About the CSTD

What is it?

The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) is the United Nations’ home for discussions on science and technology – what is new, what matters, what is changing, what the impact is – and how this affects development and a sustainable future for all.

It is the forum that helps ask and frame the critical issues influencing the fields of science and technology today.

Some of the important normative issues raised include the technology and life interface, as well as governance of the use and development of frontier technologies – namely, big data analytics, biotech and genome editing, the Internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence.

The CSTD is also an open platform where proposals, ideas, experiences, cases, and intellectual thought can be channeled toward making a policy impact. It facilitates concrete collaborations between member states, NGOs and actors in the science, technology and development space.

Why was it established?

The distant origins of the CSTD are at the UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development held in Vienna in 1979, where an Intergovernmental Committee on Science and Technology for Development was created.

In 1992 the General Assembly decided to transform the Committee into a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and set up the CSTD.

The CSTD was created to provide the UN with high-level advice through analysis and policy recommendations to:

  • Guide the future work of the United Nations

  • Develop common policies

  • Agree on appropriate actions

It provides a forum where countries can raise critical challenges and explore opportunities presented by rapid technological development – to ensure developing countries and people do not get left behind.

The world has changed radically since 1992. Even then, the seeds of scientific and technological discovery sown throughout the twentieth century were demonstrating exponential growth. Now it is unparalleled.

Today the CSTD matters more than ever, as the opportunities and obstacles at the juncture of science, technology and innovation and the need for sustainable development become more complex, global and far-reaching.

What does it do?

The CSTD provides the annual intergovernmental platform and forum for discussion of timely and pertinent issues affecting science, technology and development.

It has a long-established process for facilitating dialogue that can lead to policy change.

Why does it matter?

The transfer of knowledge, skills and solutions in the science and technology fields can have a profound and lasting impact on the development trajectories of nations and peoples.

The world cannot develop or advance – nor can we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – without modern technology and new solutions to old problems.

The CSTD provides a space for the crucial discussions of how we do this practically, ethically, timeously and to the benefit of all.

It also helps map out the challenges -- some long-standing and many new -- so that we can keep pace with the rapid advances that alter the landscape of science and technology fields.

The CSTD offers a space for collaborations between member States, academia, civil society and the business community engaged in science and technology for development.

The CSTD also serves to map new ways that developing countries contribute to science, technology and innovation. In some cases, innovation is also redefined by those in developing countries while trying to reach the targets set under the Sustainable Development Goals.

How does it fit into the UN ecosystem?

The CSTD is a subsidiary body of ECOSOC. The Commission met for the first time in April 1993 in New York, USA. Since July 1993, UNCTAD has been hosting the secretariat of the Commission which meets annually in Geneva, Switzerland.

Who are the major stakeholders?

The members of the CSTD are national Governments, but discussions also involve civil society representatives. Strong links exist with other UN bodies (i.e. Commission on the Status of Women, ITU, Regional Commissions, UNESCO).

So what?

Today, more than ever before, people risk being left behind as technology and innovation outpaces both their and Government’s ability to keep up.

There is a great risk of the digital divide widening further and with it the ability of developing countries to harness science, technology and innovation for their own development.

Time is running out – mainly because of the extreme pace at which innovation is happening.

The goal is to help developing countries – and all people who lack access and opportunity – to benefit from and use science, technology and innovation to address their own development challenges – and innovate within these.