5 May 2021
2021 Session

Speakers Highlight Emerging Science Trends, Role of Technology Facilitation Mechanism in Fostering Sustainable Development, as Economic and Social Council Forum Concludes

The sixth annual Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals concluded today with panel discussions focusing on emerging trends and challenges, as well as the Technology Facilitation Mechanism established by the United Nations to support implementation of the Goals.

The myriad ways through which science, technology and innovation can help the nations of the world overcome COVID-19 and build back better once the pandemic has eased were at the heart of the two-day Forum, held in a virtual format that allowed participants — including Government Ministers and senior officials — to join the proceedings via video-teleconference from across the globe.

Highlights included a presentation by Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary‑General for Economic Development and United Nations Chief Economist, of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism’s findings on the impacts of rapid technology change.  Emphasizing that the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly amplified the importance of science, technology and innovation for human well-being and even survival, he said it has also exposed weak interfaces with policy and society, and ineffective institutions, which are often victims of underfunding.

“Our pre-pandemic innovation system had operated well below its real potential, but we can supercharge it in times of crisis,” he said.  Among other things, he called for a major expansion of public spending for basic research and efforts to replicate the world’s massive COVID-19 vaccine drives for the 20 neglected tropical diseases that continue to affect 1 billion people worldwide.

Panel discussions today cast a spotlight on emerging science and technology trends, challenges and the Sustainable Development Goals; supporting national capacities through the Technology Facilitation Mechanism; and the next steps for the Mechanism and its partners for delivering in the Decade of Action for achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals.

Also today, the Forum wrapped up its ministerial session on the theme “Science, technology and innovation policies and initiatives for sustainable development — best practices and lessons learned”, with ministers, senior officials and representatives of 16 Member States delivering statements.

The Forum is held under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, whose President, Munir Akram (Pakistan), delivered closing remarks.

Ministerial Session

The representative of China, quoting President Xi Jinping as saying that clean water and green mountains are like mountains of gold and silver, said that science, technology and innovation is the starting point for sustainable development in his country.  Among other things, China has put into place action plans for air, water and soil pollution control, and accelerated the shift towards a green development model in its industrial sector.  Turning to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said that it came as a surprise, but China did its best to control its spread while also making vaccines a global public good by joining the COVAX Facility and exporting vaccines to more than 40 countries.  He added that his country, guided by the vision of openness and cooperation, stands ready to share its good experiences with others to promote low-carbon growth and to build “a beautiful and harmonious home for mankind”.

The representative of Belarus said that his country responded to the pandemic not with a hard lockdown, but with a flexible approach which minimized economic decline while also protecting public health.  The result was one of the world’s lowest COVID-19 fatality rates, he said, adding that the national health system was ready by the time the third wave struck.  Several new technologies were developed domestically, alongside studies into herd immunity, real-time polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, testing and the use of genetic sequencing to identify new variants.  Belarus is currently working on its own vaccine as it considers it important to have its own capability in that regard.

The representative of Thailand, emphasizing that innovation is the key to human survival, said that a secure vaccine supply chain is a top priority for many countries as they aim for economic recovery while also protecting their populations.  Underscoring the essential value of artificial intelligence and the need to collaborate on research and development at the international level, he said that Thailand is embracing a bio-circular-green economic model for development that will enable local communities to build resilience and thrive while also connecting with the global community.

The representative of Kenya said that science, technology and innovation are at the heart of the Kenya Vision 2030 development programme and its Digital Economy Blueprint.  Digital literacy is taught in primary schools and teachers receive training in information and communications technology.  The Government is investing heavily in centralized data systems and is keen to expand the availability of reliable, affordable and secure broadband services to help drive economic development.  He also noted his country’s efforts to build out mobile services and extend Internet bandwidth to secondary schools.

The representative of Pakistan said that solidarity must keep up with science and warned that without equitable access to vaccines, the COVID-19 pandemic will rage on.  Adapting new technologies will be imperative to build back better from the crisis, achieve the Goals and meet climate change targets.  The desserts of scientific research must be shared as widely as possible so that no one is left behind.  Priorities should include aligning intellectual property regimes with the Goals through the development of a database of open-source technology that is available to all.

The representative of El Salvador said that, to meet the goal of quality education, his country is aiming to ensure that no child lacks access to computers.  Working across Government ministries, it has come up with programmes that allow pupils to safely go back to classes.  Pointing to the pandemic’s impact on emotional health, he said that the Government has sought to ensure psychological assistance to all those who need it.

