unctad.org | Commission on Science and Technology for Development, twenty-third session
Statement by Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Commission on Science and Technology for Development, twenty-third session
[virtual meeting]
10 Jun 2020

I bid you welcome to this virtual session of the CSTD. Thanks to the virtues of technology, we are fortunately still able to convene the CSTD this year, despite the global health emergency. Indeed, the challenges posed by Covid-19 can only be surmounted by applying STI solutions. Technology and innovation enabled many of us to live, work and study virtually during the lockdown period. And our hopes for a remedy to the virus rest on the trajectory of STI advancement, be it a vaccine or other therapies.

Yet despite the advantages that technology offers, many people around world still cannot enjoy its benefits. Scaling technologies so that everyone, including the most vulnerable, can benefit requires a coordinated, multilateral approach. Let me suggest two points of action for improving global cooperation for scientific advancement drawn from our recent experiences with the current global health emergency.

First, we need to ensure that the international STI cooperation and solidarity we have witnessed in response to the pandemic remains beyond this period and is formalized in ways that ensure longevity. This coronavirus pandemic has illustrated that there is strength in numbers. We learn more, and faster, together. There is also a valuable development dimension to sharing knowledge and research. International scientific collaboration is particularly important considering the gaps in research capabilities within developing countries, and the limited ability of many countries to undertake technological horizon scanning, foresight, and risk assessment. We saw during the Ebola outbreak in 2014-15, that strengthening research capacity in developing countries is vital for preventing, responding to, and ending an epidemic.

Secondly, funding and resource mobilization for STI should not become a victim of budget cuts in the looming economic downturn. STI-related activities should be incorporated in all recovery packages. Not only can this spur economic activity, but it can also ensure the resilience of countries to cope with future crises. Already, some regional organizations have set targets for R&D expenditure as % of GDP, such as the European Union’s 3% and the African Union’s 1%. Commitments such as these signal the continuity and predictability of government R&D support.

But beyond reflecting on the STI dimensions of the Covid-19 pandemic, this CSTD session is an opportunity to look at two critical frontier technology issues facing developing countries in our unequal world. The priority themes for this Commission’s twenty third session on space technologies and on rapid technological change share a commonality – frontier technologies can drive progress only if they reach the people who need them most, and if people have the capacity to make productive use of them.

Long-term benefits from emerging space programmes can only be realized if developing countries can address their constraints in processing raw data accumulated by satellites. For example, the process of filtration, refinement and modelling for translating data into usable information in forecasting models require huge computing capacities and appropriate skills in machine learning and AI.

And the challenge of rapid technological changes in automation and digitalization are reshaping the economic landscape, but also leading to deeper inequalities and market concentration. For example, the digital economy has put US & China at the leading edge of technological change, shattering the North-South divide, but limiting other countries potential for creating value as digital producers.

With the clock counting down for the decade of action to achieve the SDGs, the CSTD’s role as the UN’s focal point for the analysis of science, technology and innovation for sustainable development becomes ever more valuable. As the UN’s torchbearer for discussions on STI for development, I have every confidence the CSTD can play a leading role in multilateral efforts to facilitate cooperation and coordinated policy responses in STI for the SDGs for the next decade and beyond.


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