One of the COVID-19 pandemic’s hard lessons demonstrates that the use of technology alone cannot make global development goals a reality, scientists and technology experts said, as the high-level political forum on sustainable development continued its 2021 session.
As the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals adopted in 2015, the high-level forum — under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — will review, from 6 to 16 July, progress in implementation. Rounding up its first week, the forum held three panels, focusing on the 2021 theme: “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
During its panel discussion on “Mobilizing science, technology and innovation and strengthening the science-policy-society interface”, participants explored existing tools, such as the 2030 Agenda’s Technology Facilitation Mechanism. Scientists, innovators and ministers across all regions agreed that science and technology played a major role in responding to the pandemic.
Highlighting that the pandemic has inadvertently triggered a new wave of innovation to enhance response and recovery plans, panellists cautioned that more must be done to level the digital playing field and foster local to national innovations to effectively respond to pressing development challenges. They also discussed how best to harness new tools and partnerships to improve the science‑policy‑society interface and help countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Some cautioned that a collective global drive must lead the way.
Technology by itself will not help to achieve the 2030 Agenda, stop global warming or eradicate poverty, said panellist Ahmed el–Magarmid, Executive Director of the Qatar Computing Research Institute at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar. Without the right partnerships in place and a deep understanding of the problem at hand, the use of technology risks distracting from such real challenges as the digital divide and gender inequalities, he said.
Nnenna Nwakanma, Chief Web Advocate at the World Wide Web Foundation in Nigeria, called for stronger efforts to establish global contracts to ensure that the world moves together in the right direction. This includes full access to quality Internet connections, respect for rights and commitments to leave no one behind. The time has come to adopt access to the Internet as a fundamental human right, she stated.
Cherry Murray, Co-Chair of the United Nations Secretary-General’s 10‑Member Group to Support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, said members are focusing on identifying solutions. Among them are ways to expedite innovations and create pathways for least developed countries to leapfrog to sustainable energy, transportation, industries and food systems without having to follow the wasteful, polluting and unsustainable pathways that developed countries took in the last century.
Imme Scholz, Co-Chair of the International Group of Scientists of the 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report, warned that wide existing gaps must be bridged by, among other things, substantial investments. Given the weaknesses exposed by COVID-19, she said ensuring resilience to future pandemics and fostering sustainability transformations depends on nurturing science, technology and innovation systems across countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Middle East and the Pacific. Given the cross-sector impact of these efforts, funding them must be in line with the 2030 Agenda, she said.
Both of the panel’s keynote speakers highlighted new recommendations and guidance for moving forward. Mohammad Koba, Co-Chair of the 2021 Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, and Charge d’Affaires of Indonesia to the United Nations, said extraordinary levels of international cooperation are needed on research, infrastructure and capacities to overcome the gaps within and between countries and social groups. Providing a snapshot of the outcome document of the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, he said recommendations covered lessons from COVID-19 and specific suggestions for the future work of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, established under the 2030 Agenda. Among them were calls for bold, forward-looking perspectives to assess the impacts of emerging science and frontier technologies, and timely action to promote breakthrough innovations.
Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), stressed the importance of recognizing the crucial role of information and communications technology in the ongoing pandemic alongside new discoveries and technologies that promise to transform people’s lives around the world. Now is the time to redouble efforts to use these tools to put the 2030 Agenda back on track, he said, encouraging all stakeholders to continue to leverage the power of science, technology and innovation as a force for good and to work together to ensure that today’s digital transformation accelerates a development transformation for all.
The forum also held panel discussions on “Coming together to help small island developing States to get on a path to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” and “Vision and priorities of civil society, the private sector and other major groups and stakeholders: realizing the SDGs during the COVID-19 recovery”.
The high-level political forum will continue its 2021 session at 9 a.m. on Monday, 12 July.
The high-level political forum began its fourth day with a discussion on “Coming together to help small island developing States to get on a path to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, featuring a keynote speech by Mafalda Duarte, Chief Executive Officer of the Climate Investment Funds.
Chaired by Sergiy Kyslytsya (Ukraine), Vice‑President of the Economic and Social Council, and moderated by Everly Paul Chet Greene, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Immigration and International Trade of Antigua and Barbuda, the discussion featured the following guest speakers: Wavel RamKalawan, President of Seychelles; Ashni K. Singh, Senior Minister, Office of the President with Responsibility for Finance, Guyana; Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji; Simon Stiell, Minister within the Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Climate Resilience and the Environment of Grenada; and Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Lead discussants were Courtenay Rattray, United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, and Emeline Siale Ilolahia, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Associations of Non-Governmental Organizations, Fiji (non‑governmental organizations major group).
