Technology must act as a bridge, not a divide at a time when the world sought to leave no one behind while striving to realize common objectives in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Economic and Social Council heard today at its third annual multi‑stakeholder forum on science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.
“No one can ignore the vital role of science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Marie Chatardova (Czechia), President of the Economic and Social Council. Those disciplines were shaping the trajectory of development and finding ways to systematically encourage such efforts for the benefit of vulnerable populations which were at the heart of the forum’s mandate. Describing the forum as “an incubator of ideas initiatives and actions”, she said discussions over the next two days would feed into the Council’s high‑level political forum on sustainable development, to be held in New York in July.
Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet, delivering a statement on behalf of United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres, said that to make progress on the 2030 Agenda, solutions must be developed, scaled up and disseminated, using the untapped potential of new and rapidly developing technologies. While such technologies brought risks of exacerbating inequalities, she said equity and fairness must guide forward action, with the Secretary‑General’s strategy on modern technologies for the United Nations system recognizing that engagement must be led by the need to promote shared global values while fostering inclusion, transparency and partnerships.
Liu Zhenmin, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, speaking on the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, said part of it served as an online platform — a gateway for science, technology and innovation initiatives and programmes. Highlighting that its development would help connect providers of technology solutions to those seeking them, he reported steady progress. For the platform to reach its potential, it required sustainable funding and more partners, he said.
Delivering keynote addresses were Andrew Keen, author of The Internet is Not the Answer and How to Fix the Future, Noriko Arai, a professor at the Japan National Institute of Informatics and, via a video message, Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles.
During the day, interactive sessions elaborated on the forum’s theme — “Science, technology and innovation for sustainable and resilient societies — Focus on SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] 6, 7, 11, 12 and 15”. In a morning discussion on the impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, panellists addressed a range of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, biotechnology and nanotechnology. In addition, delegates participated in a dialogue with the 10‑Member Group to support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, established as part of the 2030 Agenda.
An afternoon panel focused on science, technology and innovation for the sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (Sustainable Development Goal 6), with participants discussing challenges and needs and hearing presentations on innovation projects. Following those presentations, sessions were held on Goal 12 — sustainable consumption and production patterns — and Goal 15 — sustainable terrestrial ecosystems.
The forum will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 June to conclude its work.
MARIE CHATARDOVA (Czechia), President of the Economic and Social Council, opened the third annual multi‑stakeholder forum, stressing: “No one can ignore the vital role on science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.” Those disciplines were shaping the trajectory of development, with information and communications technology transforming economic and social life, low- and high‑tech innovations working to combat disease, and modern energy services tackling greenhouse gas emissions. Finding ways to systematically encourage such efforts for the benefit of vulnerable populations was at the heart of the forum’s mandate.
This year, she said, the forum would help identify solutions to foster science, technology and innovation from all countries. It would strengthen the dialogue among stakeholders, promote the sharing of ideas and suggest initiatives and partnerships, all the while strengthening its role in facilitating knowledge transfer and offering space for networking. Describing the forum as “an incubator of ideas initiatives and actions”, she said discussions over the next two days would feed into the Council’s high‑level political forum on sustainable development, to be held in New York from 9 to 18 July.
MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI, Chef de Cabinet, delivered a statement on behalf of United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres, saying science, technology and innovation were critical for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Established as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Technology Facilitation Mechanism was designed to enable a wide range of stakeholders to engage with each other to harness the power of science. To make progress on the 2030 Agenda, solutions must be developed, scaled up and disseminated, using the enormous untapped potential of new and rapidly developing technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology.
While new technologies also brought risks of exacerbating inequalities, she said equity and fairness must guide forward action, with the Secretary‑General’s strategy on modern technologies for the United Nations system recognizing that engagement must be led by the need to promote shared global values while fostering inclusion, transparency and partnerships. “Let us commit to use all the tools at our disposal to reach the furthest behind first so they may benefit from today’s rapidly changing world of technology,” she said.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the forum would encourage practical ideas and applications. It was a collaborative space for networking, discussion and partnership — with an objective of harnessing science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals. Through the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, launched to support implementation of the 2030 Agenda, Member States had recognized the seminal importance of science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals. Today’s meeting was part of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, with experts, practitioners and participants demonstrating that the spirit of innovation and cooperation was alive and well.
