unctad.org | 2010 World Expo Forum on Science, Technology, Innovation and Urban Future
Statement by Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
2010 World Expo Forum on Science, Technology, Innovation and Urban Future
Shanghai Expo Park, Wuxi
19 Jun 2010


Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my pleasure to be here today. Let me first of all thank the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, the Executive Committee of the Expo and the Municipal Government of Wuxi, for the outstanding work in organizing this forum, of which UNCTAD is honoured to be a co-organizer. And let me also express my thanks to Shanghai World Expo Coordination Bureau.

One of the greatest challenges facing many developing countries today is the rapid growth of their cities, which is outstripping the rate of industrialisation. This has created a job shortage and pushed surplus labour into the informal sector, where it is employed in low skilled work with little or no technological content. Historically, industrialisation, which has accompanied urbanisation, is one of the sources and drivers of technological innovation and scientific discovery, yet the increasing informalisation of employment in many poor countries will have a negative impact on innovation, and thereby economic growth.

Innovation is dependent not only on industrialisation and greater investment but on networks and the potential influences and synergies from various sources, including the arts, science, industry and even the military. Historically, cities were always the places where these influences coalesced and produced economic and social benefits, which sustained the expansion of urban life and promoted national economic growth. The importance of networks and synergies that can be found in cities are instrumental for the success of commercialising ideas and for the economic benefits of innovations to be spread beyond individual firms, sectors or places.

It has been widely observed, that building strong science, technology and innovation capabilities, particularly in an urban context, is a precondition for economic development and growth. The most relevant uses of STI in developing countries include diversifying out of low-tech and low added-value sectors and boosting their competitiveness in higher added-value sectors. -- creating valuable employment and growth multipliers that can lift millions out of poverty.

Equally, science and technology-based innovations will also be crucial to improving social welfare and providing practical, equitable responses to pressing global challenges through improved food and energy security, increased energy efficiency and climate change mitigation. In an urban context, the future of our cities, one that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, will most certainly depend on our ability to capture and harness the benefits of science and technological innovation.

Science, technology and innovation, therefore, are key to the survival and prosperity of cities, and sustainable urban growth is instrumental to the success of scientific and technological innovation.

However, the very opportunities on which a city prides itself may also constitute one of its greatest challenges. The mega-city phenomenon that characterizes much urban development in the developing world not only exerts tremendous stress on the environment but also incurs significant costs, both for individuals and for society as a whole, in terms of pollution, overcrowding and traffic congestion which can all have a quantifiable negative impact on the economy. Policies and investment in science, technology and innovation can help provide the urban employment needed to sustain cities, and at the same time offer solutions to the challenges of higher population density and urban services.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Climate change, water shortages and the need for cleaner and renewable energy sources are at the same time factors contributing to the growth of cities and which will require a new approach to urban development. Cities of the future will need to be increasingly self-reliant. In global cities, the most effective and efficient way of providing energy has traditionally been through larger centralized production facilities and extensive distribution systems. However, renewable energy-driven, low-carbon cities may employ a decentralized energy production model, whereby energy is produced closer to where it is consumed, and indeed often directly by those who consume it.

Experience has shown that cities can best tackle environmental issues through a strong planning system that ensures cooperation and communication at the local, municipal and national levels. The challenge is to combine new technology, city design and community-based innovation, for example in creating the infrastructure needed to support solar and wind power on a scale sufficient to power a city.

Such green initiatives have already begun to emerge around the world. In Europe, 30 cities have been selected as pioneers to deploy high-tech energy systems, with half of the power grid able to handle renewable energy using "smart" systems. Such high-tech solutions to climate and energy challenges are aimed at giving European businesses a head start as the world switches to low-carbon energy. These "smart cities" will be the nuclei from which smart networks, a new generation of buildings, and alternative transport means will develop. Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates is another important first example of a city built from scratch with 100% renewable energy and zero car use.

At UNCTAD, we have always advocated the need for developing countries to build indigenous capabilities in science, technology and innovation. This will require technology transfer, international cooperation and a solid scientific and technological base so that technologies can be developed and adapted to local conditions.

Developing countries will need assistance to access and put into place some of the newest technologies related to green initiatives, such as climate change mitigation. It is a concern that the majority of Intellectual Property Rights related to green technologies are held by a small number of interests in developed countries. This will not only deny developing countries the chance to learn about the latest science and technology, but it may also exclude them from new income and job generating sectors of the economy.

On the other hand some countries have been able to benefit already from some of the opportunities that come with innovation in these new sectors. China, Brazil and India, for example, are already major exporters of wind, solar and bio-fuel technologies.

These successes did not for the most part emerge spontaneously, but were the consequence of government policies to nurture and encourage the new and, by definition, risky innovations. UNCTAD has long argued that developing countries must retain the ´policy space´ needed to encourage and promote such activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The choice of Wuxi as host city for this Thematic Forum on STI is appropriate. Wuxi is a city that has made itself home to one of the world´s largest solar companies and leading solar innovator, Suntech. Suntech is an excellent example of how strong institutional support from local governments and a conducive business operating environment can facilitate the research, manufacturing and commercialisation of technological innovations. I believe many countries can benefit from the Suntech example.

The urban eco-efficiency agenda is crucial to ensuring a green and sustained global urban future. Much work needs to be undertaken in sustainable urban development by global and local communities of planners, politicians, environmentalists, the private sector and civil society - especially in the developing world. A virtuous circle can thereby be created through green industrialisation - the growth of industries providing green goods and services, as well as employment which can sustain urban expansion. The size of cities in fact therefore offers an opportunity for innovation, which UNCTAD views as an essential driver of growth and development.

I wish you a very productive meeting and I thank you for your attention.


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