UN makes a solid case for the benefits of multilateral collaboration, openness, and the transformative potential of technology

09 May 2017

"Scientific and technological progress is an essential means to eradicate poverty and create a better world for all. We should not see it as an existential threat," said Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi Secretary-General of UNCTAD about the opening of the twentieth session of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), the premier platform of the UN system that tackles science and technology questions and their implications for development.

DroneThe United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) brought together over 200 people from 60 countries, including Science and Technology Ministers, renowned scientists, and representatives from national governments, private sector, civil society, regional and international agencies, and the academia.

Dr. Kituyi explained that the international community should not ignore concerns that technology-led development creates winners and losers.

"Sceptical voices about the benefits of technology, trade and of globalization are becoming louder, almost deafeningly so. We must not give in to fearmongering, technophobia and isolationism. It is crucial that the UN continues to make a solid case for the benefits of multilateral collaboration, openness, and the transformative potential of technology," said Dr. Kituyi.

This year, the Commission will address how new innovation approaches - including pro-poor innovation, grand challenges, and novel forms of digital collaboration - can support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and how science and technology can enable the global community to end hunger by 2030. The twentieth session will also review the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Speaking at the opening session, H.E. Mr. Frederick Makamure Masiiwa Shava, Permanent Representative of Zimbabwe to the UN in New York and President of the Economic and Social Council, highlighted the important role of the CSTD in informing the international development community on how the increasing convergence, sophistication, and reach of technology can support the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Mr. Shava remarked, "As the torch-bearer for science, technology and innovation in the United Nations, the role of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development has become all the more critical and urgent as the international community sets out to achieve the 2030 Development Agenda with the principle of leaving no one behind."

The Commission highlighted the transformative power of innovation in global efforts to achieve zero hunger by 2030. Currently, 795 million people - every ninth person in the world - is undernourished, with the majority of them residing in developing countries. Feeding the undernourished and closing the 60% "food gap" for expected calorie demand in 2050 will require innovative applications of science and technology.

One example is the use of drones for soil and field analysis, sowing, crop spraying, animal health monitoring and targeted irrigation. The global market for agricultural drones is expected to reach nearly $3 billion by 2021.

Drones are just one emerging technology which could have a real impact on the world's food security. Synthetic biology (e.g., CRISPR-Cas9) can be used to cure genetic diseases in animals or develop new traits in plants, artificial intelligence and machine learning can enable precision agriculture, early warning systems can serve as climate-smart technologies for disaster risk reduction, and mobile-enabled index-based insurance schemes can provide financial services for smallholder farmers.

The discussions will focus on how to forge international collaborations to take advantage of conventional as well as newly emerging scientific and technical applications for agriculture. Policymakers are expected to suggest new and novel ways to invest in research and development and talent-building efforts to deliver breakthrough technologies for agriculture. They will also craft concrete action plans and recommendations for linking farmers with scientists, supporting women's access to agricultural science and technology, sharing agricultural data among countries, and conducting foresight on new and emerging technologies.

Achieving zero hunger is only one of the many challenges that the global community has committed to address by 2030. According to UNCTAD, it has been estimated that $3.9 trillion is the annual funding needed to achieve the SDGs. With only $1.4 trillion in combined public and private investment, the international development community still faces a $2.5 trillion gap.

Given the resource constraints faced by the global community, the Commission will also examine how new innovation approaches, including frugal and pro-poor innovation, can unlock new solutions in agriculture, financial inclusion, access to water, and many other key global challenges.

Supporting inclusive innovation not only for the poor but also by the poor may require resources for improving digital infrastructures, human capital, research and innovation, developing market and non-market linkages, and improved regulatory instruments.

This twentieth session of the UN CSTD will also hear the presentation of the Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) Reviews of Iran and Rwanda. These reviews, developed by UNCTAD in collaboration with national counterparts, are designed to assist countries in assessing and strengthening their innovation systems and crafting concrete policy actions to improve their economic competitiveness.

UNCTAD has received a strong mandate to renew and enhance its program on science, technology, and innovation by its Fourteenth Ministerial Conference, convened in Nairobi in July 2016.