The representative of Brazil said that the Goals will certainly help nations resolve or minimize the effects of the pandemic.  Countries must work together to overcome COVID-19 and prepare for future crises.  Brazil is working to develop vaccines and medicines that can be shared with other countries in South America and the rest of the world.  New technologies are being developed to provide clean water and sanitation, to create “smart cities” and advance climate action in the Amazon and elsewhere.

The representative of Paraguay said that his country is keen to share its development-focused scientific work with other countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region.  Sustainable crop production and the renovation of hydroelectric dams are among the areas in which it is working.  He underscored the role that small and medium-sized enterprises can play and noted a United Nations programme to foster Paraguayan-made products.

The representative of Japan said that, since the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in 2019, his country has been emphasizing the importance of a road map to promote science, technology and innovation for all.  Its Society 5.0 initiative embraces the Goals and aims to achieve economic growth while also tackling social challenges.  In terms of overseas development assistance, Japan is supporting, through the World Bank, an agricultural project in Kenya that was launched in April.  Other projects are under way in India, Malawi, Turkey and Viet Nam, among other countries.

The representative of Zambia said that nations must depend on each other to break the barriers that impede development.  During the pandemic, Zambia sought to create an environment for harnessing science, technology and innovation with the aim of achieving the Goals.  The informal sector, though highly marginalized, is significant for national development, he said, adding that, as Zambia positions itself for the fourth industrial revolution, it is promoting a blending of science with indigenous knowledge.

The representative of Lithuania said that science, technology and innovation are essential for addressing structural weaknesses, building resilience and putting societies and economics back on track.  The pandemic has already driven some innovation, such as distance learning, and that trend must continue alongside greater investment in speeding up economic recovery and ensure growth.  Lithuania was among two European Union member States that did not see its gross domestic product (GDP) fall in 2020, but recovery will not be possible without broad engagement from diverse groups, including the private sector, civil society and academia.

The representative of Cuba said that the pandemic tested the capacity of science to respond to crises.  Thirteen months after its first COVID-19 cases, Cuba has developed five vaccine candidates, most of which are now undergoing clinical trials.  New therapeutic and diagnostic procedures have also been developed.  She added that Cuba’s national development plan, aligned with the Goals, is being fulfilled in adverse conditions due to the United States blockade.

The representative of United Arab Emirates called science, technology and innovation the tool that sustained health‑care systems during the pandemic, propped up economies, created vaccines and enabled children to continue their education.  Going forward, the world must not ignore the power of science and how it brings people together.  For her country, the past year has demonstrated how important it is to be agile and to create opportunities through science and technology.  However, it has also widened the gap between those who have access to science and technology and those who do not.

The representative of Republic of Korea said it is time to rethink the ways in which people live, with a growing emphasis on shifting towards a low-carbon society.  By 2025, the Republic of Korea will have invested $133 billion in the Korean New Deal, including an accelerated transition to a digital economy.  He added that international cooperation has a bearing on all 17 Goals and their successful implementation.  In that regard, the Government has earmarked 11 per cent of its total overseas development assistance for programmes which support science, technology and innovation.

The representative of Chile said that her country’s Government is looking beyond the pandemic to promote an inclusive knowledge-based society.  Information and communications technology is essential for improving the quality of life for all citizens.  Among key projects being undertaken by Chile are the first fibreoptic undersea cable between South America and Asia and the extension of a fibreoptic network to all municipalities.

The representative of Argentina said that science, technology and innovation are part of more than 500 projects aimed at tackling such social vulnerabilities as childhood malnutrition and access to clean water and sanitation.  In line with the President’s pledge to honour the Paris Agreement on climate change, Argentina will launch an appeal for science and technology solutions for energy transition.  The representative also drew attention to the Blue Pampa initiative aimed at promoting the sustainable use of marine resources.  Through legislation, the Government has set a target of spending 1 per cent of GDP on science, technology and innovation by 2022.

ALLISON SCHWIER, Acting Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State of the United States, said that her country will stand with its allies and work with like-minded partners and relevant stakeholders to advance shared interests and deter common threats.  It will address the crises of today while promoting resilience and truly shared prosperity for the future.  Global challenges must be met through collective action, she said, adding that pandemics and climate change cannot be effectively addressed by one nation alone or with the United States on the sidelines.  In deploying emerging technologies, the United States will prioritize human rights and democratic values, foster cooperation, establish guardrails against misuse or malign action, and reduce uncertainty and manage the risk of competition leading to conflict, she said.

