UN highlights critical role of science, technology and innovation in achieving the SDGs
The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UN CSTD) acknowledged that many technological and development gaps still remain. The gender gap was stressed in particular and countries highlighted existing digital and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics gender divides and recommended key policy options for countries and the international community to make progress in closing science and technology related gender gaps.
Her Royal Highness Nisreen El-Hashemite, Executive Director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust and President of the Women in Science International League underlined the critical importance of enhancing the role of women in science in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals and stressed the "… need to ensure equality and full participation for Women in Science in decision making and sustainable programs…"
During five days of discussions, countries called for deeper international cooperation to achieve zero hunger by 2030, extend the benefits and beneficiaries of science and technology, and build capacity at the national and global levels to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
In this regard, China offered to support a capacity-building program involving STI policy development, planning and implementation as well as sponsorship for young scientists from developing countries to train in China.
Ms. Shamika N. Sirimanne, Director of UNCTAD's Division on Technology and Logistics, emphasized that "science, technology and innovation are, alongside trade, the most powerful forces driving the progress that the world has witnessed in recent years in terms of growth, poverty reduction and overall human development." She added, "this Commission provides a forum for all countries to discuss how they can collectively harness these technologies for sustainable development while minimizing the associated risks and challenges."
The twentieth session highlighted the many links between Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) actions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing on food security and inclusive, sustainable innovation.
Dr. Ruijun Wang, the Chair of the session, said that "SDGs are ambitious, multidimensional, and interlinked set of goals. They cannot be achieved without the effective, appropriate, and inclusive application of science, technology, and innovation."
Agricultural policy, a major focus of the discussion, is highly important in supporting the achievement of sustainable and inclusive development. The Commission considered a broad array of new and emerging technologies that can help achieve food security and improve nutrition. These included synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, big data, robotics and 3-D printing.
The Commission made the case that harnessing science and technology for food security requires a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach with unprecedented collaboration involving stakeholders from local farming communities, the private sector, government, civil society, academia, and the scientific and technical community.
It was widely recognized that building innovative ecosystems for agriculture should draw from talent and innovations emanating not only from agricultural departments and research institutes, but also from centers of excellence in computer science, remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering.
The CSTD developed targeted recommendations for UN bodies and national policymakers, including calling for the need for technology assessment and foresight mechanisms, broadening the policy framework for science, technology, and innovation, and exploring new innovative financing models.
The Commission also articulated the need for national STI policies and actions in alignment with the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development. This issue was particularly highlighted in the presentations and discussions of the STI policy reviews of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Rwanda that had been conducted by UNCTAD.
Information and Communication Technologies have become a major transformational factor in social and economic development. The potential of ICTs to leapfrog existing technologies, to promote more inclusive development and take into account the socioeconomic and political context of countries, emphasizes the need for private investment and innovation-led entrepreneurship in this sector.
CSTD also reaffirmed its vision of a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society and recommended that greater support be given to universal access to ICTs (with broadband being an utmost priority) and the development of e-government and pro-poor information and communications technology policies. Countries acknowledged the importance of e-commerce for developing countries, welcomed UNCTAD's "eTrade for All" initiative, and encouraged countries and international agencies to continue to develop methodologies for ICT statistics and indicators.
Looking ahead, in order to help countries transition towards increased sustainability and resilience, CSTD will investigate the role of science, technology, and innovation to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
In its forthcoming 21st session, the Commission will also explore how countries, both developing and developed, can build digital competencies to harness technologies for sustainable development.