In a keynote address, Ms. DUARTE said climate change represents the gravest threat to the survival and viability of small island States. A new unfamiliar regime is emerging. The world is hotter, with Caribbean temperatures having already increased by 1°C over the last century. Rain is more variable with swings between droughts and flooding. Sea levels have been rising at about 3.5 millimetres per year since 1993. Existing climate vulnerable groups are growing and new climate vulnerable groups are emerging, while the capacity to cope is diminishing. Affected countries are typically small, flat, low-lying, natural resource‑dependent and extremely climate‑sensitive. They have small domestic markets and are highly dependent on food and energy imports, making them very susceptible to external shocks and stresses, including global economic recessions and health pandemics. However, their middle-income status does not adequately reflect these realities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the unique vulnerabilities of small island developing States, which have disproportionately borne the brunt of the global decline in international travel and in global commodity prices, as well as the overall disruption in worldwide trade and supply chains, she said. Travel receipts dropped an estimated 70 per cent while gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 9 per cent in 2020, compared with a 3.3 per cent decline in other developing countries. Rescuing their socioeconomic progress from the COVID-19 wreckage requires simultaneously promoting economic diversification, skills development, energy independence, sustainable and resilient tourism, a blue economy and a just transition to sustainability.
Small island developing States are doing their part, he said. Citing examples, he said Barbados hosts one of the world’s most ambitious energy transition projects and is committed to power the country with 100 per cent renewable energy sources and reach zero carbon emissions by 2030. Some of the most innovative financial mechanisms to support a green, resilient recovery are already being spearheaded by these States. For example, in 2018, the Seychelles launched the world’s first sovereign blue bond, mobilizing $15 million that supports sustainable marine and fisheries projects. In the Caribbean, a “Debt for Climate Adaptation Swap” initiative has been advanced to create a fund to invest in climate adaptation projects and green industries to build resilience.
Access to concessional finance continues to be vital to sustainable development in these States, she said, adding, however, that such access is restricted. A GDP-based eligibility criterion for accessing most available grants and concessional finance has proved challenging and discussions to change to this metric have been going on for too long. “Now is the time for action and for the relevant parties to agree on an approach that adequately reflects their vulnerabilities,” she said.
The Climate Investment Funds has been working with multilateral development banks, donor countries and others to support the green transition and climate resilience development in small island developing States, she continued. The Fund has $380 million in an existing portfolio of 36 mitigation and adaptation projects in 14 States. It also is launching several new investment programmes that will support priority climate action in developing countries, including small island developing States. To help countries fast-track green, resilient and inclusive recovery, the Fund has developed a special pandemic recovery Technical Assistance Facility, which has received many high-quality proposals from small island developing States.
Mr. GREENE said international accords, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Samoa Pathway, provided particular focus on small island developing States. The international community agreed that these States were a special case for sustainable development and therefore the necessary assistance should be provided to ensure their survival, resilience and a more sustained development. The pandemic poses both immediate economic and financial challenges to small States and is causing social and societal damage. For these small vulnerable economies, such challenges will persist well beyond the recovery. While the international financial institutions heard their calls, few actions were taken.
He said that, while no one can yet predict whether COVID-19 itself, or the damage to economies and livelihoods due to the lack of a comprehensive and tailored policy response for small island developing States, will provide the lessons for future multilateral responses, doing nothing is unacceptable. “We must take bold actions that will finally break the failed policy prescriptions offered to us,” he said. It is on this basis the Alliance of Small Island States will continue to call for the creation of a multidimensional vulnerability index that considers their unique circumstances. “We have been making this call for the past 30 years, let us move pass the rhetoric of this call and find lasting solutions,” he stressed.
Mr. RAMKALAWAN said that everyone knows the real issue is climate change, yet there are too many excuses for inaction. COVID-19 taught so many lessons small island developing States already knew as they have vulnerable tourism‑dependent economies that have been destroyed, even if they are middle- or high-income. “My plea to rich countries with diversified industries is to deliver their commitments,” he said, urging them not to view small island developing States as middle- or high-income countries, but rather as States in need of concessional finance. The Seychelles’ carbon footprint is next to zero, but it is a victim of climate change. It is time for those responsible for global warming, glacier melting and rising sea levels to act, he said, warning that some small island developing States will disappear if action is not taken.
Ms. VUNIWAQA said that Fiji has been ravaged by COVID-19, with weekly cases per million population surpassing those of the United Kingdom, India and France. In addition, it was hit by two Category 5 cyclones. Most small island developing States are categorized as middle-income countries and therefore not eligible to receive concessional financing. The multidimensional vulnerability index captures the vulnerabilities of these States. Special attention must be paid to women and girls, she said, stressing that recovery frameworks must be gender-sensitive.
Mr. STIELL said climate change cannot be separated from the traditional development agenda. Access to concessional climate financing must be differentiated. It requires new financing sources that supplement donors’ commitments to allocate 0.7 per cent of their GDP to official development assistance (ODA). Donors also need to abide by the Paris Agreement on climate change. While a discussion on a multidimensional vulnerability index has been going on for more than 20 years and there is broad consensus that GDP does not reflect the vulnerabilities of small island developing States, there is no formal mechanism to actualize this, he said. Once the fair index is established, it will become clear which countries are eligible for concessional financing.
Mr. SINGH said that there is no doubt in his mind that access to concessional financing can make a significant difference. All small island developing States should get access to such financing, given the multidimensional nature of the vulnerabilities they face. Having said that, the question of scale does need to be addressed. He emphasized the need to go beyond “the illusion of prosperity” and the idea that small island developing States are middle-income countries. Instead, those States must rigorously articulate the vulnerabilities they face.