The representative of Belgium said that the global scientific response to the pandemic, especially by the open‑science movement, was amazing.  Creativity and innovation are key to putting the world back on track.  Sharing her country’s best practices, she said that the Brussels region’s adoption of “donut economics” aims to build prosperity within the planet’s environmental limits while also respecting social rights.  Universities and research facilities in Belgium are meanwhile exploring opportunities for greater cooperation in such areas as complex energy systems.

The representative of Ghana was invited to submit his remarks in writing after several unsuccessful attempts to establish a video-teleconference link with him.

Session 5

The Forum then held an interactive session on the theme “Emerging science and technology trends, challenges and the Sustainable Development Goals”.  Moderated by Mohammad Koba (Indonesia), Forum Co-Chair, it featured presentations by Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and United Nations Chief Economist; Peter Major, Chair, United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development; Wilhelmina Quaye, Director, CSIR-Science and Technology Policy Research Institute, Ghana; and Hiroshi Matsumoto, President, Rikagaku Kenkyūjo, Japan.

Mr. KOBA explained that the session would explore the latest developments in science and technology and their current and potential future impacts on sustainable development and the Goals.

Mr. HARRIS presented the updated findings of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism on the impact of rapid technology change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Noting that his presentation is only a snapshot of the full report, titled “Emerging science, frontier technologies, and the Sustainable Development Goals - Perspectives from the United Nations system and science and technology communities”, he said the Mechanism’s 2019 findings remain valid but require the addition of new elements.  Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly amplified the importance of science, technology and innovation for human well-being and even survival, he said it has also exposed weak interfaces with policy and society, and ineffective institutions, which are often victims of underfunding.

Emphasizing that COVID-19 has sped up digitalization alongside both positive and negative impacts, he said some 3 billion people remain unconnected, and are therefore excluded.  The crisis has also accelerated innovation in medicines, vaccines, biotechnology, digital technologies and artificial intelligence.  Scientific discovery and collaborations have sped up and new ways of delivering services have proliferated.  “Our pre-pandemic innovation system had operated well below its real potential, but we can supercharge it in times of crisis,” he said, warning against forgetting that such mission-oriented innovations benefitted from research and development cooperation, as well as billions of dollars in public funding.  “The returns from these must also be broadly available to the public,” he stressed, adding that, while countries’ financial stimulus packages have been enormous, they are not yet focused on longer term measures for a human-centred green, sustainable, “research and development and technology-focused recovery”.

In that vein, he went on to call for a major expansion of public spending for basic research and efforts to replicate the world’s massive COVID-19 vaccine drives for the 20 neglected tropical diseases that continue to affect 1 billion people worldwide.  Noting that a profound technoeconomic paradigm transition is already under way towards a greener global economy, he said it is creating new windows of opportunity, including for employment, and that transition must be just, fair, inclusive and well managed.  Among other key points, he added that new governance around data must be designed to re-balance human dignity with economic benefits — thereby putting fundamental human rights at risk in the new economy — and artificial intelligence should be used in safe ways that benefit of humanity, including by helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. MAJOR noted the contributions of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development in analysing the sustainable development implications of frontier technologies.  Highlighting priority themes for the 2021 session, he pointed to the critical role of such technologies in addressing health issues and expediting progress towards Goal 3.  From the use of artificial intelligence for contact tracing, telemedicine and disease monitoring to the application of genome sequencing for vaccine development, frontier technologies have been key weaponries against the virus.  Prospects and challenges of harnessing blockchain for sustainable development have also been discussed, including for ending hunger, he said, pointing to the World Food Programme (WFP) Building Blocks voucher delivery platform that reached 700,000 people in 2020, using tools to simplify transactions by removing the need to create virtual custodial accounts with financial services providers.  One hope was that cryptocurrencies could increase financial inclusion, but challenges persist, including their appeal for criminal activities.  Current ownership of these currencies is highly concentrated, with 95 per cent of Bitcoin held by only 3 per cent of all Bitcoin addresses.  Moreover, the high energy consumption of blockchain technology is a concern, as Bitcoin alone was consuming as much energy as Switzerland, according to some 2019 estimates.