Underscoring that his priority was around coordination, cooperation and coherence within the United Nations system for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, he drew attention to the inter‑agency task team on science, technology and innovation in that context. Another part of the Mechanism was the online platform — a gateway for science, technology and innovation initiatives and programmes. Its development would help connect providers of technology solutions to those seeking them, he said, stressing: “We are making steady progress on that front.” For the platform to reach its potential, it required sustainable funding and more partners, he said, appealing for support.
ANDREW KEEN, author, The Internet is Not the Answer and How to Fix the Future, said the digital revolution was supposed to reflect shared global values, which he defined as four commitments: to equality, jobs, civic engagement and privacy or “the sanctity of the self”. However, the digital revolution was not doing what its founders and utopian thinkers hoped it would do. Equality, jobs, civility and the sanctity of the self were not being realized. Stressing that the immense wealth flowing to Silicon Valley represented the gap between the technological “haves and have nots”, he said the digital revolution was supposed to be about spreading wealth and giving everyone a chance. In the long term, the impact of artificial intelligence was troubling, with some stressing that 50 per cent of jobs would disappear because of it.
He said that from the massive increase in “fake news” and bullying, the world could see that the digital revolution had not triggered civility. “It is bringing out the worst in us,” he said. The dominant business model of Silicon Valley was the opposite of “the sanctity of the self” — or what defined us as individuals. Companies mined our identities and destroyed privacy, he said, citing the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Silicon Valley had had driven that agenda for 25 years and it was unregulated. Government, consumers and educators had not participated in what economist Karl Polanyi called “the utopianism of the market”. External forces — consumers, citizens and entrepreneurs — were needed from around the world, not only a pocket of wealthy California entrepreneurs. To fix the future, we need diverse discussions, and the United Nations was the right place to begin. He also advocated for regulation, as well as new data privacy and corporate accountability laws.
NORIKO ARAI, Professor, National Institute of Informatics, Japan, said tech giants claimed that everyone could access information equally. That was partly true. Even a girl growing up under sexual discrimination in a rural area could access learning materials, study hard and win a scholarship to the best university. But there was also a dark side of the new digital ecosystem: the wealthiest 1 per cent of the world’s people owned more than half of global wealth. “This is neither acceptable nor sustainable,” she said. Rather than sell products or services, tech platforms harvested people’s attention and data, and then sold them in exchange for so‑called free services.
“The global digital ecosystem tends to fall into international monopoly very easily,” she said, and once achieved, it was difficult to break out of the loop. But tech platforms were not nations, with the function of redistributing wealth. They were private companies that sought to accumulate it. Artificial intelligence and the Internet of things were only going to accelerate that process. The issue was not whether artificial intelligence was creating new jobs or taking them from us. It was about balance: if people lost their jobs and homes, there was no way for them to make use of a smart speaker. If local shops disappeared because of e‑commerce, she asked how those people could, without an address, buy things online and have them delivered. “What we need is to change the redistribution of wealth to keep the digital ecosystem sound,” she said. “We need rule changes.”
ERIC GARCETTI, Mayor of Los Angeles, speaking via video message, said sustainability was a value that guided everything in his city. Science, technology and innovation had never been more important. Los Angeles was investing in renewable energy, incubating the next generation of technology companies, and had created tens of thousands of green jobs. Without a national commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change, his office had spearheaded the Climate Mayors network, which spanned 47 states in the country and represented 70 million Americans. The Sustainable Development Goals were not about far‑off places facing obstacles. “They are about us,” he said, and the legacy we left for the next generation.
ARUN SUNDARARAJAN, Professor at New York University and author of The Sharing Economy, said science and technology did not resolve problems by themselves; they spawned technical systems that comprised technology, processes, people, economic models and increasingly, a social contract with users. Institutions now rivalled nation States. Citing the example of digital platforms, he said they had quasi‑Governmental power over surveillance and intellectual property, and importantly, they issued identity. Artificial intelligence and cyberwarfare would extend their reach into physical territory and the military realm. As the scope of their importance grew, digital platforms must undergo democratic reform to make them transparent, with features for user‑inclusive governance and due process. They should play a leadership role in catalysing the science, technology and innovation that was essential for fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.