Ms. SCOTLAND, emphasizing the need for a multidimensional vulnerability index, said that it has been shown that judging vulnerability and resilience solely by GDP is fundamentally flawed. “When a cyclone hits, it doesn’t ask what your GDP is,” she said. After many years of work, the Commonwealth, in 2018, came up with a multidimensional vulnerability index that takes vulnerability and resilience into account. “We do need this MVI and we need it now,” she said, adding that many countries are facing existential threats: “The wolf is here and he is eating our lunch.”
Mr. RAMKALAWAN said that, with an agreed multidimensional development index, the global community will have a starting point to identify where and when assistance is most required. It could be argued that such a process can convert uncertainty into quantifiable risk, thus reducing the risk premium. It would also improve the allocation of resources. Nobody chooses to be poor or vulnerable, he said, adding that policies must stretch beyond a lifetime to take into account the generational effects of failing to address poverty and vulnerability.
Mr. SINGH, responding to a question about how advanced countries can increase the pool of concessional resources, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the need for a strong, immediate recommitment to multilateralism and shared global objectives, including the need for accelerated action on climate change. Urgent action is also required to harness the benefits of the blue economy. It must also be acknowledged that the global community has failed to deliver on commitments going back to the 1970s to earmark 0.7 per cent of gross national income for development.
Ms. VUNIWAQA said that it is right for international financial institutions to focus on domestic resource mobilization. In Fiji, every dollar must be stretched to meet the growing cost of health care and social protection, among other things. However, focusing on domestic resource mobilization is like asking patients on life support to do weight training. Those countries which dominate the international financial institutions must ensure the highest standards of financial management, she said, adding that small island developing States must work together and let their shared vulnerabilities bind them as they amplify the need for a multidimensional vulnerability index.
Mr. STIELL said that small island developing States are experiencing limited fiscal space. Their extreme vulnerability has been loudly amplified and articulated, and it is time to translate words into action.
Ms. SCOTLAND said small island developing States had managed debts well before the pandemic, but the impacts of COVID-19 made their indebtedness unsustainable. These States are punished for their fiscal competence.
Mr. RATTRAY said that, in the short term, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) could increase issuance of special drawing rights to boost much-needed liquidity for small island developing States. One way to help small island developing States is a voluntary reallocation of these rights by those who have adequate liquidity to those in need. In the medium term, sustainable recovery from the pandemic requires access to concessional financing. In the longer term, creative schemes are needed, such as putting hurricane and pandemic clauses in debt servicing obligations so that when these crises hit, they can suspend their debt payments.
Ms. ILOLAHIA said developing a multidimensional vulnerability index is grounded on inherent vulnerabilities of small island developing States, namely economic and ecological vulnerability. Ecological vulnerability relates to climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem and oceans, she said, stressing the need to re-examine resilience of people grounded on their relationship with the environment. There must be a balance between vulnerability and resilience. GDP should not be the only indicator. Some indigenous natural resources and cultural knowledge, which cannot be valued in monetary terms, must be incorporated into indicators.
When the floor opened to other participants, a speaker from the city of Lamentin in Martinique, an overseas territory of France, described how it cooperates with two other municipalities in Haiti and Cuba. Joint projects included material and technical support in waste management and awareness-raising workshops on the preservation of local biodiversity in schools.
The representative of the Netherlands drew attention to a global youth initiative that calls for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice to clarify the obligation of States to protect the human rights of current and future generations from the effects of climate change.
The representative of the Business and Industry Major Stakeholder Group said that the private sector stands ready to help small island developing States recover from the pandemic through innovation, technology and “jobs, jobs and more jobs”. The pandemic has put the tourism industry in crisis mode, but small island developing States have shown resilience. Going forward, innovation is key. Speaking on behalf of the International Organization of Employers, she said that inclusive multilateralism must include the voice of businesses which represent not only multinational corporations, but also small- and medium-sized enterprises which are the backbone of most economies. “Please bring us to the table so that we can all ensure that we can make an equitable recovery to this crisis,” she said.
The representative of Denmark noted that small island developing States have received only 4 per cent of COVID-19 funding for developing countries and less than 2.5 per cent of global climate financing. Climate financing must be made more accessible to these States, she said, adding that per capita GDP as a development yardstick is clearly inadequate and that the multidimensional vulnerability index option must be explored.
Ms. SCOTLAND stressed the importance of empowering young people, who have duty of care for the next generation.
Mr. RAMKALAWAN said that small island developing States are supporting the world. For instance, his country and Mauritius are together managing a large part of a continental shelf. Reiterating how climate change is impacting small island developing States, he said: “We cannot run to the mountains all the time.”
Mr. STIELL said the small island developing States are facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, calling on the international community to convert words of support into tangible action. He urged developed nations to step up their financial support at the upcoming the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow. That would build trust between developing and developed nations.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Belgium, Indonesia.
Speakers for the stakeholder groups on communities discriminated by work and dissent, the women’s major group and the Asia Pacific CSE Engagement mechanism, also participated.
The forum then held a discussion on the theme “Mobilizing science, technology and innovation and strengthening the science-policy-society interface”, chaired by Mr. Kyslytsya (Ukraine), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, and moderated by Andrejs Pildegovičs, Co-Chair of the 2021 Science, Technology and Innovation Forum and Permanent Representative of Latvia to the United Nations.
