Technology was transforming people’s realities, and the benefits of those advances were evident, speakers stressed today, as the Economic and Social Council concluded its two-day Science, Technology and Innovation Forum.
“Change is here to stay,” declared Augustin Jianu, Romania’s Minister of Communications and Information Society, who went on to underscore the importance of finding a model that countries could use to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
From the use of smartphone apps to route traffic, to the use of social media by world leaders as a governing mechanism, technology was changing the world at a rapid pace, said Mr. Jianu, who added that at times, people seemed unaware of the impact and persistent nature of that change.
Given that start-ups were a key engine in powering gross domestic product (GDP) in countries that had demonstrated strong economic growth over the last two decades, funds should be distributed to such businesses in large, open, nationwide competitions, he said, highlighting that in doing so, Governments would not only be investing in businesses, but would also be able to align that investment to national priorities.
The world was in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, which was moving at a pace that was at least 10 times faster and 100 times more global than the previous industrial revolutions, said Mary Snapp, Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft Philanthropy at the Microsoft Corporation.
With that revolution, however, came concerns that individual gains would not be as great as Government and business gains, and in that context, it was imperative that no one was left behind, emphasized Ms. Snapp, adding that there would be disruption and also breakthroughs which would cause anxiety that would need to be overcome.
Underscoring how science improved livelihoods, Romain Murenzi, Director of the Division of Science, Policy and Capacity Building at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), called on countries to equip themselves with policies that built capacity and synergy and promoted public participation. In that context, it was noteworthy that women only accounted for 30 per cent of all researchers worldwide, he lamented.
An increasing number of countries were developing more formal science advisory mechanisms within their own domestic contexts, which were playing an important role in development, highlighted Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
The United Nations needed to focus more on providing coherent and consistent scientific advice to States, he said, underlining that while the Scientific Advisory Board established by the Secretary-General had potential, its lasting impact was questionable.
Policymakers often ignored science at their own peril, warned Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, emphasizing that Governments not only needed to follow the laws of their countries when making policies, but to also respect the laws of nature.
Understanding the needs of stakeholders would be crucial and should not be an afterthought, she stressed, adding that her organization was a fully independent scientific advisory body to the United States Government and received all its funding from outside sources.
Throughout the day, the Forum featured five panel discussions on harnessing the potential of science, technology and innovation in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Wrapping up the meeting, Economic and Social Council President Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe) said that the two-day Forum had held intense discussions covering a range of issues and had collected myriad recommendations. “We have learnt much over these days,” he said. The Forum had identified ways to address broader cross-cutting issues, including on how to best leverage national science, technology and innovation plans, policies and capacity-building.
The work of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism must be more than just an annual two-day discussion forum, he stressed. It should become the yearly culmination and outcome of intersessional work, drawing on most relevant international events that focused on science, technology and innovation. The Forum would benefit from events organized by Member States to take the conversations further, he added.
Bill Colglazier, Co-Chair of Mechanism’s 10-Member Group, said it was important to find greater synergy and strengthen the science interface at the United Nations. Emphasizing the need to bolster stakeholder engagement and create business opportunities to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals, he said horizon-scanning exercises could help bring forth opportunity.
Forum Co-Chairs Vaughan Turekian, Science and Technology Adviser to the United States Secretary of State, and Macharia Kamau (Kenya) also made closing remarks. Mr. Turekian said using science, technology and innovation to impact some of the world’s most wicked problems required geometrically-driven data, while Mr. Kamau said he hoped that participants could bring together ideas in a way that would truly transform people’s lives.
In opening the first panel of the day, titled “Lessons learned in improving the impact of science, technology and innovation on the Sustainable Development Goals — highlighting the cross-cutting nature of science, technology and innovation”, Macharia Kamau (Kenya), Co-Chair of the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, said that making Governments smarter and more fit for purpose, and policymakers more responsive and focused on outcomes, was imperative. Science, technology and innovation would be key in those endeavours.