MOHAMED OMAR MOHAMED GAD (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, drew attention to the structural inequality of connectivity and access that had hindered the potential of science, technology and innovation. He expressed concern over the widening digital divide, not only between peoples, but between countries in the global North and South. Those problems were exacerbated by capacity constraints and a lack of technology infrastructure in African countries, least developed countries, landlocked and least developing countries, small island developing States and areas where people lived under occupation. He emphasized the importance of cooperation through rapid, universal and affordable access.
Reiterating the call for the online platform to become operational as soon as possible, he said the Commission on Science and Technology for Development should be brought into full play as a “torch‑bearer” for enhancing technical cooperation and capacity‑building. He underscored the need to provide opportunities for developing countries to bridge the technical divide, identify new avenues for facilitating capacity‑building that was tailored to developing country constraints, address technology infrastructure, and encourage the transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favourable terms.
TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said those nations had made progress in achieving universal access and Internet affordability. Yet, information and communications technology was almost entirely in the hands of large companies, with least developed countries lacking the infrastructure and broadband networks to derive their benefits. Noting that several of those countries were on the path to graduation, he said that to make graduation irreversible, science, technology and innovation was crucial.
Noting that agriculture accounted for 69 per cent of total employment in those countries, he said that while highly skilled information and communications technology jobs and other business services had grown, their share in employment remained low. To harness the potential of the fourth Industrial Revolution, more policy alignment was required, with cooperation crucial to addressing those aspects of science, technology and innovation. He also advocated the sharing of best practices.
ELLIOT HARRIS, Assistant Secretary‑General for Economic Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented the initial findings of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism on the impact of rapid technological change on the Sustainable Development Goals. The inter‑agency task team’s paper would soon be posted on the forum’s website, synthesizing eight meetings under the Mechanism’s umbrella, as well as reports and science policy briefs. It was a truly multi‑stakeholder endeavour, with most contributions having come from developing country nationals, almost half of them women.
He said the task team’s paper examined the ways people discussed rapid technological change. There was evidence that innovation cycles had shortened, with progress in one cluster group impacting that in others. Modern biotechnology, for example, would be impossible without modern computing power. Indeed, new technologies could help eradicate poverty, find cures for intractable diseases, improve efficiency of resource use and foster inclusion. Their potential benefits were so great the world could not afford not to make use of them. Their benefits, however, were not equally shared. Technology change created winners and losers, and there were already gaps, especially across social groups, often corresponding to difference in infrastructure, access and capacities.
Noting that some countries might need to find new development pathways that required new ways of thinking about employment, he said technological change had always been associated with the creation of new jobs and the destruction of old ones. The question was whether new jobs would compensate for the loss of old ones. Some estimated that computers and robots could replace as many as half of jobs in the coming four decades. Others said new jobs would continually meet evolving human needs. The overall effect would depend on various local contexts and the United Nations must be ready for different scenarios to unfold. Underscoring the need to improve understanding around such trends, he advocated building partnerships with universities, incubators and private sector entities at the forefront of technology. There was a call for more responsible deployment of technologies, he said, noting that ethical considerations must spring from the shared vision outlined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
PETER MAJOR, Vice‑Chair, Commission on Science and Technology for Development, provided an update on the Commission’s twenty‑first session, held in May in Geneva, which had gathered experts in big data, artificial intelligence, and science, technology and innovation policy. Change in such fields was having an enormous impact on society. Yet, they posed new challenges for policymakers, risk of exacerbating technical divides and raising ethical questions. Discussions ranged, for example, from using new applications to solve traffic congestion to improving health outcomes through the creation of customized medicines.
He said that while technological advancements could positively impact achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, not all impacts were known. Some might eliminate jobs or negatively impact women. In privacy and data ownership, he underscored the need for institutional frameworks and regulatory regimes, and for addressing ethical and safety issues, notably around health technologies. The annual session also focused on capabilities relating to digital skills, he said, emphasizing that bridging the digital gap was important and citing Bolivia, Bulgaria, Cuba, Germany and Kenya as among those reporting positive results. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and China would organize capacity‑building workshops, focusing on science, technology and innovation policy, later in 2018 for developing countries.