Delivering keynote addresses were Mohammad Koba, Co-Chair of the 2021 Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, and Charge d’Affaires of Indonesia to the United Nations, and Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Serving on the panel were Cherry Murray, Co-Chair of the United Nations Secretary-General’s 10‑Member Group to Support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, Professor of Physics and Deputy Director for Research at Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona, United States; Imme Scholz, Co-Chair of the International Group of Scientists of the 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report, Deputy Director of the German Development Institute and Honorary Professor of the Centre for Ethics and Responsibility at Hochschule Bonn‑Rhein‑Sieg, Germany; and Nnenna Nwakanma, Chief Web Advocate at the World Wide Web Foundation, Nigeria.
Lead discussants were Sanja Nikolin, member of the United Nations Women Civil Society Advisory Group for Europe and Central Asia, and Elenita Dano, Asia Director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, Philippines, also speaking for the Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism and science and technology major group.
Serving as respondents were Karen Abudinen, Minister for Information and Communication Technologies of Colombia; Ariunzaya Ayush, Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia; Andrii Vitrenko, Deputy Minister for Education and Science of Ukraine for European Integration; Ahmed el–Magarmid, Executive Director of the Qatar Computing Research Institute at Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar; and Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Mr. KYSLYTSYA, recalling that one of the forum’s key functions entrusted by the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, and the 2030 Agenda is to strengthen the science-policy interface, said today’s session aims at further advancing progress. This includes progress on implementing the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, established under the 2030 Agenda, while building on the outcome and recommendations of the sixth Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals. Welcoming participants to discuss the main challenges and opportunities, he said specific attention will be given to exploring the existing mechanisms and potential innovations in developing and deploying these tools for bridging the digital divide and addressing emerging challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. KOBA, delivering a keynote address, highlighted the outcome and recommendations of the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/HLPF/2021/6), which focused on the theme of sustainable and resilient COVID-19 recovery and effective pathways of inclusive action towards the Goals. Noting that 10,000 scientists, innovators, technology specialists, entrepreneurs and representatives of Member States and civil society participated, he said the Forum showcased practical examples and proposed recommendations for action while calling for greater international cooperation.
Recommendations covered lessons from COVID-19 and specific suggestions for the future work of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, he said, drawing attention to several, including that extraordinary levels of international cooperation are needed on research, infrastructure and capacities to overcome the gaps within and between countries and social groups. Also needed are bold, forward-looking perspectives to assess the impacts of emerging science and frontier technologies, and timely action to promote breakthrough innovations. Citing several lessons learned, he underlined the urgent need to connect the entire world to a high-quality, reliable and affordable Internet that is accessible to all. Also needed are investments in platforms for open innovations and education, long‑term spending on basic science, mission-oriented innovation, scientific literacy and effective science-policy interfaces, along with global efforts to reduce extreme inequalities in knowledge, innovation and production capabilities.
Mr. ZHAO, in his keynote address, underlined the importance of recognizing the crucial role of information and communications technology (ICT) in the ongoing pandemic alongside fresh discoveries and the emergence of new technologies that promise to transform people’s lives around the world. Citing decades of contributions made by United Nations specialized agencies and ITU, he highlighted the critical role universities and research institutes play in helping policymakers and industry leaders prepare for the impact of major research breakthroughs. Noting that half of the world’s population is still unconnected to the Internet, he said this affects existing technological divides, as the digital technologies and services so essential in the age of COVID-19 are not reaching everyone. As such, he called on participants to focus collective efforts on infrastructure, investment, innovation and inclusiveness.
The world now has an opportunity to strengthen investments, from infrastructure to digital skills, and to answer the Secretary-General’s call for connecting the unconnected with affordable connection services by 2030, he said. At stake is not only the recovery from COVID-19, but also progress in ICT development, made possible by the World Summit on the Information Society and its forum over the last two decades. It is the time to redouble efforts to use these tools to put the 2030 Agenda back on track, he said, encouraging all stakeholders to continue to leverage the power of science, technology and innovation as a force for good and to work together to ensure that today’s digital transformation accelerates a development transformation for all.
Mr. PILDEGOVIČS, welcoming participants, said the objective of the discussion is to advance the implementation of the Technical Facilitation Mechanism under the 2030 Agenda. Anticipating a stimulating dialogue on the solutions, challenges and how to best address the digital divide, he introduced the panellists.
Ms. MURRAY, outlining activities of the Secretary-General’s group on implementing the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, said members will be working on efforts to strengthen the science-policy interface with a view to improving the lives of those furthest behind. One focus in 2021 will be on data as the glue for measuring all Sustainable Development Goals. New technologies and enhanced governance can eliminate the data divide and move towards digital self‑determination for all, but data is only meaningful and impactful with its transformation into information and knowledge, and then within the context of key social values. The group will also focus on fostering and strengthening national, regional and global innovation ecosystems, including support for education, research and the development of entrepreneurial skills. The goal is to expedite innovations and create pathways for least developed countries to leapfrog to sustainable energy, transportation, industries and food systems without having to follow the wasteful, polluting and unsustainable pathways that developed countries took in the last century.
