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Acronym:
CSTD
Established:
Address:
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Stakeholder group:
Intergovernmental organisations
Profile

The Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) is a subsidiary of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It was established to advise the UN General Assembly on science and technology issues through analysis and appropriate policy recommendations. It is the centre of the UN for science, technology, and innovation for development.

Under the mandate given by ECOSOC, the CSTD leads the follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the information Society (WSIS) and advises ECOSOC accordingly, including through the elaboration of recommendations aimed at furthering the implementation of the WSIS outcomes.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is responsible for the substantive servicing of the CSTD.

Digital activities

The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and international levels, and prepares draft resolutions for ECOSOC. These draft resolutions tackle issues ranging from access to the Internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs) to the use of ICTs in mitigating climate change. At its annual sessions and intersessional panels, the CSTD also addresses themes such as science, technology, and innovation for sustainable cities and communities; ICTs for inclusive social and economic development; capacity development; Internet broadband for inclusive societies; and smart cities and infrastructure. 

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence 

As part of its work on assessing the impact of technological change on inclusive and sustainable development, the CSTD is also exploring the role of frontier technologies including artificial intelligence (AI). At its 22nd session, the CSTD pointed out that AI and other frontier technologies offer significant opportunities to accelerate progress in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs), while also posing new challenges (e.g. disrupting labour markets, exacerbating or creating new inequalities, and raising ethical questions). The CSTD is focusing its 2019-2020 intersessional work on digital frontier technologies, such as AI, big data, and robotics. For 2021, the CSTD has chosen another digital technology – blockchain for sustainable development – as a priority theme for its work.

  • Harnessing rapid technological change for inclusive and sustainable development (2020) (report for the 23rd CSTD session) 
  • CSTD Dialogue which brings together leaders and experts to address the question: ‘What must be done to ensure that the potential offered by science, technology, and innovation (STI) towards achieving the SDGs is ultimately realised?’ This dialogue also aims to contribute to ‘rigorous thinking on the opportunities and challenges of STI in several crucial areas including gender equality, food security and poverty reduction.’
  • Articles on the webpage explore AI-related issues, such as the role of AI in health and a principled approach to AI (written by actors from different stakeholder groups).

 

Access 

During its annual sessions and intersessional panels, as well as in its draft resolutions for ECOSOC, the CSTD tackles aspects related to the digital divide, and outlines the need for further progress in addressing the impediments that developing countries face in accessing new technologies. It often underlines the need for co-ordinated efforts among all stakeholders to bridge the digital divide in its various dimensions: access to infrastructure, affordability, quality of access, digital skills, gender gap, and others. To this aim, the CSTDn recommends policies and actions to improve connectivity and access to infrastructure, affordability, multilingualism and cultural preservation, digital skills and digital literacy, capacity development, and appropriate financing mechanisms.

Sustainable development 

As the UN centre for science, technology, and innovation for development, the CSTD analyses the impact of digital technologies on sustainable development (assessing opportunities, risks, and challenges), including from the perspective of the ‘leaving no one behind’ principle. The CSTD also works to identify strategies, policies, and actions to foster the use of technology to empower people (especially vulnerable individuals and groups) and ensure inclusiveness and equality. In addition, it acts as a forum for strategic planning, sharing of good practices, and providing foresight about emerging and disruptive technologies. 

CSTD intersessional panel meeting – November 2019 (final report.)

Capacity development 

Capacity development is one of the recurring themes that appear in draft resolutions prepared by the CSTD on the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes. The CSTD often emphasises the need for countries and other stakeholders to focus on capacity development policies and actions to further enhance the role of the Internet as a catalyst for growth and development. Strengthening the capacity of stakeholders to participate in Internet governance processes is another objective the CSTD has been calling for, especially in regard to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). 

 

Interdisciplinary approaches 

The CSTD was mandated to review the IGF process and suggest improvements. To this aim, the Working Group on Improvements to the IGF was established and a report recommending a number of action items regarding the IGF was delivered in 2012. The CSTD was also entrusted with the mandate to initiate discussions about enhanced co-operation in Internet governance. It convened two working groups on enhanced co-operation (2013–2014 and 2016–2018); neither group managed to finalise recommendations on how to operationalise enhanced co-operation due to a lack of consensus among their members.

Digital tools

UNCTAD is in charge of servicing the CSTD. As such, digital tools used by the CSTD (e.g. platform for online meetings, social media for communications purposes) are also employed for CSTD-related purposes.