Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals
Seven years after agreeing on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world is not on track to achieve them, and overlapping crises (including COVID-19, geopolitical conflict, and climate change) threaten the progress made (Mueller, 2022). Applying science, technology, and innovation (STI) across the SDGs may represent a way to recalibrate and move ahead. Advances in digital technologies, renewable energy, and other technologies continue to offer opportunities to achieve the SDGs. In recognition of this potential, the United Nations (UN) has convened a Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (STI Forum) for the past seven years. The committee held a side event workshop at the most recent gathering in May 2022.1
Several challenges to applying STI have surfaced and, in some cases, have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and political and social unrest. One such challenge is the digital divide, in which access to technology is uneven and inequitable across and within countries (NASEM, 2022b). As the interconnected world relies more heavily on digital technologies, countries and people without this access to them may fall further behind (Tilmes, 2022).
In addition, the scope and reach of social media, artificial intelligence algorithms, and government and private control of media have implications for personal privacy and freedoms. Full realization of the benefits of technology and mitigation of its detriments require appropriate governance, infrastructure,
1 For the seventh annual STI Forum, see https://sdgs.un.org/tfm/STIForum2022.
resources, and capabilities, as well as the capacity of individuals, communities, and companies to absorb and apply them. STI are major pillars for accelerating progress toward the SDGs. Research, development, deployment, and widespread diffusion of environmentally sound technologies are essential to advancing sustainable development (UN, 2022b).
CASE STUDIES AND SYNERGIES
The African continent provides examples of the potential for digital technologies (Adam, 2022). Three promising areas of development relate to the SDGs:
- Digital strategies can allow countries to leverage leapfrogging opportunities and achieve a faster rate of development than they would otherwise. Several start-ups are using blockchain technology to facilitate transportation, traceability, and input linkages. For example, the Ghanian start-up company Bitsika provides a secure, inexpensive way to send and receive money between African countries. Mobile phones enable business transactions, communication, payments, and lending. Much business in Africa is conducted in the informal sector, especially among women, but 80 percent of the population has a mobile phone, which can serve as a building block for economic inclusion.
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing and production within Africa ramped up quickly to source personal protective equipment and devices needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. A digital platform allowed countries to post their requirements and companies to bid to fulfill those requirements. This platform boosted local production and financing, was upscaled quickly, and could be adapted to other sectors.
- Carbon-neutral energy production has significant potential, with 600 million Africans without access to electricity and with many countries holding critical resources. For example, 70 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt, which is critical for renewable energy and electric vehicles, is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Adam, studies show that investing in local (African) manufacturing can lead to battery precursors that are 30 percent less expensive than those manufactured in the United States and China. The core goal is to increase the opportunity for investment as part of a revolution of production.
An important focus on STI for the UN 2030 Agenda is the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM). The TFM has four components: (1) an annual STI Forum as described above; (2) the 10-Member Group (Group of High-level Representatives of Scientific Community, Private Sector and Civil Society) appointed by the UN Secretary-General for two-year terms; (3) the IATT (UN Interagency Task Team on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs)
with one representative from each of more than 40 international agencies; and (4) 2030 Connect (an online platform for existing STI initiatives, mechanisms, and programs) (UN, 2022d). STI for SDGs roadmaps, led by the IATT and other groups, offer a promising approach to planning for how STI can accelerate a country’s effort toward the SDGs (Box 7-1).
STI partnerships across sectors and disciplines offer hope for resurgent multilateralism and innovative approaches to advance the SDGs (Truman Center, 2022). This includes strategic collaboration among the science community, such as the National Academies’ Nobel Prize Summit (NASEM, 2021a), and through initiatives such as the International Science Council’s “Sustainability Science Missions” (ISC, 2021) and their synthesis of research gaps; the six transformations in The World in 2050 Report (Box 7-2); and the New European Bauhaus initiative, an interdisciplinary initiative that connects the European Green Deal to our living spaces and experiences (EU, 2022). The European Union has also promoted “innovation cohesion,” a new approach to support industrial research and development (R&D) to better connect research and innovation stakeholders in Europe (Zubașcu, 2021). Further, emerging scientific fields (White House, 2022) offer the benefits of multi-scalar analysis using interoperable data sources.