The Council then held a panel discussion on “The impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”. Moderated by Miguel Ruíz Cabañas, Under‑Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, it featured presentations by: Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, United Arab Emirates; Thomas Philbeck, Head of Science and Technology Studies, World Economic Forum; and Göran Marby, President and Chief Executive Officer, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Ms. AL AMIRI underscored the need to think how healthy competitive science ecosystems could raise the quality of life around the world. There was a risk of not taking advantage of technological advancement or being a good adopter of technologies that had been imported from the outside. The local perspective must be harnessed to find the best solutions to problems. Artificial intelligence and the like were tools implemented towards the Sustainable Development Goals or the national goals of any one country. The absence of clear objectives was where technologies could be disruptive. Science had always transcended borders. For the Goals, she advocated maximizing the impact of data captured from scientific experiments, beyond open data to allowing access to it through complex processes.
Mr. PHILBECK said the fourth Industrial Revolution had been championed as a way to connect the various aspects of technological change that were emerging around the world. Connectivity was seen as an intrinsic good. People described the great promise of technologies built on “third revolution” infrastructure. The question today hinged around how to manage vulnerabilities. Technologies exposed a person’s risks to biological, neurological and other types of integrity. They also pointed to vulnerabilities that were good for humanity: areas between borders or those that required collaboration to address. The point was to consider how technologies could help us manage such risks. The way technologies were discussed also mattered. Discussions at the United Nations propagated across the world and embedded themselves into peoples’ conversations. He advocated use of language that was inclusive and that advanced ideas responsibly, stressing that inclusion must be the way forward.
Mr. MARBY said the Internet was about sharing information. However, its founders never anticipated that 3.5 billion people would be using a single network. “The Internet is individual and driven by you,” he said. People talked about it as any other technology, but there was no central point to it; it was a distributive system. That posed difficulties for Governments. His organization provided Internet users with the domain name system and worked with others that provided Internet Protocol addresses. It was time for Governments and the United Nations to engage in discussions, as the elite could afford to go online, but millions of others could not. Local data and websites were more important than people considered. People liked to know what was going on in their areas. His organization was working on a project for people to use their own scripts — or languages — to navigate the Internet.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Turkey urged the United Nations to support countries in adapting to rapid technological change, pointing in particular to the health, education and transportation sectors. It was also important to enhance least developed countries’ capacity, and in that context, he said the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries had just opened in Turkey.
The representative of South Africa said the recent Africa Regional Forum had recommended the creation of a science, technology and innovation multi‑stakeholder forum and an African platform for research and innovation exchange, the latter of which his country was spearheading and would share lessons learned.
The speaker from EMR Policy Institute said every online activity required infrastructure, data centres and “embodied energy”, which in turn, required massive amounts of electricity, which generated greenhouse gases and electronic waste. The Internet could generate 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Service providers must not beam the Internet from space. Municipalities must provide fibre optics as a public utility. Individuals must be aware that every video used more data and electricity, and emitted more CO2 than talking. Manufacturers must make recyclable electronics.
In response, Ms. AL AMIRI said it was important to understand how the United Nations could contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals through scientific and technological advancements.
Mr. PHILBECK said there were many opportunities and risks about using technologies to eradicate poverty, for example, and the implications of that for job creation. He advocated investing heavily in education.
Mr. MARBY said there was a risk that legislation could harm the Internet. It was important for the technology community to participate in the discussion to ensure that “the good is not disappearing”.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United States and Brazil.
The forum then held an interactive dialogue with the 10‑Member Group to support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism. Moderated by George Essegby, Director, Science and Technology Policy Research Institute of Ghana and Member of the 10-Member Group of 2016‑2017, the panel featured presentations by Agnes Lawrence Kijazi, Director General, Tanzania Meteorological Agency; Vaughan Turekian, Senior Director, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine of the United States; and Paulo Gadelha, Coordinator, FIOCRUZ Strategy for the 2030 Agenda of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation of Brazil.
Presentations were also made by: Huadong Guo, Chairman, Academic Committee, Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, Chinese Academy of Sciences; José Ramón Lopez-Portillo Romano, Chairman of Q Element; Michiharu Nakamura, Senior Adviser, Former President, Japan Science and Technology Agency; Anne-Christine Ritschkoff, Senior Adviser, VTT Technical Research Centre, Finland Limited; and Špela Stres, Head of Innovation and Technology Transfer Center, Jozef Stefan Institute of Slovenia.
Ms. KIJAZI, who was also co‑chair of the 10‑Member Group, said not all available technologies could be applied to countries, citing infrastructure and human capacity challenges. Least developed countries must be able to sustain the technologies that were transferred to them.