Heide Hackmann, Executive Director of the International Council for Science and Co-Chair of the Technological Facilitation Mechanism 10-Member Group moderated the panel, while the speakers included Augustin Jianu, Minister of Communications and Information Society, Romania; Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand; and Mary Snapp, Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft Philanthropy, Microsoft Corporation, United States.
Ms. HACKMANN said that the Forum was designed to shed light on key issues related to improving the impact of science, technology and innovation in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, which were cross-cutting in nature. She recalled that the previous day’s discussions focused on the particular role of science, technology and innovation in implementing the specific Goals that were under review this year.
Mr. JINAU highlighted that the benefits of technology and innovation were evident; from the use of smartphone apps to route traffic, to the use of social media by world leaders as a governing mechanism. Such technologies were gradually transforming people’s realities, and yet, at times, people seemed to be unaware of the impact and persistent nature of that change. “Change is here to stay,” he declared, which was why it was important to find a model that countries could use to achieve the Goals.
Romania had a unique blend of domestic challenges and opportunities, he said. The country faced hurdles in terms of job creation, while also enjoying an ever-increasing number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates. To create new jobs and engage in innovation at the national level, Romania knew it would need to do more than invest locally. It would also have to invest nationwide in an efficient manner. While observing the activities of countries with strong economic growth over the last two decades, Romania had learned that start-ups were a key engine in powering national gross domestic product (GDP). With regard to meeting social and economic needs, Romania determined that countries with strong start-up cultures had demonstrated that the best strategy for distributing resources was maximizing the drive, creativity and initiative of a nation.
In that context, the solution for Romania became clear — national priorities should be translated into broad criteria, targeting large dimensions of the economy that needed to be developed, he said. Funds should then be distributed to start-ups in large, open, nationwide competitions and business cases with the largest social, economic or technological impacts should be supported, provided they continued developing their concepts. In such a scenario, Governments would not only invest in start-ups, but would also align that investment to national priorities.
Mr. GLUCKMAN said that policymaking was based on options which involved different trade-offs, which affected different stakeholders, in different ways. An increasing number of countries were developing more formal science advisory mechanisms within their own domestic contexts, which were playing an important role in development. The United Nations needed to focus more on providing coherent and consistent scientific advice to States. The Scientific Advisory Board established by the Secretary-General had potential, but he questioned its lasting impact. The Sustainable Development Goals were ultimately based on national decisions, made by national Governments, about national implementation. There must be greater links between global recommendations and national implementing bodies. Science, technology and innovation were critical, yet a thorough gap-analysis between national needs and available resources was still lacking.
Ms. SNAPP highlighted that the world was in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, which was moving at a pace that was at least 10 times faster and 100 times more global that the previous industrial revolutions. One concern associated with the revolution was that individual gains would not be as great as Government and business gains, and in that context, it was imperative that no one was left behind. There would be disruption and also breakthroughs which would cause anxiety that would need to be overcome. There would be primarily three main areas of innovation — physical, which included things such as 3D printers and autonomous cars; biological, which included improvements in health-care systems; and digital, which included smartphone applications. The promise of technology had not been fully realized, and never would be as long as 60 per cent of the world still did not have access to high-quality and affordable internet.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Ethiopia said that it was clear in his region that Governments needed scientific advisory bodies, yet, there was a lack of close cooperation between academia and Government. A representative of the International Organization of La Francophonie stressed the need for stronger links between the scientific community and policymakers, particularly with regard to the distribution of scientific knowledge in a multitude of languages. The representative of Zambia expressed concern that Government ministries did not seem to grasp how critical science, technology and innovation were for success, while the representative of South Africa questioned whether a framework existed that would ensure that countries were being inclusive in their approach to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Focusing on “National science, innovation and technology plans and policies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”, the second panel of the day was moderated by Bill Colglazier, Senior Scholar, Center for Scientific Diplomacy, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and member of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism 10-Member Group. The panellists included Abdullah Lootah, Director-General, Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, United Arab Emirates; Michiharu Nakamura, Counsellor to the President, Science and Technology Agency, Japan; and Marcia McNutt, President, National Academy of Sciences, United States.
