One of the COVID-19 pandemic’s hard lessons demonstrates that the use of technology alone cannot make global development goals a reality, scientists and technology experts said, as the high-level political forum on sustainable development continued its 2021 session.
As the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals adopted in 2015, the high-level forum — under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — will review, from 6 to 16 July, progress in implementation. Rounding up its first week, the forum held three panels, focusing on the 2021 theme: “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
During its panel discussion on “Mobilizing science, technology and innovation and strengthening the science-policy-society interface”, participants explored existing tools, such as the 2030 Agenda’s Technology Facilitation Mechanism. Scientists, innovators and ministers across all regions agreed that science and technology played a major role in responding to the pandemic.
Highlighting that the pandemic has inadvertently triggered a new wave of innovation to enhance response and recovery plans, panellists cautioned that more must be done to level the digital playing field and foster local to national innovations to effectively respond to pressing development challenges. They also discussed how best to harness new tools and partnerships to improve the science‑policy‑society interface and help countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Some cautioned that a collective global drive must lead the way.
Technology by itself will not help to achieve the 2030 Agenda, stop global warming or eradicate poverty, said panellist Ahmed el–Magarmid, Executive Director of the Qatar Computing Research Institute at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar. Without the right partnerships in place and a deep understanding of the problem at hand, the use of technology risks distracting from such real challenges as the digital divide and gender inequalities, he said.
Nnenna Nwakanma, Chief Web Advocate at the World Wide Web Foundation in Nigeria, called for stronger efforts to establish global contracts to ensure that the world moves together in the right direction. This includes full access to quality Internet connections, respect for rights and commitments to leave no one behind. The time has come to adopt access to the Internet as a fundamental human right, she stated.
Cherry Murray, Co-Chair of the United Nations Secretary-General’s 10‑Member Group to Support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, said members are focusing on identifying solutions. Among them are ways to expedite innovations and create pathways for least developed countries to leapfrog to sustainable energy, transportation, industries and food systems without having to follow the wasteful, polluting and unsustainable pathways that developed countries took in the last century.
Imme Scholz, Co-Chair of the International Group of Scientists of the 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report, warned that wide existing gaps must be bridged by, among other things, substantial investments. Given the weaknesses exposed by COVID-19, she said ensuring resilience to future pandemics and fostering sustainability transformations depends on nurturing science, technology and innovation systems across countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Middle East and the Pacific. Given the cross-sector impact of these efforts, funding them must be in line with the 2030 Agenda, she said.
Both of the panel’s keynote speakers highlighted new recommendations and guidance for moving forward. Mohammad Koba, Co-Chair of the 2021 Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, and Charge d’Affaires of Indonesia to the United Nations, said extraordinary levels of international cooperation are needed on research, infrastructure and capacities to overcome the gaps within and between countries and social groups. Providing a snapshot of the outcome document of the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, he said recommendations covered lessons from COVID-19 and specific suggestions for the future work of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, established under the 2030 Agenda. Among them were calls for bold, forward-looking perspectives to assess the impacts of emerging science and frontier technologies, and timely action to promote breakthrough innovations.
Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), stressed the importance of recognizing the crucial role of information and communications technology in the ongoing pandemic alongside new discoveries and technologies that promise to transform people’s lives around the world. Now is the time to redouble efforts to use these tools to put the 2030 Agenda back on track, he said, encouraging all stakeholders to continue to leverage the power of science, technology and innovation as a force for good and to work together to ensure that today’s digital transformation accelerates a development transformation for all.
The forum also held panel discussions on “Coming together to help small island developing States to get on a path to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” and “Vision and priorities of civil society, the private sector and other major groups and stakeholders: realizing the SDGs during the COVID-19 recovery”.
The high-level political forum will continue its 2021 session at 9 a.m. on Monday, 12 July.