Mr. TUREKIAN, also co‑chair of the 10‑Member Group, said the Group aimed to be a conduit reflecting the vast expertise within the science, technology and innovation community, particularly outside of Government.
Mr. GADELHA said his organization was a health and science, technology and innovation institution. It considered health as essential to interacting with all other Sustainable Development Goals, notably because it was a human right and played an important role in economic development.
Mr. GUO said his background was in remote sensing information. In recent years, he focused on “big Earth data”. The Forum offered opportunities for exchanging ideas on new science, technology and innovation.
Mr. ROMANO said he had a multifaceted overview of technological change, citing his book in which he reviewed various growth technologies. The United Nations could play a role in compiling and analysing information, and in promoting those ideas in public policies.
Mr. NAKAMURA said the Sustainable Development Goals could be achieved through technological progress coupled with economic and social transformations. The 10‑Member Group was working on an “STI [science, technology and innovation] road map” for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ms. RITSCHKOFF said she promoted sustainable solutions by integrating various competencies and disciplines. She had a background in scientific disciplines and in integrating them into solutions, having held multiple national positions.
Ms. STRES said she brought experience from the European Commission and the European Union, and as a board member of an association of science and technology professionals. She had set up research indicators for the European Commission which could play an important part in the Technology Facilitation Mechanism.
In the ensuing discussion, various stakeholders raised questions, with one speaker addressing the lack of civil society in the 10‑Member Group. Another speaker said people were out of harmony with the Earth’s system. Yet, “we are an integral part of the Earth system,” she said, asking Mr. GUO how technology could be used to help humans live in harmony with nature. Another speaker with a background in science and law argued that digital funding platforms were efficient for bringing in a wide variety of funding sources to achieve the Goals.
Mr. TUREKIAN responded that those interventions would help frame discussions going forward. He welcomed the issue raised around indigenous and existing knowledge, a focus area of the last 10‑Member Group, and cautioned against confusing emerging with disruptive technology.
The Council held a panel discussion on “Science, technology and innovation for sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (SDG 6)”. Introduced by forum Co-chair Juan Sandoval‑Mendiolea (Mexico), the panel was moderated by Ms. STRES, and featured: Katalin Annamária Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations and member of the World Science Forum’s steering committee; Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser of the United Kingdom; and Ernesto Rodriguez Leal, Director of Innovation at Rotoplas, Mexico.
Prior to the discussion, three winners of the Call for Innovations for the forum made presentations on their entries.
SREEKUMAR THALIYIL VEEDU made a presentation on the Technorbital Drinking Water System, which aimed at reaching those without access to clean sources and eliminating the need for plastic bottled water.
DEXTER GAUNTLETT, making a presentation on the SweetSense Remote Water Monitoring Platform, said the system identified in real time water points that were functioning or not. SweetSense also aimed at working with local partners to expand access to clean water.
SYDNEY GRAY made a presentation on Maji Mamas, which tailored solutions to help communities gain access clean water through income‑generating local projects.
Ms. STRES then introduced the panellists, encouraging participants to ask questions following their presentations.
Ms. BOGYAY said Hungary had been very active in water‑related efforts, including initiatives focused on Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality. The current water use pattern would soon lead to shortages, and changes must be made as the natural resource could not be taken for granted. To take effective action, investments in data were needed to better gauge the current landscape. As such, projects aimed at broadening access to clean water with a view to include women in such efforts, she said, emphasizing that urgent and long‑term measures were needed. For its part, Hungary had hosted for several years the Budapest Water Summit, which had gathered nations in search of solutions to common challenges.
Ms. WATTS said interesting opportunities existed to harness the private sector to successfully address science‑based development needs. Presenting several successful projects, she said efforts included tracking rainfall in several African countries and supporting innovation of water quality testing in Bangladesh. In the area of public‑private partnerships to improve living conditions, she said a toilet module was being supplied with free units and nominal charges for waste removal. To address the issue of broken water pumps, an e‑water pay system acted as a contact point to create a business model to incentivize the fixing of broken pipes.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ LEAL said among the most effective ways to support the achievement of Goal 6, sustainable products must be available. Efforts had been made to find business models to do so. Technology was out there and it was ready, he said, emphasizing that current gaps must be bridged between Governments, academics and the private sector. To benefit, all parties must work together through, among other things, partnering academia and industry. User‑centric designs must be presented to Governments and academia to bring useful, sustainable products to consumers. Special attention must also be paid to technology to monitor and collect data on water consumption patterns to better accommodate user trends.