Overall, frontier technologies in health, finance or other sectors have great promise to support sustainable development, but they can also generate several unplanned risks that must tempered and controlled as must as possible, he said.  For example, “infodemics” — the overabundance of inaccurate health information online — can make it difficult to access trustworthy and reliable guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the context of the progress made in the implementation and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at regional and international levels, the Commission continues to monitor recent trends in critical areas related to the digital economy.  It has also been raising the concern that the digital divide is fast becoming a development divide.  The pandemic has demonstrated this reality.  While for people with good digital access, the Internet has been a lifeline at a time of repeated lockdowns, for almost half the world’s population who lack access the socioeconomic costs of lockdowns have been far worse.

Public concern has grown about the intrusiveness and potential impact of data‑gathering, the risk of surveillance and the increasing use of algorithms to automate decisions that affect people’s lives, he said.  This concern has led to regulatory interventions, including the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.  In addition, digital technologies are setting the stage for an increasingly complex and diverse information society, sparking a need for a global, inclusive and holistic discourse about their multidimensional impacts.  All actors in the digital space must cooperate and policy direction is needed to ensure that the fruits of technological change can be reaped by many people.  To this end, grass‑roots social activism can be a positive force in steering the trajectory of technological advances towards equitable outcomes.  Calling on the international community to actively promote an inclusive global dialogue on all aspects of frontier technologies and their impact on society, he said all countries will be affected by technological change, but not all have an equal voice in ensuring changes will positively impact people’s lives.  The Commission offers a platform for this urgent dialogue.

Ms. QUAYE said that the Global Pilot Programme on the preparation of Science, Technology and Innovation for the Achievement of the Goals, also known as STI4SDGs, was launched in 2019 with Ghana among the five pilot countries.  Its main focus is to come up with actionable strategies through which science, technology and innovation can facilitate the achievement of the Goals in the participating nations, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) providing support and technical guidance to Ghana.  A road map was drawn up with a set of objectives which includes detailed strategies, programmes, projects and activities to fast-track priority Goals, alongside a budget, funding and coordinating arrangements, and a strategy to sustain stakeholder involvement and ensure inclusive governance.

Summarizing lessons learned, she said that setting priorities is critical for ensuring the efficient use of time and resources.  For Ghana, those priorities were Goals 1 through 4, as well as 6, 8 and 9.  The role of the private sector, youth and civil society is critical, she said adding that a country-specific situational analysis identifies key barriers to technology and innovation development and job creation.  Going forward, she said the road map requires smart and measurable indicators and that resource mobilization for research and capacity‑building will require proper costing of activities, projects and programmes in order to attain impactful outcomes.

Mr. MATSUMOTO emphasized that humanity much have a common vision of the kind of society it wants to achieve.  Japan aims to reduce its greenhouse‑gas emissions to near‑zero by 2050, but it cannot do so at its current level of economic activity and lifestyle, he said.  Moreover, the Fukushima disaster revealed the risks of depending on nuclear power, while fossil fuel reserves are limited and cannot be taken for granted.  He added that the human sphere must expand into outer space where huge amounts of energy from the sun can be harnessed and transmitted to Earth.  Elaborating, he said that the Space Solar Power Systems technology would make it possible to realize a more secure and convenient life without leaving anyone behind.  He went on to say that more should be done to encourage researchers in the natural sciences and humanities to work together more closely to incorporate philosophy into system innovation.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the Dominican Republic underscored the Government’s commitment to harness science and technology to generate wealth and improve the quality of life for all.  Through a decree, the President has created a digital transformation cabinet, he said, adding that the Government aims to close the digital gap through an ambitious national broadband plan.  Technology has also been key to the Dominican Republic’s highly successful national COVID-19 vaccination programme, as well as plans to digitize medical records.

The representative of the Philippines said that his country responded to the pandemic by repurposing available technologies, platforms and methodologies to develop, among other things, a PRC testing kit and a biomedical device to measure vital signs of COIVD-19 patients.  Three-dimensional printing facilities produced plastic face shields and textile laboratories came up with face masks made with water‑repellent fabrics.  Beyond the pandemic, the Government is promoting science and technology through training and livelihood programmes that empower communities, as well as businesses of all sizes.  Going forward, the Philippines wants to strengthen its capacities in pharmaceutical research and development through the establishment of a national virology institute.

A representative of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said that emerging digital technologies are key to building back better, but the pandemic has also magnified sharp divides.  Attention must be paid to such areas as connectivity, user trust and responsible innovation, ensuring that everyone benefits from science, technology innovation without exception.  In that regard, multilateral and multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential, he said.

