We are continuing our reading of the SDGs science report “The Future is Now”.
The authors of the report “The Future is Now” have identified four main levers that can be deployed in order to progress toward sustainable development : governance; economy and finance; individual and collective action; science and technology.
We of course are particularly interested in the fourth one, as promoters of an International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development.
We suggest that anybody interested in SDGs read the full report, but let’s quote the most relevant parts of it, regarding our own topics.
SDGs need science
In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, technology can be central to resolving trade-offs that can arise if individual Goals and targets are addressed in isolation.
For example, target 2.3 requires a doubling of agricultural productivity, which could be achieved by prioritizing productivity gains over everything else, but that could then negatively impact a myriad of other targets, including those related to livelihoods, health, climate change mitigation, biodiversity and water. However, those issues can be minimized through the strategic deployment of new technologies – from advanced water use sensors to climate-smart agriculture, to renewable energy technologies.
In another example, advances in gene-editing technologies, notably Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), can improve the prospects for gene therapy at the individual level with gains in productivity and control vector-borne diseases such as malaria, and facilitate the precision breeding of plants and animals.
Deploying advanced technologies like artificial intelligence could also play a major role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Many such applications are under development but need careful assessment of potential broader consequences before deployment.
Shall we mention that all examples they give here directly come from basic sciences:
- advanced water use sensors use advanced electronic devices and materials, as well as math for communication and computing;
- renewable energy technology needs basic knowledge in physics, chemistry, geology, biology, cristallography and maths;
- CRISPR directly derives from the study of bacteria;
- Artificial Intelligence includes a lot of high level maths, signal processing and statistical physics.
SDGs need science everywhere
Fully leveraging the potential of science and technology will require substantial investment in research and development (R&D). Currently, global investment stands at nearly $1.7 trillion per year, of which 10 countries are responsible for 80 per cent.
While some developing countries are accelerating their R&D investment at a faster rate than their developed country counterparts, most developing countries, especially least developed countries, small island developing States and land-locked least developed countries, need better technology and knowledge access through cooperation with developing countries, and through modalities such as South-South and triangular cooperation.
However, developing technology is not enough; technology must be made available, accessible and sufficiently attractive to encourage widespread adoption, accompanied by the development of relevant user capacity. Countries need more locally relevant content, local innovation centres and technology hubs, and support for open data initiatives.
The transfer of technology, especially to institutions in developing countries, will be critical to scale up and accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
A consequence of what they write here is that science (and related technology) must be developed all over the planet. Even though basic science results are the same everywhere, detailed questions explored by scientists are related to the context where they work and live.
The history of science is full of scholars discovering new realities and new phenomena as they traveled. Now that humanity has the ability to establish science wherever people are living, it is really important that we do so, for the sake of both basic sciences and sustainable development.
To be continued.