Why global cooperation on science, technology and innovation is more crucial than ever

13 December 2021

Unlocking the potential of Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, in a post-pandemic world requires stronger global collaboration to ensure all countries have access to the technology and skills necessary.

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Science, technology and innovation (STI) can be a driving force for economic diversification and inclusive urban development as countries strive to rebuild their economies from the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was the main message from the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) at a meeting it held between 17 and 19 November on the road to its annual Spring session.

The CSTD, to which UNCTAD provides substantive support, offers member states a multilateral platform to strengthen the science-policy interface locally and globally and better coordinate STI-focused international cooperation.

The meeting brought together some 250 representatives from governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society. The outcomes of the meeting will be considered by the 25th session of the CSTD, set to convene from 28 March to 1 April 2022.

Industry 4.0 for inclusive development

Industry 4.0 comprises artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things and other new technologies designed to sense, predict and interact with the physical world and support production in real-time, thereby transforming the way things are produced.

The transformation can potentially be so impactful that it’s called Industry 4.0 to represent the fourth industrial revolution taking place in manufacturing.

“Industry 4.0 in manufacturing is expected to result in higher levels of productivity accompanied by a decrease in its environmental impact,” said Isabelle Durant, UNCTAD’s deputy secretary-general.

But Ms. Durant also cautioned that “too many firms in developing countries are still too far from using these new technologies in their production processes.”

Echoing this concern, participants at the meeting urged stronger international collaboration to facilitate knowledge sharing and better understand each territory’s needs.

They also called for ramping up technology transfer to poorer countries to ensure that the developing world is not left further behind in technological advancement.

The Philippines’ efforts towards Industry 4.0

At the meeting, the Philippines shared its experience in speeding up the deployment of Industry 4.0.

The southeast Asian nation has been working to help businesses build innovation capacities and promote technological upgrading.

A series of programmes are underway in the country, allowing easy storage and sharing of environmental and geospatial data for public use, to address the lack of sufficient information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure.

The Philippines has established 38 regional research and development centres, with funding for joint research projects between universities and the private sector.

It also heavily invested in upskilling its workforce on data sciences, data analytics and smart governance practices.

“We are glad to note that the Philippines is one of the overperforming countries according to the frontier technologies readiness index in UNCTAD's Technology and Innovation Report 2021,” said Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, undersecretary for research and development from the country’s department of science and technology.

STI for sustainable human settlements

In Thailand, STI helps the country capitalize on its rich biodiversity and cultural diversity to more equitably distribute the benefits of economic growth.

For example, the country has adopted a bio-circular-green economy model, integrating bioeconomy with the circular and green economies.

It has also enhanced transport infrastructure linking major cities to peripheral provinces to boost employment and facilitate healthy urban-rural migration.

“Science, technology and innovation have a strong potential to expedite the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 11 in making cities and human settlements more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” said Kanchana Wanichkorn, vice president of Thailand’s office of national higher education, science, research and innovation policy council.

STI solutions to urban challenges post COVID-19

The meeting called on governments to prioritize STI solutions focused on improving urban resilience and ensuring value for money to help cities worldwide cope with the many sustainability challenges they face due to rapid urbanization.

Besides, participants pointed to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has further exposed and worsened the vulnerabilities of urban areas, such as poverty and inequalities.

To mitigate the impact of the pandemic, many cities have turned to STI solutions to drive sustainable urban development, especially in health care and education.

“The topics of Industry 4.0 and sustainable urban development intersect in important ways with these various challenges,” said Shamika Sirimanne, who heads the CSTD secretariat and UNCTAD’s technology and logistics division.

“More than ever, the world needs faster deployment of STI solutions to help meet multiple global and national challenges,” Ms. Sirimanne concluded.