Ms. SCHOLZ said recent discussions at the Independent Group of Scientists include pathways to sustainability transformations, which are knowledge-intensive and context-specific. Social and technological innovation will drive these transformation processes, and all countries will need such systems to produce the necessary knowledge and engage society, entrepreneurs and policymakers. However, wide existing gaps are an obstacle that must be bridged by, among other things, substantial investments. Given the weaknesses exposed by COVID-19, she said ensuring resilience to future pandemics and fostering sustainability transformations depends on nurturing science, technology and innovation systems across countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Middle East and the Pacific. Given the cross-sector impact of these efforts, funding them must be in line with the 2030 Agenda, she said.
Ms. NWAKANMA said that her organization aims at getting people in Nigeria online and addressing gender issues, including tackling rampant violence against women on the Internet. Raising several critical issues, she said efforts must address the shortfalls in current approaches, including Internet access and connectivity speed. Multi-stakeholder partnerships have aimed at improving women’s protection online, as they face gender-based violence in that realm, she said. But, more must be done in this and other areas, she said, calling for stronger efforts to establish global contracts to ensure that the world moves in the right direction, including respect for rights and commitments to leave no one behind. The time has come to adopt access to the Internet as a fundamental human right, she stressed.
Raising national and global challenges, the lead discussants shared their experiences and lessons learned.
Ms. NIKOLIN said science, technology and innovation offers unparalleled opportunities for inclusiveness and gender‑gap closure. Indeed, the field is probably the only real chance to shorten the time to attaining gender equality and improving lives, given that it will take around 267 years to close the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity. Governments must stop investing and adopting policies in areas that maintain the status quo and broaden gender gaps, and they must recognize women’s innovative contributions in their communities. Gender analyses of the pandemic’s impact show that all women, especially rural, Roma and other minority females, as well as those without access to digital services, have been left behind.
The women’s movements, however, are making more progress on the science‑policy-society interface than other actors because their knowledge is relevant and triangulated by default, she said. Instead of teaching women about innovation, society should be learning from them. Governments ought to overcome their infatuation with gadgets and focus their attention and money on solving problems. Academia is already reaching out to practitioners and valuing direct expertise and social innovation, and feminists are networking for gender‑responsive solutions, she said, adding that a key next step is to channel more resources into supporting these realities.
Ms. DANO said the pandemic has taught a lesson that the legitimacy and value of international cooperation must not be jeopardized by intellectual property rights and trade rules restricting the timely deployment of needed science, technology and innovation to save lives, as in the case of the COVID-19 vaccine. The mobilization of digital technologies to respond to this unprecedented global crisis opened opportunities in promoting knowledge-sharing, collecting pertinent data to enable science-based policy decisions and substantially reducing carbon footprints, albeit temporarily. The collective experience during the pandemic also presented challenges that bear lessons in mobilizing science, technology and innovation to achieve the interconnected Sustainable Development Goals. But, they cannot be reduced to a single technological route and must be based on diverse sources of knowledge.
Community-based and gender-responsive technology and innovation that address the root causes of development crisis and such emerging challenges as COVID-19 are key elements of transformative pathways, she said. Indigenous and local knowledge in ecosystems conservation and agroecological practices, enabled by recognizing peoples’ rights to land and self-determination, must be supported. Recognition of diverse sources of knowledge will promote a science-policy interface that is rooted in peoples’ realities. Science advice mechanisms should benefit from increased transparency and inclusiveness.
Respondents then shared their national experiences.
Ms. ABUDINEN said, in a pre-recorded video message, that Colombia is committed to strengthening its digital transformation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Citing several examples, she said that more than 350,000 homes and 15,000 schools have been connected with free Internet. The goal is to reduce inequalities, she said. Other initiatives include science and technology programmes now reaching 54,000 students and job training for more than 20,000 people. In addition, the business presence online has grown by 800 per cent since the start of the pandemic.
Ms. AYUSH, in a pre-recorded video message, cited such national efforts as an action plan and a long-term strategic policy, including the launch of the e‑Mongolia system, an integrated public service system enabling citizens to receive public services electronically. With special attention paid to digitize health, education, social insurance and the labour sector, she said that, as of May, 2.2 million people were covered by social welfare services, out of which 82.1 per cent have received e-services. Digitizing public services has saved time and costs by enabling people to access any service easily. Remaining challenges include a lack of access to digital technology and connectivity in remote areas and divergence in digital literacy. In addition, new challenges are emerging, as public services shift to electronic forms, including the protection of personal data, reform of the legal environment to ensure information security and the development of technological solutions, she said.
Mr. VITRENKO outlined how Ukraine is using science, technology and innovation as key tools to move towards comprehensive and effective accomplishment of Sustainable Development Goals. Having joined a United Nations global pilot programme on science, technology and innovation road maps for the Sustainable Development Goals, Ukraine is developing a comprehensive national policy which includes a green industrial transformation. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has supported a range of efforts, from Ukraine’s pandemic response to organizing a hackathon, the “HackCorona Challenge”, in partnership with the Ministry of Digital Transformation. Ongoing efforts have already created opportunities for distance online learning, including for children from the temporarily occupied territories, and increased digital literacy among teachers. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is impossible without a strong research infrastructure, the implementation of innovative approaches and the development of digital technologies, he said.