In the ensuing discussion, participants shared their experiences and views, with the representative of Colombia providing a snapshot of current trends in her country. In recent years, 6 million people had gained access to clean drinking water and national projects were making inroads into improving and broadening access to sanitation with a view to achieving progress on Goal 6.
The representative of Algeria underlined the difficulties of balancing the ever‑increasing demands for water with costs and new technologies. He invited delegates to a meeting on water equipment to be held in 2019 in Algiers.
A representative of the private sector advocated for stronger support for nature-based systems. Water and climate went hand in hand and the root causes of shortages must be addressed. Noting that innovative solutions often tried to mimic nature, she said ecosystems that had protected the environment naturally should be recognized for their important roles.
The Council then held a panel discussion on “Science, technology and innovation for sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG 12)”. Introduced by forum Co‑chair Toshiya Hoshino (Japan), the panel was moderated by Ms. RITSCHKOFF, and featured: Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute; Erika Kraemer‑Mbula, Associate Professor at the University of Johannesburg; Marco van der Ree, Head of Business Development at Climate-KIC of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology; and Mr. SUNDARARAJAN.
Prior to the discussion, the two winners of the Call for Innovations for the forum made presentations on their entries.
GERALD MARIN made a presentation on the FoPo Food Powder, which would freeze dry rescued food for use in humanitarian assistance or in poor areas.
MARIAN VAN NOPPEN presented a snapshot of activities conducted by Land for Life: Inga Alley‑Cropping for Sustainability, a programme aimed at training farmers on how to transform and revitalize degraded land.
Ms. RITSCHKOFF, introducing the panel, underlined a need to introduce innovative products to production systems.
Mr. FAN said the world was not sustainable and something different must be done, with innovation being the key to progress. Climate change challenges were enormous at a time when land use was changing. The agricultural sector must make changes, he said, noting the vast differences between beef and vegetable production as well as global patterns of food waste. Different methods must be used to solve those challenges. Science, technology and innovation were critical, from developing new approaches to shaping new policies to, for instance, mitigate climate change. The Institute promoted new technologies in many areas, including rice production. Policy innovation was needed to promote the production of healthy food, address the problem of food subsidies in various sectors and tax carbon‑intensive production systems.
Ms. KRAEMER-MBULA said for the Sustainable Development Goals to succeed, they must succeed in Africa. But, promoting and supporting innovation could widen the technological divide. Instead, inclusive innovation must be supported by, among other things, disseminating affordable and existing systems, many of which remained invisible. As Africa was expected to double its population by 2050, the continent would soon possess the largest labour force in the world. Some studies had estimated new jobs for youth would come from entrepreneurship and informal enterprises, she said, pointing out that many innovators in the informal economy already adhered to sustainable traditional practices, as could be seen with recycled materials used in some sectors. In addition, many microenterprises had innovation potential as well as innovative solutions. Sustainable solutions must, therefore, focus on people and on existing systems. To do so, efforts must target poor communities, scale up partnerships and promote science and technology through doing, using and acting.
Mr. VAN DER REE outlined several massive climate change challenges that must be addressed, calling for colossal investments in innovation to overcome problems such as high emission rates and to foster sustainable production and consumption. Working with various sectors, the Institute aimed at finding solutions in a systemic manner through a range of programmes. Supporting innovation in climate areas and leveraging resources to fund start‑ups, efforts had also supported training and education as well as capacity‑building for students and professionals. Providing several examples, he said projects had spanned from sustainable transport to revolutionizing air pollution reduction. Underlining the importance of thinking in a systemic way, he said taking such an approach enhanced the project’s impact. He also encouraged efforts to unlock financing through policy shifts and collaboration with financial institutions.
Mr. SUNDARARAJAN presented cases of how to create a new manner of production or consumption, among them a car‑sharing system and a solar panel programme. Several initiatives were also attempting to increase accountability in tracking that could dramatically reduce waste in production, while crowd‑based incentive systems were facilitating more responsible consumption patterns. Key challenges to adopting those systems rested in accessing technologies, facilitating systemic change and the level of basic technological and business literacy. Governments could partner with innovative platforms. In addition, a gateway could provide innovators with assistance in getting their products to market.
