Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Remarks for the Roundtable on Preventing and Overcoming Major Technological Accidents: A Case of UN Cooperation on Chernobyl

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: a new global development framework for technological risk reduction

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

The title that was suggested for my intervention is an invitation to consider whether the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is, or can be, a framework for technological risk reduction. We are therefore not talking about natural disasters, but about man-made disasters, and specifically those related to the use of technology.

The Chernobyl accident and nuclear technology in particular, are not mentioned in the 2030 Agenda. And, when we think of accidents, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, for example, we tend to focus on the work of technical international agencies, starting with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But indeed the 2030 Agenda has a strong focus on technology and on disaster risk reduction. The 2030 Agenda recognizes that technology is essential for achieving the SDGs. Technology is not only captured in SDG 17 as a key “means of implementation”. Among the 169 targets, 14 targets explicitly refer to “technology”, and another 35 targets relate to issues that are most often largely discussed in technology terms.

And disaster risk reduction is a real cross-cutting dimension of the SDGs. It appears in targets under SDG 1 (poverty), SDG 2 (hunger), SDG 9 (infrastructure and industrialization), SDG 11 (sustainable cities), and SDG 13 (climate change).

So, the 2030 Agenda has really brought to the fore these two dimensions, within a sustainable development framework. This is interesting, because issues relating to technology and associated risks used to be addressed separately from mainstream development issues. Now, thanks to the SDGs, issues related to technology and risk can be considered together with development challenges, in a cross-cutting  way.

Beyond the SDGs, another component of the 2030 Agenda is the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM). One of the functions of the TFM is to identify technology needs and gaps in relation to the SDGs. The TFM has the potential to bring the discussion on science, technology and innovation in direct contact with the discussion on the SDGs. It is an acknowledgement that technology is not a “side show” – it has shaped society, the economy and the environment. Socio-economic development is inextricably linked with technology change, as technology, society and institutions co-evolve.

All technological change is potentially disruptive, and holds both opportunities and risks. Over the next 15 years, the time horizon of the 2030  Agenda, we will undoubtedly face risks linked with the rapid development of technologies. For example, nanotechnologies, gene editing, and biotechnologies more broadly, all have the potential to generate man-made disasters, if not managed properly. In many other areas, technological advances will have to be managed in a way that major catastrophes are avoided. Unfortunately, if history is any guide, we may likely witness more man-made disasters during this 15-year period.

This is why the Chernobyl example is so important.

  • How can we use what we have learnt from 30 years of international cooperation post Chernobyl to better manage risk and post-disaster management in other areas of technology?
  • What lessons transcend the specific case of nuclear energy and are applicable to other sectors?

 For me, one clear lesson is in terms of how a technological accident can have impacts in many seemingly unrelated areas – in the case of Chernobyl, health of course, but also agriculture, population, and many other sectors.

 How can we use the methods of impact assessments and evaluation that have been devised after Chernobyl in other fields?

  • In terms of managing disasters and their consequences, what can we learn from information sharing and information systems to monitor potential technology-related risks?
  • How efficient and effective was international cooperation after Chernobyl?
  • What are the appropriate levels at which different decisions post-disaster need to be made?

 In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that the 2030 Agenda provides us all with a development framework that explicitly recognizes the power of technology and has a strong focus on disaster risk reduction and management.

The lessons from 30 years of international collaboration post Chernobyl should inform the way we manage technological risks in a way that serves sustainable development.

Thank you.

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