Mr. EL-MAGARMID, highlighting the Qatar Computing Research Institute’s contributions to advancing artificial intelligence, emphasized that technology by itself will not help achieve the 2030 Agenda, stop global warming or eradicate poverty. Without the right partnerships in place and a deep understanding of the problem at hand, the use of technology risks distracting from the real challenges. With this in mind, the Institute gathered representatives of several United Nations agencies, the private sector and non-governmental organizations, addressing the whole development pipeline. New partnerships formed, including one with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and a technology company in the Philippines to develop methods to map poverty, combining advertising data from social media with satellite imagery and other sources. The Institute’s scientists also partnered with Oxford University researchers and a non-governmental organization with the goal of reducing gender‑data gaps. Such partnerships are good examples of how to strengthen the science-policy-society nexus, he said.
Ms. ELOUAFI said FAO strongly believes that science, technology and innovation accelerates the transition to sustainable agriculture and food systems that produce more nutritious goods while reducing loss and waste, with the least environmental damage. Ongoing efforts are geared towards mobilizing science, technology and innovation and strengthening the science-policy-society interface to scale up and consolidate concrete actions in achieving zero hunger through FAO’s new strategic framework. Highlighting opportunities to address these and other issues, she said FAO will host a gathering from 19 to 21 July ahead of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Food Systems Summit. Providing highlights of a recent two-day FAO virtual event, Science Days, she said participants had shared robust science-based evidence and options to achieve more healthy diets and more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems.
In the ensuring discussion, participants acknowledged the critical role played by science, technology and innovation and offered suggestions on how to better harness their potential towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of Finland said the pandemic has demonstrated that multi‑stakeholder partnerships, international collaboration and open science is needed to solve development challenges. Finland’s road map stresses the role of research and innovation in creating such solutions, including a national artificial intelligence programme aimed at developing a strategy for the sustainable digitalization of industry. Citing other initiatives, he said Finland has launched specific funding programmes for solving 2030 Agenda-related challenges, hosts a hub of United Nations innovation operations and is working on closing the digital gender gap.
The representative of Nigeria shared experiences in leveraging technology, improving progress across sectors and promoting connectivity and capacity‑building. Policies reflect these commitments, he said, underlining the importance of broadening digital access, training and support to build resilience. He also encouraged the international community to boost its cooperation to assist States that face these challenges and need support.
The representative of Belgium said investing in innovation is a no-regret option, as it increases jobs and training, and creates new products and markets. However, innovation by itself is not enough, he said, encouraging efforts to keep incentivizing the entire innovation chain. Successful innovation happens in environments where many stakeholders can interact, requiring new ecosystems. Target-oriented global and cross-sectoral cooperation is needed to find solutions for global sustainable development challenges. Rather than looking at separate Sustainable Development Goals, stakeholders must understand their interdependence and recognize the synergies between them. To do that, all actors must be involved, as the fallout from the pandemic shows that strong cooperation among all nations and non-State actors is required.
The representative of Iran said science, technology and innovation are critical keys to fostering development and are central to national planning. Knowledge transfer without politicization must be prioritized, especially concerning emerging technologies. The right to development, including the right to having access to new technologies, is critical in this regard, he said, calling on the international community to take serious, collective steps to eliminate unjust unilateral coercive measures, including sanctions.
The representative of the indigenous peoples major group said most of the modern science used today is rooted in indigenous knowledge, which must be recognized. Recalling that indigenous knowledge and practices have served communities well in addressing climate change, she said the current destructive economic system has a negative impact on them, including exploiting their lands. The inclusion of indigenous knowledge should serve a human-centred approach, with partnerships working to end discrimination and enhancing sustainable development for all.
The representative of Sweden said the world is on “red alert” and far off‑track from realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. The global community must act swiftly, with evidence-based action and existing knowledge. If there had not been a solid knowledge base, it would have been impossible to produce COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year. Now is the time for policymakers to reach out to scientists and innovators to narrow down the most critical knowledge gaps for unlocking sustainability transformation. The global research community’s challenge is to coordinate efforts and set joint priorities, she said, stressing that research and innovation systems in the global South must be seriously strengthened.
Also participating were representatives of Poland, France, China and the Russian Federation.
In addition, representatives of civil society, major groups and other stakeholders spoke during the discussion.
The Council next held an interactive discussion on “Vision and priorities of civil society, the private sector and other major groups and stakeholders: realizing the SDGs during the COVID-19 recovery”, featuring opening remarks by Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Chaired by Juan Sandoval Mendiolea (Mexico), Vice-President of the Council, and moderated by Mabel Bianco, Co-Chair of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders Coordination Mechanism and women’s major group, the discussion featured the following panelists: Ruth Warick, Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities; Kiran Rabheru, Stakeholder Group on Ageing; Mariah Rafaella Silva, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Stakeholder Group; and Joan Carling, indigenous peoples major group and Asia-Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism.
High-level respondents were Sami Pirkkala, Secretary-General of the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development; Volker Türk, Assistant Secretary‑General for Strategic Coordination, Executive Office of the Secretary‑General; Nadine Gasman, President of the National Women’s Institute, Mexico; and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration.