Partnerships are emerging between city networks and the STI community to serve as intermediary knowledge brokers and catalytic technical advisors to support innovation from the local to global scale. Examples includes the climate action network of megacities known as C40, and other networks in which local governments work collectively to advocate and implement shared initiatives across borders.
A significant amount of progress has been made on sustainable design and operation of technologies for buildings, transportation vehicles, transportation infrastructure, energy production, and metal working through science, technology, engineering, and innovation. As described in Chapter 6, Carbon Clean is delivering cost-effective carbon capture technology to achieve net zero through industrial decarbonization. For example, its CycloneCC™ technology enables scalable cost-effective carbon capture for the industrial sector by reducing equipment size and CapEx and OpEX up to 50 percent (Bumb, 2022). In more than 44 facilities and references across the globe, Carbon Clean has captured more than 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide since 2009 through strong global partnerships.
The number of publications highlights the critical role of engineering in empowering sustainable development and achieving many of the 17 SDGs, such as addressing poverty, supplying clean water and energy, responding to natural disasters, and constructing resilient infrastructure (UNESCO, 2021). The role of engineering is essential for developing livable, sustainable, and resilient cities that incorporate energy efficiency into buildings, efficient transportation systems, and effective infrastructure and water resource management.
STI is a way to engage youth in development issues, and could provide an opportunity to enhance training and capabilities of a technology-savvy workforce in both formal and informal settings. In an ever-evolving science and technology landscape, this approach will be needed to enable transformations in a variety of fields: from food systems, to decarbonization, to data transparency and validation, among other topics addressed by the committee. Looking ahead, certain enabling emerging technologies such as quantum sensors may help overcome existing barriers of classic light-sensing technologies (Casacio et al., 2021). The nondestructive nature of this technology could enable long-term interrogation of environmental systems under dynamic conditions over an extended period of time. Other applications in biomedicine, energy, material science, engineering, environmental monitoring, and sustainability are possible and deserve additional investigation.
KEY RESEARCH PRIORITIES FOR STI FOR THE SDGS
The committee proposes the following key priorities for research to operationalize sustainable development in the area of STI cooperation:
- Examine the current status of achieving the SDGs in the United States and what resources and actions are needed to advance the SDGs in the context of the economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and geopolitical conflicts, building on the SDGs Report by UN Development Programme (2022c) and the Brookings and UN Foundation’s report on The State of the Sustainable Development Goals in the United States (Pipa et al., 2022).
- Measure success of STI partnerships, such as the STI for SDGs roadmaps as described above. Simply counting the number of participants or partnerships does not equate to progress or stronger multilateralism.
- Explore what voice should cities, city networks, and their partners have in the multilateral system and how they can impact future international commitments.
POSSIBLE ACTIONABLE STEPS FOR STI FOR THE SDGS
Evidence demonstrates that partnerships across sectors and disciplines, including in STI, offer hope for resurgent multilateralism and innovative approaches to advance the SDGs. The committee identifies the following possible actionable steps to operationalize sustainable development in the areas of STI for the SDGs:
- Governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and scientific communities could discuss a new vision for a sustainable and resilient future beyond the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, because the world is not on track to achieve the original 2015 targets by 2030.
- Governments, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations could look to all sectors (not just national governments) for partnerships that consider ways to have a greater voice in shaping our multilateral system and future shared commitments.
- Governments, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations could become involved in the efforts at the UN to assist volunteer countries in developing their STI for SDGs roadmaps and to facilitate knowledge exchange and transfer at the local level.
- The UN could maintain the continuity of experience for its various scientific groups, such as the 10-Member Group and Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) group, which might play an important role in the post-2030 processes. Both groups recently appointed new members after two-year terms, which might impact continuity.
- Leaders and practitioners who have participated in the 10-Member Group, GSDR, and other UN SDGs efforts could share knowledge and experiences with current members or scientific groups to ensure the continuity of knowledge and engage with young people.
- The private sector could lead the advancement of STI in sustainable design and operation toward scalable achievement of the SDGs and influence the sustainability profile of multiple economic sectors.
- Companies could enhance public-private partnerships to support disaster recovery through STI.
- Philanthropic organizations could highlight and support examples of effective solutions to SDG challenges and sustainability challenges at the local, national, and global levels.
This page intentionally left blank.