Security is the state of being free from threat. To mitigate the threat, we require technology. The technology uses scientific knowledge in the form of new processes, materials, devices, systems or tools. For all of us, most important is human security which means freedom from threats to our lives, safety and rights.
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have identified seven essential human security elements: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security.
1. Economic: creation of employment and measures against poverty.
2. Food: measures against hunger and famine.
3. Health: measures against disease, unsafe food, malnutrition and lack of access to basic health care.
4. Environmental: measures against environmental degradation, resource depletion, natural disasters and pollution.
5. Personal: measures against physical violence, crime, terrorism, domestic violence and child labour.
6. Community: measures against inter-ethnic, religious and other identity tensions.
7. Political: measures against political repression and human rights abuses
UN took the global initiative to implement human security in 2015 when all 192 United Nations member states came together to commit to tackling 17 ambitious global goals – the Sustainable Development Goals – by 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The 17 SDGs are integrated—that is, they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Echoing human security principles, the 2030 Agenda emphasizes a “world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want … free of fear and violence … with equitable and universal access to quality education, health care and social protection … to safe drinking water and sanitation … where food is sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious … where habitats are safe, resilient and sustainable … and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy”.
The 17 SDGs are (1) No Poverty, (2) Zero Hunger, (3) Good Health and Well-being, (4) Quality Education, (5) Gender Equality, (6) Clean Water and Sanitation, (7) Affordable and Clean Energy, (8) Decent Work and Economic Growth, (9) Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, (10) Reducing Inequality, (11) Sustainable Cities and Communities, (12) Responsible Consumption and Production, (13) Climate Action, (14) Life Below Water, (15) Life On Land, (16) Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, (17) Partnerships for the Goals.
Though the goals are broad and interdependent, two years later (6th of July,2017) the SDGs were made more “actionable” by a UN Resolution adopted by the General Assembly. The resolution identifies specific targets for each goal, along with indicators that are being used to measure progress toward each target. The year by which the target is meant to be achieved is usually between 2020 and 2030. For some of the targets, no end date is given.
The implementation of SDGs needs every country to judiciously prioritize, and adapt the goals and targets in accordance with local challenges, capacities and resources available.
The UK’s approach to delivering the Global SDGs is outlined in Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals, developed by the Department for International Development. In 2019, the Bond network analyzed the UK’s global progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).The Bond report highlights crucial gaps where attention and investment are most needed. The report was compiled by 49 organizations and 14 networks and working groups.
The Government of India established the NITI Aayog to attain sustainable development goals. In March 2018 Haryana became the first state in India to have its annual budget focused on the attainment of SDG with a 3-year action plan and a 7-year strategy plan to implement sustainable development goals when Captain Abhimanyu, Finance Minister of Government of Haryana, unveiled a ₹1,151,980 lakh (equivalent to ₹120 billion, US$1.7 billion or €1.6 billion in 2019) annual 2018-19 budget. Also, NITI Aayog starts the exercise of measuring India and its States’ progress towards the SDGs for 2030, culminating in the development of the first SDG India Index – Baseline Report 2018
Technology enabling SDG
Technology holds the incredible potential to transform sectors rapidly and globally: to increase the productivity of systems while lowering emissions and waste; to enable us to monitor and manage the Earth’s surface and resources at a speed and scale we couldn’t have dreamed of before; to collect and harness vast amounts of data; and make breakthrough advances in areas like healthcare, agriculture, energy, education and mobility.
New technologies are rapidly transforming all aspects of our society, sectors and markets. Autonomous vehicles, drone delivery and, soon, drone transport are set to transform global mobility. With ready access to powerful computing and breakthroughs in AI techniques, computers can now mimic how people learn, see, hear and understand, making today’s digital age also an age of unprecedented discovery and innovation.
We’re already seeing how AI-augmented computing can help doctors reduce medical mistakes, farmers improve yields and minimize inputs, teachers customize and spread education, and researchers unlock solutions for climate and weather modeling or advanced material generation for clean fuels. Immersive reality-guided surgeries, 3D printing of body parts, and affordable biohacking are here or on their way.