Mr. MENDIOLEA said that the discussion will incorporate the views and opinions of local and grass‑roots organizations in order to identify the unique ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic affected vulnerable and marginalized groups. It will also explore the priorities of major groups and other stakeholders on how to advance an inclusive path to recovery, and he emphasized the necessity of a whole-of-society approach to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
In opening remarks, Mr. LIU pointed out that the virtual nature of today’s meeting is a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the lives of people around the world, devastating communities in many developing countries despite being increasingly tamed in developed ones. Recent Department of Economic and Social Affairs surveys and publications outline stakeholders’ view that the pandemic has set back progress on the Sustainable Development Goals for all vulnerable and marginalized groups, particularly older people, homeless and slum‑dwellers, migrants, women, girls and people with disabilities. Noting that major groups and other stakeholders are critical actors in advocating for the Goals’ implementation, holding Governments accountable and providing public policy advice, he said that the advent of online participation to adapt to the pandemic has increased levels of engagement for many stakeholders. =
Such participation, however, has created a new set of technological, financial and accessibility challenges for marginalized and vulnerable groups, particularly older people, persons with disabilities, rural dwellers and youth. He said that, as online participation may be part of “the new normal”, the international community must also help those challenged by digital connectivity to transition towards this new way of engagement. He added that the pandemic has demonstrated through global, regional, national and local efforts that the only way to realize the Sustainable Development Goals during the COVID-19 recovery is through a whole-of-society approach, urging Governments and representatives of major groups and other stakeholders to work together to ensure a better recovery.
Ms. BIANCO expressed concern over the consistent refusal by some Governments and sectors to address the systemic barriers that deepen the inequalities exposed by the pandemic. The shrinking of civic space often preludes a general deterioration of human rights, and many countries are currently using the pandemic as an excuse to strengthen authoritarianism and violate the basic human rights of their citizens. She stressed that meaningful participation by all persons in all their diversity at all levels in the United Nations is crucial, but, as of now, such participation is not ensured in most processes and formats. Noting her surprise at some countries’ questioning of the centrality of gender equality and women’s empowerment to sustainable development, she said that, when human rights are neglected, women’s rights are violated more frequently. “Leaving no one behind means absolutely no one,” she emphasized, adding that it is also necessary for the international community to ensure the well‑being of people and the planet by rising above those abusing their power and position.
Ms. WARICK, underscoring the criticality of the right to participation for persons with disabilities, said that the same entails meaningful consultation with, and involvement of, such persons and their representative organizations in the development and implementation of policies and programmes. The principle of “nothing about us without us” touches every aspect of the lives of persons with disabilities and one of the most important rights such persons possess — key to all other rights — is the right to participate in decisions that affect them. She said that this principle is also fundamental to the workings of today’s forum, and persons with disabilities are crucial to the successful implementation, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. Stressing that human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals are indivisible and interrelated, she stated that participation is a necessary element for the success of both.
Mr. RABHERU said that the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in increasingly explicit expression of the long‑standing implicit biases of ageism, “mentalism”, and ableism — discrimination against older persons, those with mental conditions and those with disabilities, respectively. This “triple jeopardy”, he stressed, has waged a deadly war, powered by the pandemic, against older persons, many of whom have been culled, left behind, disregarded and marginalized. He called on all Governments to combat ageism — which affects 1 in 2 persons globally — and to focus on the human rights of older persons everywhere. The international community should use a human rights perspective in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals that includes older persons’ voices, experiences and choices, and work towards the drafting of a United Nations convention on the rights of older persons. “What you permit, you promote,” he added, urging that the status quo not be permitted so that future generations of older persons may live free from discrimination and fully enjoy their rights.
Ms. SILVA, pointing out the lethality of neglecting structural discrimination based on gender, race or class, said that the impact of such neglect is clear: “Vaccines are not available to everyone.” Poor, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, non-binary, black, indigenous, young and older persons, along with migrants, refugees and sex workers, face increased insecurity and continue to be excluded from recovery efforts. Further, authoritarian Governments are gaining power and rolling back progress on gender equality, and corrupt, opportunistic actors have taken advantage of the pandemic to threaten civic rights, democratic foundations, environmental sustainability and social inclusion around the world. She said that the international community can achieve true gender equality by bringing diverse and marginalized persons to the table to develop policies and programmes that address their specific needs, adding that the participatory process also requires such persons to have equal power and access to influence.
Ms. CARLING pointed out that, during the pandemic, billionaires saw their wealth increase by $3.9 trillion in 2020 while most people suffered diverse challenges and workers lost trillions of dollars. Against this backdrop, systemic change is needed for the neo-liberal global economy that perpetuates such inequality, in addition to measures designed to combat illicit financial flows, tax evasion and money‑laundering. Reforming global economic governance — including unjust trade and investment agreements — should be prioritized to guarantee the rights and welfare of workers, farmers, indigenous peoples, women, marginalized sectors and small‑business entrepreneurs. Transformative action is also necessary to dismantle the powerful structures and systems causing the resurgence of authoritarian regimes and militarism, she said, adding that the worsening situation in Myanmar requires the General Assembly and other bodies to recognize and support the National Unity Government while sanctioning the current military junta.