In the discussion that followed, a representative of academia said the scientific community had reached a unanimous consensus on the cause of climate change and now scientists must step up as role models for sustainable practices. For its part, Rockefeller University was supporting a range of projects, including water recycling and energy conservation, and was shaping models to scale up and replicate in broader areas, she said, challenging participants to ask themselves what they could and should do to be catalysts for much‑needed change.
A representative of the major group for children and youth made a number of suggestions, underlining a need to shift away from economic models exclusively and towards living in harmony with nature. He also called attention to structural barriers that were hampering further progress towards Goal 12 and to practices of extractive industries.
The representative of Madagascar, providing a report card of progress, said some efforts had included setting up models in the agriculture sector for farmers to replicate. Other initiatives recognized that young people were the best teachers, providing education in schools that better prepared future generations to improve the food they eat in cities. Such an approach also contributed to fighting malnutrition and creating greener cities.
The Council then held a panel discussion on “Science, technology and innovation for sustainable terrestrial ecosystems (SDG 15)”. The panel was moderated by Mr. GUO, and featured: Inger Elisabeth Måren, University of Bergen, Norway; Skumsa Kathleen Audrey Mancotywa, Chief Director of the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa; Didier Babin, Chair of the International Coordinating Council of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme and President of its French National Programme Committee; and Suresh Nair, group leader of the Plant‑Insect Interaction Group of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in India.
Mr. GUO said that while efforts existed in various sectors, challenges remained. He encouraged panellists to identify solutions and provide their insight on capacity‑building. Issues to be discussed included effective ways to implement the 2030 Agenda, key knowledge gaps and recommendations for policy change and concrete actions.
Ms. MÅREN said that while 86 per cent of all biomass was found on land, humans constituted less than 1 per cent, being both dominant in modifying the Earth and all together insignificant. However, humans had modified about 40 per cent of Earth’s land for food production. The South had much to teach the North on low‑impact, high‑output agricultural production, including indigenous knowledge that had been cultivated over thousands of years. More biodiversity‑friendly food production was needed, with multi‑stakeholders working together. Distinctions must be made between land use and abuse. Price setting and new regulations would help to make food production and life on land more sustainable.
Ms. MANCOTYWA said the institutional architecture of science, technology and innovation was weak and fragmented in Africa, with much needing to be done. Developing those sectors must be strengthened on the continent and elsewhere. Investments were needed to take action on the ground, to restore degraded land, address ecosystem concerns and end wildlife poaching. Political will could translate the Sustainable Development Goals into achievements. In South Africa, the national development plan provided a blueprint to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, with each minister held responsible for progress. Evidence‑based monitoring and evaluation were also in place, as were innovative approaches in bolstering economic growth. Turning to biodiversity loss, she said South Africa was supporting a range of efforts, working across sectors, to restore wetlands. Yet, public and private sector predictable financing was needed to ensure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr. BABIN said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Programme aimed at contributing to progress on common goals with a view to harnessing through sustainable ways the enormous opportunity nature offered. Emphasizing that several of the Sustainable Development Goals might negatively affect the biosphere, he made a number of suggestions. He proposed that the Technological Facilitation Mechanism partnered with the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere network and that all existing science, technology and innovation were used to monitor and provide information on the sustainable use of the world’s natural capital, including ecosystem accounting and analyses of products’ life cycle, with results being made widely available to political decision makers and stakeholders.
Mr. NAIR said plant and insect interaction could provide tools that would help to achieve progress on the 2030 Agenda objectives, making it possible to tackle issues such as crop yields, biotic stress and excess or depletion of water levels in soil. Sharing a slide show on how plants succeeded or failed to demonstrate resistance against particular insects, he explained that studies had identified a range of insect types and their interaction with plants, leading to conclusions about how insects were becoming resistant to pesticides in rice‑growing areas. Findings had also shown that less reliance on and use of pesticide would slow down ecosystem degradation and contribute to preventing biodiversity loss. In addition, using natural resistance approaches would bolster crop yields. Going forward, he recommended further studies to identify appropriate resistance genes against major pests.
In the ensuing discussion, representatives of civil society shared their views about how decisions about genetic technology were made.
A representative of UNESCO underlined the importance of focusing on working together, pointing out that 250 million people worldwide were already benefiting from the UNESCO programme through the use of indigenous knowledge.