The panel began with an innovation pitch from Rebecca Firth on “Missing Maps”, which was a project that helped people in developing countries map out their communities, which otherwise did not exist on formal maps.
Mr. COLGLAZIER said that now was the time to turn aspirational words into real actions, and to utilize feedback from the science, technology and innovation community to make appropriate adjustments as those efforts moved forward. All sectors of society would need to be engaged, including the private sector, civil society, the scientific community, and others.
Mr. LOOTAH recalled that the United Arab Emirates’ national innovation strategy was launched in 2014 and was designed to embed a culture of innovation across the public and private sectors, while reinforcing six broad development goals. The country was working to improve public services by tapping into innovation, while also placing a strong emphasis on human capital and global development endeavours. The country’s national committee on the Sustainable Development Goals was created in January 2017 and was tasked with creating a plan for the implementation of the Goals. The governance structure was unique in that it empowered members to develop innovative solutions to achieve their goals.
Mr. NAKAMURA noted that science, technology and innovation were important assets in overcoming national issues and the cornerstone of the country’s international cooperation. Japan was poised to share its experiences in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals globally. He stressed that global data should be utilized to address a wide range of challenges and that different national and international sectors should be more unified, with the special needs of local communities kept in mind. There was a need for human resources development so that technologies took root in each community, including in newly emerging countries.
Ms. MCNUTT noted that in the United States, leadership on the Sustainable Development Goals largely came from the non-profit sector, which in her opinion was a positive development. The National Academy of Science was a fully independent scientific advisory body to the Government and received all its funding from outside sources. Policymakers often ignored science at their own peril. Governments not only needed to follow the laws of their countries when making policies, but to also respect the laws of nature. Understanding the needs of stakeholders would be crucial and should not be an afterthought. Science, technology and innovation should be taken into account when implementing the Sustainable Development Goals by supporting the critical role of independent scientific advisory bodies.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of China said that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should be integrated with national science, technology and innovation programmes.
Also speaking were the representatives of Qatar and Swaziland.
Opening the next panel on “Science, innovation and technology capacity building for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”, the Forum heard from Jiwon Park and Bailey Ulbricht, both winners of the Call for Innovation for the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, who presented their innovation pitches “CodePhil in the Philippines” and “Paper Airplanes”, respectively.
Moderated by Romain Murenzi, Director, Division of Science, Policy and Capacity Building, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the panel included the following three speakers: Geoffrey Boulton, President, Committee on Data for Science and Technology, International Council for Science; Bitrina Diyamett, Executive Director, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization, United Republic of Tanzania; and James Querry, Associate Professor, Philadelphia University, United States.
Mr. MURENZI, underscoring how science improved livelihoods, called on countries to equip themselves with policies that built capacity and synergy, and promoted public participation. Scientists must be directly engaged in such efforts as well, he added, emphasizing that developing countries faced myriad challenges in quality education and research. Basic and engineering sciences must be at the cornerstone of education to effectively harness research and contribute to countries’ sustainable development. He also recognized the need to address the fact that women only accounted for 30 per cent of all researchers worldwide.
Mr. BOULTON said the relatively recent replacement of analog processes ushered in a digital revolution in the way knowledge was acquired, disseminated and used. Scientists, businesses and whole societies were facing challenges to understand the implications of such a major change. They were also realizing that they were at their most powerful when data and information were open. The scientific community worldwide had been seizing new discoveries, he continued, recognizing the need for equitable advancements worldwide. The paper world was the past, and digital opportunities could only be fully grasped if fully embraced. Although science was an international enterprise, it was usually done within the framework of national silos. Funding remained a challenge, he added, stressing the need for national entities to provide the requisite resources for education and research. It was important to address how rapid automation would affect workforces worldwide. Major efforts were needed in capacity-building, particularly in Africa and Latin America. He asked: What can the United Nations do? “Something is happening. It’s happening quickly and it’s going to affect all our lives.”
