Frontier technologies have huge potential to drive prosperity and protect planet, but only if properly managed
New frontier technologies — everything from renewable energy technologies to biodegradable plastics, artificial intelligence and electric vehicles — hold immense potential to improve people’s lives and significantly accelerate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and address climate change. But without appropriate policies, they can also drive greater inequality and increase social dislocations, according to a new report launched by the United Nations on 8 October 2018.
The World Economic and Social Survey 2018 produced by UN DESA found that renewable energy technologies and efficient energy storage systems are already enhancing environmental sustainability, allowing countries to “leapfrog” over existing technological solutions. New technologies have enhanced access to medicines and improved the wellbeing of the most vulnerable as mobile technologies and innovations in digital finance have made financial services accessible to millions in developing countries.
The Survey also found that while technological change has the potential to bring considerable benefits to people, the economy and the environment, when left unmanaged or mismanaged, new technologies will likely widen inequality within and between countries. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics automation, among other technologies, can enhance economic efficiency but at the same time create winners and losers.
The Survey found that while a country, a particular sector or an occupation may benefit from a new technology, others may gain little or even lose altogether as technological divides between and within countries are still significant and particularly acute in the area of rapidly advancing frontier technologies. Many developing countries are yet to fully utilize the technological breakthroughs of the past. Increasingly, innovations in frontier technologies are concentrated in a few firms and countries. Those who fall behind technologically will find it increasingly difficult to achieve equitable and sustainable development.
According to the Survey, countries can address many of the pitfalls presented by new technologies by adopting proactive and effective policies to minimize economic and social costs of adjustment. They need regulatory environment and institutional infrastructures to promote innovation, diffusion and use new technologies most needed for sustainable development.
The Survey contends that international cooperation is an imperative to facilitate technology transfers and national innovation, promoting greater flexibility of the intellectual property rights regime and harmonizing technology standards. It also must address the issue of growing market concentration in order to ease access to many frontier technologies.
According to the Survey, the UN can provide an objective assessment of the impact that emerging technologies have on sustainable development outcomes, including their effects on employment, wages and income distribution. This would enable Member States to steer the pace and sequence of technological breakthroughs towards sustainable development.
For more information:
World Economic and Social Survey 2018: Frontier technologies for sustainable development
Has global economic growth reached its peak?
Over the past two years, the global economy has seen a strong and fairly broad-based recovery. Economic activity in developed economies – including the United States, Europe and Japan – accelerated amid a recovery in investment. Led by China, growth in East Asia remained strong; and several developing and transition economies emerged from recession as commodity prices gained ground.
But now there are emergent signs that global growth may have reached a peak and could start to moderate going forward. On the one hand, global indicators, such as industrial production and merchandise trade, are expanding less vigorously than in 2017. On the other, country-level indicators signal softening activity in many parts of the world economy, along with increased uncertainty and downside risks. While consumer and business surveys still paint a generally positive picture of current conditions, they show rising pessimism about the months ahead.
The recent worsening of expectations primarily reflects concerns in two main areas: international trade tensions and financial market stress. How the global economy will perform in 2019 strongly depends on how these risks play out. The pressure is on policymakers worldwide to ensure that the current challenges are addressed, and global growth stays on track.
You can find the November issue, with more details on these trends, here.
UN DESA’s Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects is now in its 10th year of publication, bringing you the latest information on the global economy every month. The series is available at bit.ly/wespbrief
Photo: Georgina Goodwin/World Bank
Population and sustainable development in the 21st century
On 1 and 2 November 2018, UN DESA’s Population Division will convene an expert group meeting to discuss current and future population trends and their implications for sustainable development. Experts from around the world will consider the following topics: (1) fertility, reproductive health and population change, (2) health, mortality and older persons, (3) urbanization, internal and international migration, (4) population-related SDGs and targets, and (5) the contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The meeting is held in preparation of the 52nd session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) which will examine, in April 2019, progress and gaps in the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. The CPD will also consider the contribution of the Programme of Action in achieving the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda.
While important progress has been made in the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action since it was adopted in Cairo in 1994, considerable gaps still exist. In 2011, the General Assembly extended the Programme of Action beyond 2014 with a view to fully meet its goals and objectives. In 2014, 20 years after “Cairo”, the Secretary-General reported that progress in implementing the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action had been unequal and fragmented and that new challenges, realities and opportunities had emerged since its adoption.
The ICPD Programme of Action represented a fundamental shift in the international community’s consideration of population and development issues. The Programme of Action was instrumental in moving population policies and programmes away from demographic targets towards a people-centered approach, grounded in the respect for human rights and with a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability. Many of the objectives and actions of “Cairo” were subsequently incorporated into the Millennium Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The findings and recommendations of the expert meeting will inform the report of the Secretary-General for the 52nd session of the CPD, to be prepared by the Population Division.
For more information:
Expert group meeting on population and sustainable development in the 21st century
UN ECOSOC hones in on efforts to combat climate change
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our world. It is altering weather patterns and increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts. Climate change undermines development gains and, by exacerbating well documented drivers of conflicts, such as unequal access to resources and economic shocks and the impacts of these dynamics on women and youth, can raise the risk of conflict and undermine efforts to build and sustain peace.
Combatting climate change is at the top of the United Nations agenda. In 2015, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change brought together all nations around a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development similarly recognizes the need to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact, offering the opportunity to pave the way for a more sustainable world.
As part of these efforts, the United Nations Economic and Social Council will convene two meetings at UN Headquarters in New York on 13 November 2018.
Organized together with the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), the first meeting – Linkages between Climate Change and Challenges to Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace in the Sahel – will examine the interlinkages between climate change and conflict, looking closer at Africa’s Sahel region, one of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable regions.
The second meeting – Pathways to resilience in climate-affected Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – A Forward-Looking Resilience Building Agenda: Promises, results and next steps – will focus on commitments made and results achieved to date in SIDS, vulnerable to shocks associated with natural hazards, and explore new and innovative approaches to financing climate resilience.
For more information:
United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC)