Thematic review: Advancing Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs

Author
Barbara Rosen Jacobson

This session aimed to explore policies and actions for advancing science, technology, and innovation (STI) to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Chair of the session, Ms Inga Rhonda King (Vice-President of ECOSOC), introduced the panellists, starting with the Co-Chairs of the Multistake-holder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the Sustainable Development Goals, and invited them to present the outcomes of the latest edition of the STI Forum.

Mr Toshiya Hoshino (Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the UN and Co-Chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum on STI for the SDGs) identified a number of key takeaways of the 2018 STI Forum, including the importance of bottom-up approaches, the involvement of young people, implementing technology responsibly and with accountability, and the inclusion of local and indigenous knowledge. Furthermore, he elaborated on the creation of STI roadmaps, which require a holistic, multidisciplinary, and integrated approach, and he encouraged countries to develop their own roadmaps adapted to the national context. Finally, he emphasised the need to create links with other international conferences and processes, such as the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, as well as the importance of capacity building, so that everyone recognises the importance of STI for the achievement of the SDGs.

Adding his reflections about the STI Forum, Mr Juan Sandoval Mendiolea (Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN and Co-Chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum on STI for the SDGs) highlighted the need to focus on the impact – both positive and negative – of rapid technological changes on progress towards the SDGs and their 169 targets. He suggested that systemic changes are needed in the face of these profound changes, which require awareness among governments. In addition, there is a need for stronger co-operation, capacity building, and information sharing to be able to deploy new technologies responsibly, while avoiding restraints on innovation.

The two interventions were followed by a panel of experts, moderated by Ms Norma Munguia Aldaraca (Director General for Global Affairs of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico), who emphasised that rapid technological change could generate inequalities, which need to be dealt with if the objective of ‘leaving no one behind’ is to be achieved.

Ms Endah Murniningtyas (Co-Chair of the Group of Scientists for the Global Sustainable Development Report, Indonesia) provided an overview of the progress made on the Global Sustainable Development Report, which will be published in 2019. She shared four main issues related to the nexus between science and the SDGs:

  1. Science helps to understand the complexity and comprehensiveness of the SDGs

  2. There is a need to bridge gaps between science and policy-making and improve communication between the two communities

  3. More needs to be done to increase the relevance of science for policy-making and development, such as identifying trends, monitoring progress, finding the most efficient interventions, and estimating impact

  4. There is a need to improve scientific standards, interdisciplinarity, and the inclusion of local and indigenous knowledge

Ultimately, STI needs to be mobilised to identify and reach those who are left behind. Big data could generate valuable information, especially when combined with traditional statistics, and provide more accurate information for policy implementation.

Mr Nebojsa Nakicenovic (Deputy Director-General and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Professor Emeritus at the Vienna University of Technology) identified the paradox of STI for the SDGs: technology could increase inequalities and generate negative externalities, and at the same time, with appropriate policies, it can be key to achieving the SDGs. Innovation – not only in separate technologies – but especially their convergence, will be the driving force of profound changes. To be able to move in the right direction, there is a need for integrated assessments, roadmaps, system analyses, and holistic approaches. Ultimately, Nakicenovic argued that, while incremental change is important, the SDGs will not be achieved without disruptive and radical measures.

Mr Carsten Fink (Chief Economist, World Intellectual Property Organization) emphasised that innovation is not only central to SDG 9, but also for the achievement of many other SDGs. In this context, Fink presented the Global Innovation Index 2018, which measures the innovation performance of 126 economies, including each country’s comparative strengths and weaknesses. Fink concluded that public policy plays an important role in stimulating innovation, not just by providing funding, but also by mitigating investment risk and providing regulatory incentives.

The panel was closed by Mr Ernest Foli (Forestry Research Institute of Ghana), who delivered several key messages from the Africa Consultation Workshop in the context of the Global Sustainable Development Report. He emphasised that Africa’s transformation will come from within, emphasising the importance of local ownership, autonomy, and African-produced science and technology.

The discussion was then opened to the participants. Several delegations – Belgium, Benin, European Union, Finland, Indonesia, Kenya, Norway, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey – shared information about their own approaches and initiatives related to the use of STI for the achievement of the SDGs. Many underscored the benefits of new technologies, while some urged for the inclusion of women, youth, disabled persons, and those living in rural areas.

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