Ms. DIYAMETT underscored several issues that needed to be addressed in poorer countries to facilitate development of science, technology and innovation. She emphasized the need to train scientists, provide quality science, technology, engineering and math education and address the gender gap. Markets alone could not allocate resources to innovation, and to that end, policy guidance was instrumental. Most policies, in the context of Africa, were not informed by evidence due to a lack of expertise in science, technology and innovation. There was a problem of governing, coordinating and evaluating, she continued. For poorer countries, innovation was dependent on various factors, including technology transfer. Policymakers must be trained in the basic understanding of how science, technology and innovation related to poverty. The private sector must also be guided in how to look into innovation. She also noted that trade had significantly changed in recent years, due to rapid automation, which had significantly lowered the cost of goods and services from developing countries.
Mr. QUERRY noted how geospatial technology could help facilitate implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Geospatial technology was simply “getting a computer to act like a map”, the benefits of which included better understanding of challenges and opportunities on the ground. Officials and scientists could develop a common language and break down silos. The United Nations, at the international level, must focus on providing funding and technical assistance. As an educator, researcher and practitioner, he said it was quite clear to him that all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals were interrelated and must be approached as such. “Without location, you lose a great opportunity to solve problems in a very meaningful way,” he added. Underscoring the need for better collaboration and citizen engagement, he underscored the important role of communities in decision-making. He also recommended technical and financial assistance to develop systems that were able to share data. Data-sharing policies and practices were the responsibility of the Governments. It was also important to promote citizen engagement and give everyone an opportunity to have a voice.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of China emphasized the vital role of partnerships, including with young scientists and with setting up a network of practitioners. In addition, China had worked with United Nations entities in order to enhance capacity-building in Member States. The representative of Bangladesh said that most policymakers believed that science, technology and innovation was not their responsibility. Also weighing in, a representative from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said developing countries must adopt a proactive role in building national capacities.
Focusing on “Emerging frontiers: evolving science, technology and innovation developments with implications for the Sustainable Development Goals”, the fourth panel was moderated by Miguel Ruíz Cabañas, Under-Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Mexico. The speakers included: Xiaolan Fu, Professor of Technology and International Development, University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Ellen Jorgensen, Founder of GenSpace, United States; and Jose Ramon Lopez-Portillo, Chairman of Board, Zenith Energy, and Co-Founder, Centre for Mexican Studies, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
Mr. RUÍZ CABAÑAS said the main purpose of the session would be to look at opportunities and challenges related to emerging science, technology and innovation issues, particularly disruptive technologies, and their current and future impact on sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda. During the discussion, panellists would focus on exponential technical changes and how those changes could impact development now and in the future.
Ms. FU highlighted that the world had seen numerous technological breakthroughs in recent times in a number of disciplines, including robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and many other areas. The impact on the Sustainable Development Goals was mixed; there were opportunities but also challenges that must be addressed. There had been efficiency gains and improvements in working conditions, but at the same time, labour replacement had taken place and income inequality exacerbated. Job replacement was not only taking place in blue collar environments, but also in skilled environments, which created difficulties in re-employing some workers, as well as political instability and social unsustainability. Policies should be put in place to assist developing countries in terms of technology transfer and scientific training.
Ms. JORGENSEN said that emerging biotechnologies would have a profound impact on the Sustainable Development Goals in a multitude of areas, including through improvements in DNA sequencing technologies, precise editing of DNA, tissue engineering, improved imaging systems for living organisms, and many others. The most significant sustainable development impacts of biotechnology included new products and innovation opportunities that may lead to economic growth versus disproportionate distribution leading to inequalities. There were also important questions that remained regarding ecosystem stewardship versus destruction. Efforts should focus on the youth by funding science education and supporting the development of international methods and standards for risk evaluation as well as open science.
