Opening session and High-level round table on the role of science, technology, and innovation in a sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

17 May 2021 12:00h - 14:00h

Event report

Opening session

The session addressed strategic planning, lessons learned, and best practices in science, technology, and innovation (STI) for development purposes outlined in the 2030 Agenda. The session was chaired by Mr Peter Major (Vice-Chairman, UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development) and had statements from high-level delegation representatives. Major highlighted that the priority topics for the twenty-fourth session were the uses of STI to close the gaps in the SDGs and to harness blockchain for sustainable development.

STI offers several responses to the COVID-19 crisis, noted Ms Isabelle Durant (Secretary General, UNCTAD). It can be used for genome editing; for understanding virus patterns; and for producing medicine and vaccines; it may also be used to track PCR tests through blockchain. Durant mentioned that STI is not the only appropriate response to development, given that development involves multilayer problems. Providing fair access to education and strengthening capacity in STI are essential in including developing countries in the digital transformation. A global, holistic approach is needed to address the inequality that has been enhanced by the pandemic. This approach must include the provision of unrestricted access to technology and vaccines by vulnerable communities and the inclusion of developing countries in international cooperation initiatives.

The pandemic has had different consequences for different nations, underlined H.E. Mr Munir Akram (President of the Economic and Social Council & Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN). Even if STI has made it possible to provide vaccines in a record time and has enabled developed countries to maintain their economic activities despite lockdowns, poor people are still struggling because of the lack of access to vaccines and STI capability. Akram believes that technologies must be mobilised to improve the lives of individuals in those developing countries that lack basic infrastructure in ICT. To maximise the benefits of STI to everyone, Akram made the following suggestions:

  1. TRIPS agreement should allow developing countries to have access to medical technologies;
  2. massive investments are required for sustainable infrastructure to bridge the technological divide;
  3. developing countries should not only aim to catch up with developed countries, but to lead in areas such as 5G and quantum computing;
  4. the private sector has an important responsibility to lead technological development by transferring price, conducting free and fair trade, and addressing disinformation.

Ms Amina J Mohammed (Deputy Secretary-General of the UN and Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group) made the following suggestion: should aim at sustainable development by:

  1. speeding up the de-carbonisation of energy resources;
  2. transforming the production and consumption of food; and
  3. ensuring an inclusive digital transition to people in the global south.

Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary-General, International Telecommunications Union) said that in the past two decades, societies have experienced great progress in ICT development. However, half of the human population is still unconnected or poorly connected. The pandemic has exposed the digital divide and has reversed, in some instances, the SDGs. In this regard, the WSIS acting lines are important to ensure that the sustainable agenda will be back on track with the cooperation of multistakeholder partners.

High-level round table on the role of science, technology, and innovation in a sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic: Contribution of the Commission to the 2021 theme of the Economic and Social Council and the high-level political forum on sustainable development

Mr Alfredo Suescum (Vice Chair of the CSTD) introduced the high-level round table on the role of STI in a sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19 by mentioning that it was conceived to discuss challenges faced in national and international contexts.

Ms Shamika N Sirimanne (Director, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) presented the Technology and Innovation Report of 2021, which is, in part, dedicated to describing how technology has deepened inequality between developed and developing countries. In this regard, AI driven technologies tend to increase inequality by eliminating medium and low skilled jobs. Sirimanne highlighted that if AI primarily uses data generated by users, this will primarily benefit the United States and China, whose digital platforms gather massive amounts of such data. In addition, if AI primarily uses data gathered by IoT, this will benefit countries with strong manufacturing sectors, such as member states of the EU, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. Sirimanne considers that frontier technologies need to be scaled-up to reach those in most need. Hence, availability, affordability, awareness, accessibility, and ability are the most important aspects in including developing countries in the digital era.

If, on one hand, the pandemic has exposed the digital divide, on the other, it has accelerated digitalisation, underlined Mr Andrejs Pildegovičs (Co-Chair of the 2021 STI Forum and Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Latvia to the UN). Both positive and negative consequences of Covid-19 are recognised by the STI Forum.

Ministerial discussion

The private sector and governments have collectively acted to produce and deliver the vaccine to address the COVID-19 crisis, mentioned Mr Sorena Sattari (Vice President for Science and Technology, Islamic Republic of Iran).

Contrary to this, Mr Douglas Letsholathebe (Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Botswana) considers that the international community is failing to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Ms Karima Hamed Faryabi (Minister of Economy, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) noted that more cooperation is needed for developing countries.

Sattarin noted that Iran continues to suffer from international sanctions and, therefore, is prevented from addressing the crisis efficiently. Faryabi satted that the government of Afghanistan is committed to decrease the technology divide and to promote ICT policies. Currently, the greatest proportion of investment is dedicated to telecommunications.

Mr Fortunato T de la Peña (Minister of Science and Technology, the Philippines) mentioned that his ministry has supported the development of local ventilators. Peña believes that the shortage of skills, the digital divide, and extreme poverty are the main challenges to equal access to frontier technologies.

Mr Anek Laothamatas (Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, Thailand) suggested that the biocircular green economy (BCG), implemented by Thailand, provides a new model for achieving sustainable goals.