The representative of Iran emphasized the right to development and reiterated her country’s opposition to unilateral coercive measures.

The representative of Finland, drawing attention to the 2017 Montreal Declaration for a Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence, stressed the need for rules to govern the development of artificial intelligence, or AI.  “AI can support decision makers in policymaking, but at the same time we have to recognize the fact that AI is not there to decide for us.”  It is people who operate machines, design algorithms and make decisions based on ethical values and critical thinking.  In that context, the fundamental questions should focus on who to preserve humanity and save the planet, she said.

A representative of civil society also spoke.

Session 6

The Forum then convened an interactive session on the theme “Supporting national capacities through the Technology Facilitation Mechanism”.  Moderated by Michiharu Nakamura, Senior Advisor and Former President of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, it examined how the Mechanism can support countries as they develop and roll out science, technology and innovation policy frameworks, action plans and road maps, as well as the link between those initiatives and gender.  Serving as panellists were Yuliia Bezvershenko, Director General, Directorate on Science and Innovation, Ministry of Education, Ukraine; Samia Charfi Kaddour, Director-General Scientific Research, Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Tunisia; and Cynthia Asare Bediako, Chief Director, Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ghana.

Mr. NAKAMURA, opening the discussion, said the world currently stands at a turning point in its efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, with breakthroughs in science, technology and innovation sorely needed.  Against that backdrop, the panel seeks to explore how the Technology Facilitation Mechanism can support national capacities — including through the United Nations Interagency Taskforce on Technology –—in developing related policies and frameworks.  “Our challenge is to mobilize diverse actors and resources for facilitating [science, technology and innovation] for the Sustainable Development Goals,” he stressed, noting that the Task Teams released a guidebook to support the preparation of national road maps on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development.  Six pilot countries — Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Serbia and Ukraine — have been participating in the Global Pilot Programme, which includes monitoring of women’s equal participation as a key feature.  He asked the panellists to provide their national perspectives and to describe their countries’ early experiences in developing roadmaps and action plans.

Ms. BEZVERSHENKO, outlining existing practices and early pilot experiences to advance science, technology and innovation policy in Ukraine, said the country took part in the Global Pilot Programme in order to develop its capacity in that critical arena.  Early efforts faced several challenges, including insufficient interest by the private sector, a lack of financial resources and the absence of proper legal protection for intellectual property and foreign investments.  Today, however, the Ministry of Education and Science is working to identify new long‑term scientific and innovation priorities, linked closely to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  That road map will also facilitate the modernization of Ukraine’s economy and industrial sectors amid today’s rapid technological changes, she said, spotlighting efforts to ensure effective horizontal coordination between the Government’s central executive bodies.  In that regard, she also drew attention to the importance of international collaboration and the exchange of knowledge and experience.

Ms. KADDOUR said the Government of Tunisia has long adopted strategic priorities in the areas of education, health and gender.  Describing the country’s unique position among African and Arab nations regarding women’s rights, she said 66 per cent of its university students and 56 per cent of its researchers are women.  According to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 2020 Global Innovation Index, Tunisia ranks second in the world in the number of graduates in science and engineering per capita.  It also ranks first among African and Arab countries and thirteenth in the world for its number of science and technology publications per GDP.  The country also works closely with various European, African and Arab research and innovation framework programmes, including in such critical areas as water, food security, blue economy, biodiversity and environmental protection.  Turning to Tunisia’s Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development Road Map, she said the policy is based on “smart specialization” methodology in line with the guidance published by the Interagency Task Team.

Ms. BEDIAKO, recalling that Ghana embarked on its journey to pilot the “STI4SDGs” road map preparation in 2019, said the process began with a zero‑draft action plan, which was later refined at a series of workshops and rolled out.  To implement it, a technical task team was established with representation from all relevant institutions and stakeholders, including the private sector and youth.  After conducting a situational analysis aimed at evaluating Ghana’s institutional and research capacities and human resources, they developed a comprehensive national road map.  Among other things, it includes detailed, actionable strategies for inclusive access to improved health care; highlights strategies for sustainable food production and processing through climate-resilient agriculture; details education strategies aimed at building human capital; supports the pursuit of sustainable industrialization; creates am enabling environment for strong private sector participation in sustainable development; and improves access to finance and infrastructure, especially for women-owned small and medium-sized businesses.