Mr. LOPEZ-PORTILLO warned that humanity was at a turning point, and that it was difficult for institutions and societies to adapt effectively and in a timely manner to the dramatic technological changes that were taking place. The rise of artificial intelligence had changed the playing field, while the challenges created by the emergence of new technologies must be urgently addressed. The consequences of not doing so could be more severe and devastating than predictions of climate change. There was undeniable evidence that scientific change could unleash the full potential of societies as they sought to find solutions to some of the most pressing challenges they faced. Some argued that the exponential growth of technology was about to end, while the expectation of what that growth could accomplish remained high. There was an unavoidable ignorance of how much transformative technologies could disrupt social and economic arrangements, which resulted in fear and discontent.
In the ensuing discussion and in response to a question from a representative of a stakeholder group, Ms. FU noted that there had been a shift whereby more production was taking place on the local level using local resources, but through automatic processes, rather than through the use of skilled local labour. The representative of the International Labour Organization said that while technological advancements were inevitable, progress was a choice. The representative of Zambia said that companies were more interested in taking resources out of countries, rather than supporting skills development, while the representative of the International Organization of La Francophonie stressed the need for greater emphasis on corporate responsibility.
The Forum held a final panel discussion on “Supporting the implementation of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism”, moderated by Heide Hackmann, Executive Director, International Council for Science, and Co-Chair, Technology Facilitation Mechanism 10-Member Group. The panel included the following speakers: Shantanu Mukherjee, Chief, Policy Analysis Branch, Division for Sustainable Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Klaus Tilmes, Director of Trade and Competitiveness, World Bank; Nina Harjula, Co-Founder and board member of the Global Cleantech Cluster Association, and Chairman of the Board, Nordic Innovation Accelerator, Finland; and Kurt Vandenberghe, Director, Climate Action and Resource Efficiency, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, European Commission.
Ms. HACKMANN provided an overview of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, underscoring the need for longer-term investment. Collaboration must remain flexible and take into account the diverse efforts of various agencies working on the Mechanism, she stressed.
Mr. MUKHERJEE said it was useful to look back at the commitments of Member States to the 2030 Agenda and to identify best practices and lessons learned from developing and developed countries. It was important to ask why users now expected online mechanisms to be more productive and useful than analog mechanisms. The online mechanism was “spectacularly effective” in certain instances. To that end, platforms must be designed carefully and content must be up to date, as it was likely to become obsolete rather quickly. Any online market place must adapt rapidly. He also emphasized the need for long-term commitment and engagement with multifaceted partners.
Mr. TILMES said that there were multiple actors and stakeholders contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Outlining the work of the World Bank, he said technology and innovation-focused programmes were funding entrepreneurship start-ups in developing countries, particularly in Africa. He raised the question of whether resources were being deployed in the most appropriate and effective manner at the international level and whether the United Nations system was set up for purpose particularly in such a fast-changing world. Looking back to the experience of the Millennium Development Goals, he noted the time it had taken for campaigns to truly make an impact. It was important to consider the best division of labour and how to mobilize the private sector.
Ms. HARJULA, representing the grassroots sector, said her work involved supporting organizations focused on technology and innovation. She made the connection between resilient regional economies, sustainable growth, secure jobs and human well-being — all of which were largely enabled by the large-scale deployment of low-carbon technologies. Access to capital, markets and insights was critical, she continued, highlighting her work with more than 10,000 companies in some 30 countries. The goal was to get people together, she said, adding that discussions were very important in advancing the 2030 Agenda. “We want to bring out the hidden champions” and facilitate their meetings with people who could help them. Highlighting her work with connecting those stakeholders digitally, she noted that sometimes it was impossible for start-ups and innovators to travel to connect.
Mr. VANDENBERGHE focused his presentation on what public institutions could do to enable actors to work together to realize the transformative potential of science, technology and innovation. Cross-border cooperation was instrumental, he added. He pointed to the European Union’s programme in innovation, which focused on collaboration and cross-border and cross-disciplinary programmes, and urged researchers around the world to work with the European Union in the area of research. Outlining various European Union programmes, including on food and nutrition, he stressed the need for and the power of international cross-border cooperation. Effective, impactful and sustainable solutions must be co-created with those who stood to benefit from them. Solutions must come from a systemic, integrated approach coupled with private sector and social innovation.