Mr. PIRKKALA said that, while Governments bear the responsibility for achieving the 2030 Agenda, they will not be able to do so without the engagement of the whole of society. Stakeholders play an instrumental role in implementing the 2030 Agenda, and this engagement is also an end in itself, as the ability to have a say in decisions impacting one’s life is a precondition for individual well‑being and at the heart of sustainable development. Noting that Finland has promoted the whole-of-society approach since the 1990s, he said that inclusive and meaningful participation is only possible under certain conditions, namely the existence of: an open and tolerant society that respects different views and opinions; mutual trust between stakeholders and Governments; and clear and transparent processes for engagement. Open and transparent preparation of public policies leads to better decisions and wider ownership, he added, which is the only way to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda.
Mr. TÜRK, welcoming the preceding discussion, stressed that “leaving no one behind” cannot be just a mantra, but must instead be a lived reality. Recalling previous speakers’ mention of the principle of “nothing about us without us”, he said that public policy to implement the Sustainable Development Goals cannot succeed unless everyone is guaranteed the right to participate. He added that it is not enough to simply listen to the input of major groups and stakeholders; public institutions must seriously consider the nuances of each group’s situation in order to achieve real human rights.
Ms. GASMAN said that the Mexican Government focuses on people facing the greatest vulnerabilities by being present, listening to and caring for the needs and demands of the population. The 2030Agenda has the potential to transform the lives of women and girls across Mexico, the wider region and the world, particularly by achieving gender equality, which not only directly impacts the lives of women and girls, but also has a transformative effect on all peoples and communities. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, she stressed the importance of rethinking the societal organization of domestic and care work, as the pandemic exposed the extent to which women are primarily responsible for such work. As such, women have little time for themselves and are restricted from re-entering the economy while schools remain closed. “Given this historic debt to women,” she said, Mexico has worked to build a national care system and also advances the agenda of care work on the global level.
Ms. FRASER-MOLEKETI said that, to realize the principle of participation, the vision and priorities of major groups can be expressed through practices such as free and fair elections, regulatory processes that include public consultation, multi-stakeholder forums, participatory budgeting and community-driven development. These strategies are essential for realizing the Sustainable Development Goals and are well-known and accessible to all countries; however, they have not been put into practice as much as they should be. She supported principles endorsed by the Economic and Social Council for effective governance of sustainable development, including promoting government that is responsive to the needs and aspirations of all people by assigning to central authorities only those tasks that cannot be performed effectively at the local level. Inclusive policies and practices are also enabled by accountability mechanisms, she added.
Then, the floor opened to delegates of Member States and other stakeholders.
A speaker representing the United Nations Global Compact in France said the Compact is raising awareness among businesses of the importance of implementing the 2030 Agenda. Businesses aligned with these global Goals are more resilient.
The representative of Norway said his country is presenting its second voluntary national review this year, stressing that the involvement of various stakeholders, such as civil society, the private sector, academia and social partners, has strengthened the report while encouraging countries presenting voluntary national reviews next year to consider including different stakeholders and levels of Government in the process.
A speaker representing the Major Stakeholder Group for Children and Youth called for the inclusion of youth in various processes as young people can propose their own solutions to implement the global Goals.
A youth delegate from Sweden said that recent dialogues between young people and the Government revealed that combating climate change is the most prioritized issue to achieve a sustainable world. “It is tragic that, year after year, we speak about meaningful inclusion without this being transformed into concrete policies,” he said, stressing that youth are underrepresented in political processes, locally, nationally and globally.
The representative of Senegal said his delegation believes in the plurality of society and the key role played by civil society and the private sector. In his country, non-governmental organizations quickly reoriented their work to help combat the pandemic. To spur implementation of the 2030 Agenda during the Decade for Action, the spirit of localization is fundamental and non-governmental organizations with local roots can be greatly helpful.
A speaker representing the major stakeholders group for volunteers urged Member States to formally recognize the contribution of volunteers, civil society, and the private sector towards the implementation of the global Goals in voluntary national reviews, as well as to ensuring that these groups are fully recognized and supported in national plans and strategies for implementing the 2030 Agenda. Particularly after this past year, Member States should formally recognize the role of volunteering in crisis prevention, management and resolution.
The representative of Guatemala said that 11 organizations from the Guatemalan private sector represented in the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations implemented 204 projects with an estimated $8 million investment that benefited more than 4 million people and 4,460 companies. These actions were incorporated into the voluntary national review to be presented during the political forum. The greater the public-private investment in the fulfillment of the Goals, the more resilient and prepared the country will be to respond to future risks.
A participant, speaking on behalf of the civil society mechanism of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), said that many countries of the region see their civil society space shrinking and voices repressed by increasingly authoritarian and intolerant leaders. Calling for partnership between Governments and all citizens without distinction, he said all will benefit from full implementation of the global Goals.
Making brief closing comments, Ms. WARICK said the meaningful participation of people with disabilities and other marginalized groups will lead to better outcomes and programming and a better society.
Mr. RABHERU cautioned against maintaining the status quo, stressing that the legally binding agreement on older persons is fundamental.
Ms. SILVA urged Member States to listen to the voices of minority groups.
Ms. CARLING proposed a waiver of intellectual property for medicines and vaccines, and called for strengthening public systems, among other recommendations.
Wrapping up the discussion, Ms. BIANCO reiterated the importance of the meaningful participation of all stakeholders in implementing the 2030 Agenda and pandemic recovery plans. “If we don’t address inequality, we don’t recover and will leave many people behind,” she said.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Japan and Austria.
Representative of several other stakeholder groups also spoke.