As the floor was opened for an interactive discussion, speakers representing Governments, academic institutions and United Nations offices and agencies agreed on the urgency of accelerating science, technology and innovation strategies for the achievement of sustainable development.  They outlined a range of views on how best to accomplish that goal.  

The representative of China, underlining the importance of global collaboration for capacity-building in the fields of science, technology and innovation, outlined some of the ways his Government has provided such support.  Among other things, it is working with regional organization, as well as the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to conduct capacity development courses, which have benefitted more than 30 developing countries to date.  In addition, its Green Technology Bank is another effective platform to support technology transfer efforts, he said.

The representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) agreed that science, technology and innovation action plans and roadmaps are critical tools to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  UNESCO is integrating the Technology Facilitation Mechanism’s strategies into its next medium-term strategy, and will continue to work with its sister agencies to ensure that more countries benefit from the Mechanism’s work, she said.

The representative of Guatemala was among the speakers who spotlighted the COVID-19 pandemic’s severe impacts, including the way it laid bare stark digital, education, health and wealth inequalities.  Guatemala is committed to building its digital inclusivity and transparency, he said, describing technology as indispensable to examine and address development challenges, as well as to tackle the many impacts of climate change.  Underscoring the importance of multisectoral partnerships and corporate responsibility, he called for more efforts to eradicate digital illiteracy and to ensure that all people can seize the new opportunities presented by the world’s online shift.

The representative of Japan said the development of high-quality human resources, stemming from human development principles, has long been a priority for his Government.  Agreeing with other speakers that COVID-19 revealed many gaps in that area, as well as many opportunities, he said Japan has been supporting dozens of African countries in the development of human resources since the 1990s.  It also works with countries across Africa and Asia to foster self-reliant research and development capacity, and to support the deeper engagement of a range of stakeholders in those countries.

A representative of the University College Dublin echoed the point that global challenges will need require a science, technology and innovation-intensive transition.  He noted that the objective of creating transboundary, open-access science, technology and innovation for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals is not yet generally embedded in science and technology “as a virtue, or as a mandate from Government”.  Against that backdrop, the Technology Facilitation Mechanism can help identify institutions with that mission across the United Nations system to work with higher education institutions, he said, pointing out that such institutions are already experienced in global operations around core science, technology and innovation activities.

A representative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) described his agency’s work support for countries that wish to better integrate science, technology and innovation into their national development policies.  Among those efforts, he highlighted a series of training webinars conducted by UNCTAD, which have engaged over 200 policymakers worldwide since the start of 2020.  However, the lack of dedicated financing for the development of science, technology and innovation road maps remains a major obstacle, he said.

Session 7

The Forum then held a session on the theme “Delivering in Decade of Action for achievement of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals:  Next steps for the Technical Facilitation Mechanism and its partners.”

Moderated by José Ramón López-Portillo Romano, Chair of Q Element Limited and a member of the 10-Member Group to support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, the panel featured guest speakers:  Princess Sumaya bint el Hassan, President, Royal Scientific Society, Jordan; Dirk Fransaer, Managing Director, Flemish Institute for Technological Research; Joshua Pearce, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University; and Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Mr. ROMANO said that “left to their own devices, markets and short-term thinking of their traditional actors will not produce the SDGs by 2030”.  Next steps for the Technology Facilitation Mechanism could include:  adapting governance and legislation for science, technology and innovation for sustainable development, including public-private mutual associations and financial schemes; building the infrastructure and new general-purpose technology platforms for information technology, smart logistics and the greening of cities, industry, transport and energy; establishing and funding global public goods and technology transfer mechanisms; and creating top-down and bottom-up national forums on science, technology and innovation that include all stakeholders.  These are the ideas of the 10-Member Group, he said.

Ms. HASSAN said that, in her region and elsewhere, national development plans and economic strategies, if they exist at all, have been stalled or shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, science, technology and innovation has never been more urgently needed to kickstart sustainable growth and tackle rapidly escalating divisions.  “We desperately need the technological framework — the hardware and the software — to re-join our path to the SDGs,” she said.  Digital connectivity is now central to everything and the key facilitator of open science and functioning partnerships.  Her region suffers from poor connectivity infrastructure.  Open science is crucial to her region and to most of the world.  If properly implemented, it has the potential to be one of the greatest socioeconomic levellers in history.  If not, then gaps will continue to widen at increasing rates.  She also stressed the importance of partnerships, saying that Sustainable Development Goal 17 is central to all efforts.