The importance of the role of Earth Observation (EO) and geolocation (provided by GNSS) in supporting the achievement of the development goals is recognised by the UN ( General Assembly resolution A/RES/70/1: Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ). However, the potential of space in supporting the SDGs is much wider. Space-based services and technologies are key in understanding climate change and during the full disaster management cycle; only two examples among countless applications to which space can contribute to.
In September 2020, the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development called for digital connectivity to be established as a “foundational pillar” for achieving all the SDGs. In a document titled “Global Goal of Universal Connectivity Manifesto”, the Broadband Commission said: “As we define the ‘new normal’ for our post-COVID world, leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can help accelerate progress towards every single one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
ICTs provide the means to deliver high-quality goods and services in health care, education, finance, commerce, governance, agriculture, and other vital areas. They can help to reduce poverty and hunger, boost health, create new jobs, help mitigate climate change, improve energy efficiency, and make cities and communities more sustainable.
Under half the world’s people still do not use the Internet, according to ITU’s latest statistics. Disenfranchised populations, particularly women and girls, older people, persons with disabilities, indigenous populations, and the economically disadvantaged, as well as people living in LDCs, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing states, need to be included in the emerging digital society to meet all 17 SDGs. Much of ITU’s work aims to extend ICT networks, promote an enabling environment, encourage investment in telecommunication/ICT networks and foster digital inclusion.
The spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies, as does scientific and technological innovation across areas as diverse as medicine, energy, and environmental conservation on land and at sea. However, there are also unintended negative consequences, labour displacement, concerns about privacy and respect for human rights are part of the concerns as is the possibility that harnessing technologies to advance towards achieving one of the SDGs would have negative effects on other goals and targets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted connectivity, as more people have moved online to continue working, studying and to stay in touch with friends and family during lockdowns and confinement. However, the challenges of the pandemic and economic slowdown have created additional problems for achieving the SDGs.
The sixth annual Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals concluded in May 2021 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. 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.
Here’s how technology can advance the SDGs:
Goal 1: No poverty
Eradicating poverty has been a global priority since the founding of the United Nations. Sustainable Development Goal 1 calls for an end to poverty in all its manifestations by 2030. It aims to ensure social protection for the poor and vulnerable, increase access to basic services and support people harmed by climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.
Thanks to international efforts, the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world has fallen by more than half over the last three decades — from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, according to the Millenium Development Goals Report of 2015. Yet despite impressive progress, more remains to be done in terms of poverty reduction and levelling the playing field — both between and within countries.
China, for example, has been very successful in reducing extreme deprivation, with a 94% decrease between 1990 and 2015; yet many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have failed to achieve the goal of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. Millions of the poorest and disadvantaged are still being left with insufficient income, poor nutrition, and a low standard of living.
To successfully achieve the SDG poverty targets by 2030, countries needs to show strong commitments by making policy changes that are both tangible and result-oriented.
More than 2 billion people in the world don’t have bank accounts, while access to digital financial services has been proven to help lift people out of poverty. The Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI), begun in 2017 by ITU, the World Bank and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, expands digital financial inclusion in developing countries.
Space technologies are central, among other things, in:
- Forecasting natural disasters and better coordinate subsequent aid provision
- Optimising sustainable utilisation of natural resources
- Providing efficient support to vulnerable populations
- Mapping populated areas and their access to basic services
- Overall, space technologies can contribute to the prevention of people falling below the poverty line and help target specific support to those in need.
Technology that allows more effectively and efficiently manage natural resources maintaining productivity and the production of goods is required, live in a more stable environment by mitigating the effects of climate change (e.g., more energy-efficient processes and emissions control) and adapting to climate change (e.g., using GIS to assist in land use planning); An estimated 70% of new value created in the economy over the next decade will be based on digitally-enabled platforms – and leading innovators are re-imagining how we innovate, create, distribute and capture value in the new systems that are emerging.
We are, after all, in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a global era characterized by rapid advancements in new technologies and global connectivity. Artificial Intelligence (AI) now forms part of our everyday lives – optimizing and customizing what we see, choose and learn. Ubiquitous sensors are collecting more data than ever before, with connected devices simplifying our lives. Taking AI alone, estimates at PwC are that AI could increase global GDP by US$15.7 trillion by 2030.
