effective, she stressed.
Also speaking were representatives of Oman, International Telecommunication Union and Agriculture Stewardship Council.
The final session of the day, on the topic “Think global, act local — people and community-led innovation and tech infrastructures for smarter and inclusive cities” was moderated by Tālis Juhna, Rector for Research, Professor and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Latvian Council of Science at Riga Technical University. Panelists included: Axel Grael, Mayor of the City of Niterói, Brazil; Louise Bedsworth, Executive Director of the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at the University of California’s Berkeley Law School, United States; and Nzambi Matee, Founder of Gjenge Makers, Kenya.
Additional interventions were made by Taikan Oki, Professor of the University of Tokyo, Japan; Shulang Fei, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences; Jason Cheng, Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth Local Pathways Fellow; and Gabriela Alvarado, Country Director for the Dominican Republic, World Food Programme (WFP).
Mr. GRAEL said that cities have a major responsibility in the transition to low-carbon economies, because they concentrate more than half of the world’s population and generate over 70 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions. The transition to a green economy calls for contributions from science, technology and innovation, he said, adding that the arrival of green jobs shows that private sector and entrepreneurs also have a crucial role to play in this. However, it is essential that the transition is inclusive and does not deepen social divisions, he stressed. Recalling the experiences of his city, he said that local governments in Brazil kept the sustainability agenda moving even at a time when that agenda was facing setbacks. Highlighting a variety of initiatives, from programmes to reverse problems caused by forest fires to a tree-planting project that will generate many jobs while restoring degraded forest lands, he said that large-scale consultation is necessary to involve all sectors of society in such projects. Cities can advance innovative social policies while bringing in technology into traffic management and combating crime. His city was the first in the country to create a local climate authority, he said, adding that it also has a vibrant bike programme, which includes the busiest bike lanes in the country.
Ms. BEDSWORTH outlined strategies on how Governments can design and execute programmes to best support local action on climate. From innovative approaches to community investments, it is crucial to ensure that technology solutions are accessible and effectively implemented. In this regard, she drew attention to the equity-driven “transformative climate communities programme” which demonstrates the power of local leadership in achieving environmental goals. This competitive grant programme — supporting development at a neighbourhood-level investment — provides support for the most impacted communities that have experienced high pollution problem and concentrated poverty. She expressed hope that, by identifying these communities and providing technical assistance and capacity-building at a local level, innovation and project implementation will succeed across the State.
Ms. MATEE noted her Nairobi-based start-up transforms plastic waste into building blocks and other products, in a city that generates 500 metric tons of that waste every day. She cited two categories: post-consumer plastic waste from households, institutions and offices, and post-industrial waste from factories, with the former accounting for the bulk of it. Addressing a worldwide problem, the company promotes a recycling culture and its practicality, addressing the basic need for shelter. She noted it has recycled close to 100 metric tons of waste, aiming to double it by year’s end, and has created job opportunities to about 250 youth and women. Developing the technology in-house, she emphasized that the project launched at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic “and that was the best thing we ever did”, as it was able to develop locally without logistical challenges due to the shutdown. The company further developed an extended producer-responsibility partnership system with local companies, directly receiving post-production waste, but also acting as an after-service collection system, extending the life cycle of plastics. She said she looks forward to replicating the model elsewhere in Africa, and announced her company will soon scale up to Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Uganda.
Mr. OKI highlighted a report published by his organization that, among other things, identified the role of smart cities and resilient settlements in enhancing sustainable development. The report proposes a “multi-AI networked city”, he said, adding that it would consist of autonomous and independent decentralized living segments. Such a structure would prevent the collapse of the entire city during disasters or outbreaks while at the same time guaranteeing human security and well-being. The proposed city would also involve a “multi-well-being service system” which would allow people and artificial intelligence to cooperate in the autonomous management of the city, with data moving freely between networked segments. While the planning for such a city would differ from conventional urban planning, he said, ultimately, it would consist of physically independent and autonomous living segments. Since it takes time to change the real world, he said, the idea is to develop cyberspace as an ideal world first and then modify the real world to catch up.
Ms. FEI said the establishment of a multi-stakeholder collaborative mechanism is essential to enable local innovation capacities for local needs. She said a systemic perspective in urban planning as a crucial basis for technology to be applied in a cross-sector manner. Detailing people-led initiatives to redesign communities in more engaging ways — such as gardens for buildings and schools — she said that private-public partnership is an effective approach to empower practitioners on the ground. In addition to empowering local agri-food actors, the public sector provides training and certificate systems for small producers to allow further innovation among them. Public resources are also allocated to support collective initiatives such as the establishment of new types of agribusinesses. To empower local innovations, she called for a systemic, multi-stakeholder approach to policymaking.
Mr. CHENG, addressing innovation and inclusive technology for cities, stressed that technology is not always the solution — as its harmful effects are often neglected, and resources that could’ve been otherwise dedicated to more effective non-technology solutions are wasted. Further, innovation and technological development often use a top-down approach defined by groups with the most power and wealth. He called for technology policy and regulatory frameworks that ensure technological development is accompanied by political reforms, as technology is a tool, not a panacea for urban problems. Also, innovation-focused policies and programmes must help marginalized communities develop solutions for local problems, as they know them intimately and some have already developed innovative indigenous or nature-based solutions without digital technology. He urged for funding, incentives and infrastructure without a neo-colonial approach to facilitate more innovation and experimentation that helps rectify systemic harm and oppression. It is also crucial to invest in digital infrastructure and programming to ensure everyone can access and benefit equitably, including: expanding reliable and affordable Internet access; developing digital-literacy and skills-training programmes for marginalized communities; offering free recycled computers for people in need; and building public facilities like libraries and community centres with high-speed Internet access.
Ms. ALVARADO said that WFP is localizing its approach to ensure that countries have the tools and skills to respond to and recover from conflicts and disasters. Its information technology strategy aims to strengthen digital collaborations, she said. Recalling how her organization used drones to assess damage after the Dominican Republic was hit by a hurricane, she described that as an excellent example of thinking global and acting local. The information not only helped local actors respond, but also helped enhance social protection. Highlighting similar success stories from Mozambique, she said it is essential to make communities and people champions of innovation. Stronger digital capacity-building is crucial, she said, adding that by supporting local efforts, her organization is helping to ensure inclusivity.
When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, speakers outlined ways to explore people-led innovation and tech infrastructures in cities, with Oman’s delegate sharing his Government’s initiative of an eco-house-design competition which places emphasis on creativity in higher education. By capitalizing on Oman’s heritage in urban planning, the competition promotes research and innovation. The representative of Guatemala said that, as a tool for planning, technology is critical to understand demographic dynamic and to bring about relevant social and environmental measures.
The representative of the Institute for Conscious Global Change described science, technology and innovation as essential tools to realizing the 2030 Agenda. The Institutes’ Millennium Earth project — by using Earth observations — demonstrates the important role such technologies can play. She said that “all developing countries can be virtually developed in the next three years” by using geo-design technology.
Responding, Mr. GRAEL commended the many local strategies that were highlighted during the discussion, adding that they can help motivate communities to participate more actively in climate-change-prevention efforts. Ms. BEDSWORTH highlighted the need to bring together many different parts of civil society and Governments, while using local knowledge to create tailored solutions. Mr. JUHNA stressed the importance of pilot studies that demonstrate successful solutions and can then be scaled up later.
Also speaking was the representative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.