International collaboration in science, technology and innovation are pegged to drive sustainable development, but policy needs to ensure this is so.
Science, technology and innovation (STI) policies will play a key role not only in post-COVID-19 recovery plans, but also in the decade of action to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Shaping these future policies is a key focus of the UN’s Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) virtual meeting from 10 to 12 June.
The online meeting is a condensed edition of the annual session of the CSTD, which acts as the UN’s focal point for the analysis of science, technology and innovation for sustainable development.
Ministerial and high-level discussions will take place during the three days, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“Science, technology and innovation provide a shining light to help us navigate and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, head of the CSTD Secretariat.
“We’ll use this meeting to discuss how we can foster international collaboration in science and technology, not only to tackle and recover from the virus, but also to address other pressing sustainable development concerns, which range from climate change to inequality,” she added.
Ms. Sirimanne said STI-related activities should be incorporated in recovery packages. Not only can this spur economic activity, but it can also enhance the resilience of countries to cope with future crises.
Technological change for sustainable development
The CSTD has consistently emphasized that technological change is essential to achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic provides daily examples of how harnessing frontier technologies can make the difference between life and death.
However, despite the well-documented advantages that frontier technologies offer in solving a vast range of problems, for many people around the world, their benefits remain a distant prospect.
Scaling technologies so that everyone, including the most vulnerable in our global community, can benefit from affordable and unrestricted access, requires a coordinated approach to initiating global cooperation for scientific advancement and resource mobilization.
International collaboration in STI is urgently needed in three areas: research cooperation, capacity building and official development assistance (ODA), to ensure that emerging technologies are developed with inclusiveness and sustainability in mind.
STI-related ODA to developing countries has stagnated over the last decade. In 2010, it was $4.7 billion, compared with $4.8 billion in 2017. Less than 4% of the ODA commitments to developing countries were reported under sectors associated with STI in 2017.
The levels of ODA dedicated to these sectors must increase for developing countries and particularly least developed countries to build the STI capacities for achieving the SDGs.
Space technologies: Long-range policies needed
The meeting will also tackle the topical issue of space technologies and the question of international collaboration to address STI capacity constraints.
Emerging space programmes in many developing countries require long-term policy thinking to deliver their full potential development impact.
For example, the tide of raw data that flows from satellites requires filtration, refinement and modelling to translate it into usable information.
Forecasting models require huge computing capacities and appropriate skills in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Highlights of the virtual CSTD
The CSTD opens with a high-level session discussing the importance of harnessing science, technology, and innovation to accelerate progress on the SDGs and address COVID-19.
The session will examine, international collaboration to use STI to tackle the pandemic and address its impact on global efforts towards the achievement of the SDGs.
On the second day, the Commission will address its two priority themes:
Harnessing rapid technological change for inclusive and sustainable development.
Exploring space technologies for sustainable development and the benefits of international research collaboration in this context.
On the third day, participants will review the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
Discussants on the priority themes of the Commission will include Feng Zhang, a co-pioneer of the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool; Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Simonetta Di Pippo, head of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA); and Nicolas Peter, head of international cooperation at the German Aerospace Center.