Mr. FRANSAER said COVID-19 is forcing the international community to design a new area of technological development that balances economic, social and environmental progress to build a greener, more inclusive future.  Innovation by itself is not enough, however, he said, stressing the need to keep incentivising the entire innovation chain, starting from fundamental research, recognizing that innovation is not possible without failure.  He then stressed the need to acknowledge that successful innovation happens in environments where many stakeholders can interact.  It is essential to recognize the innovation that young people can bring to the table mainly because they have grown up with new technologies.  One example of cross-sector approaches to integrated technological solutions is the “safe water for all” approach that turns wastewater into drinking water, bioenergy or fertilizer.  This contributes to water security and helps produce food and energy.  This process addresses multiple sustainable development goals, is cost-effective and is already being implemented in India.

Mr. PEARCE said that open‑source technical development has grown to dominate software.  Open sourcing is superior because it allows for mass collaboration and eliminates a duplication of efforts.  Pointing to the exponential growth of open‑source hardware development, he said it has proven effective in facilitating emergency manufacturing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Thousands of makers all over the world collaborated to make open hardware that could be digitally replicated, from complex ventilators and other medical system parts to relatively simple personal protective equipment.  Having a trusted source of digitally replicable products was critical to enable the open hardware to be used in hospitals to overcome shortages.  Similarly, for a global central open‑source database to be most effective, it needs to be housed in a trusted central authority, like the United Nations.  No such database exists, he said, recommending that the United Nations create one, encourage all existing partners to contribute their technologies and designs to that depository, and urge all partners to fund open‑source technical development.  Then all can benefit when solutions are shared to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and realize a much higher return on investment.

Ms. NAIR-BEDOUELLE said that UNESCO is committed to the work of the Interagency Task Team.  The Forum is meeting at an important time because the agency will convene an intergovernmental meeting on open science on 6 May.  A set of proposals on open science to be adopted will become a game changer in addressing such global challenges as the pandemic and inequality, including access to COVID-19 vaccines.  UNESCO and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs have been nominated as co-leads for the Accelerator for Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation.  Going forward, the Mechanism must measure its impact on the lives of people on the ground and be held accountable for real impacts in two to three years.  It must also hold partners accountable for technology transfer.  She urged all to join the open science movement so that everyone can benefit from it.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Japan, as a former co-Chair of the Forum, said he was glad to see progress, but it is time to scale up action.  COVID-19 forced everyone to recalibrate plans and prepare for future pandemics.  The Mechanism is playing a role in enhancing collaboration on science and technology, but more needs to be done.  As suggested by the 10-Member Group, the Mechanism must be more inclusive and responsive.  Drawing attention to the eighth Tokyo International Conference of African Development to be held in Tunisia in 2022, he said digital transformation on the continent is a priority agenda of the event.

A senior official for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said that the Commission promotes a platform for open science and innovation in Africa by facilitating such space for university students and entrepreneurs.  It helps young people attend boot camps, coding camps and other training opportunities, he said, drawing attention to the establishment of Centre of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence in the Republic of Congo.

A speaker for My World Mexico stressed the need to accelerate and implement coherent policies, participatory processes, tools, resources and financing to the Mechanism.  Significant progress has been made in creating databases, platforms and infrastructure to collaborate, exchange ideas, share best practices and knowledge among all stakeholders.  However, none will make sense if they are not open, available and accessible to all countries and all peoples.  Accessibility is key for advancing sustainable development based on science, innovation and technology.

A speaker for the ETC Group said that, to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Mechanism should support horizon-scanning, not just to spot new agricultural technologies that have potentially dangerous consequences, but to evaluate all emerging technologies.  The Mechanism should also provide guidance so that processes of horizon-scanning and technology assessment can take place.  ETC has launched a new online resource to support a global push to democratise the control of science and technology.

Also participating in the discussion were senior officials from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Closing Remarks

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the Forum heard important recommendations and learned much about COVID-19’s impact on the future and the urgency of bridging the digital divide, as well as how international cooperation and science and technology can help address those and other challenges.  Expressing hope that the discussions over the two days will inspire connections between the use of science and technology to recovery from COVID-19 and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Concrete steps that should be taken include the expansion of the Mechanism’s online platform, identification of critical sustainable development challenges facing developing countries and fragile communities, and the bridging of the inequality gap through infrastructure investment and digital cooperation.

For information media. Not an official record.