SDG2 Zero Hunger
Around 45% of deaths of children under 5 are linked to undernutrition, and the challenge of zero hunger is only set to grow. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts that agricultural production needs to at least double by 2050 to prevent mass food shortages.
Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition. It also commits to universal access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food throughout the year. This require sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices, equal access to land, technology and markets, and international cooperation on investments in infrastructure and technology to boost agricultural productivity.
Space technologies are key to Optimising crop productivity through an informed management process and increased efficiency in the use of existing resources, including land, seeds, fertilizers, plant protection agents and water. Improving livestock management through enhanced monitoring and identification of suitable grazing.
By making agricultural practices more data-driven and efficient, ICT-enabled solutions can help farmers increase crop yields while reducing their use of energy. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has worked closely with ITU since 2017 to bolster ICT innovation in agriculture.
Emerging AI, sensors, robotics and synthetic biology, in particular, are demonstrating great promise for improving crop productivity and resilience, and optimizing food distribution. For example, NRgene is using machine learning and genetic sequencing to identify and sequence optimal gene profiles based on crop performance, while Phytech is optimizing crop production with its “Plant Internet of Things”, which sends insights and warnings to farmers’ smartphones.
Lab-grown meat, insect protein and microbiomes are also finding a firm position in the food market to help address protein needs. The US-based firm Beyond Meat, for example, which makes vegan meat out of pea protein isolate, floated in 2019 and has been valued at around $3.8bn.
Good health and wellbeing – SDG 3
Sustainable Development Goal 3 seeks to ensure health and well-being for all, at every stage of life. The Goal addresses all major health priorities, including reproductive, maternal and child health; communicable, non-communicable and environmental diseases; universal health coverage; and access for all to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines and vaccines. It also calls for more research and development, increased health financing, and strengthened capacity of all countries in health risk reduction and management. It calls for life in a less toxic environment (e.g., by putting in place alternative agricultural and industrial technologies that reduce the quantity and toxicity of the raw materials and processes, as well as treatment techniques);
Direct patient interaction, health informatics and telemedicine can be improved through better connectivity. The “Digital Health for Africa” partnership launched by ITU and the World Health Organization in 2017, has delivered digital health leadership capacity development for more than 15 countries in Africa. Be He@lthy, Be Mobile, another ITU-WHO collaboration, is carrying out projects in several countries on mHealth, in addition to maintaining the mHealth Knowledge and Innovation Hub in Europe (mhealth-hub.org). Current and forthcoming ITU standards for multimedia systems, developed in collaboration with other organizations, will support the widespread deployment of digital health applications, including telemedicine and remote medical imaging.
Space technologies are essential in a range of health applications, including, but not limited to:
- Studying disease epidemiology, by enabling increased use of spatial analysis to identify the ecological, environmental and other factors that contribute to the spread of vector-borne diseases, monitoring disease patterns and defining areas that require disease-control planning
- Addressing issues related to vision, cognition and disability assistance
- Monitoring factors that affect human health and well-being, like air quality and traffic
- Supporting health promotion and disease prevention, through the use of wearable monitoring devices
- Enabling remote healthcare
Overall, space technologies can contribute to the prevention of people falling below the poverty line and help target specific support to those in need.
Advances in technology, including AI, blockchain, sensors and biotechnology, can advance human medicine along with healthcare information, services and access. Some 18,000 healthcare startups have attracted $145 billion in investment since 2010, in addition to becoming a major focus sector for the largest tech companies, including players such as Alphabet, IBM, Amazon, Apple and Alibaba.
Huge strides have been made in AI systems for earlier and higher-performance diagnostics for disease detection, from cancers to brain injuries or heart disease, and AI-enabled wearable devices can already detect people with early signs of diseases such as diabetes. Longenesis, for example, uses AI and a blockchain-based platform to overcome challenges in health data storage across Africa. Patients can track their health on an app that also offers them the opportunity to monetize that data using cryptocurrency.
Across healthcare, for instance, there has been $145 billion in investment in healthcare startups since 2010. However, many areas need focus and rapid attention if we are to come close to achieving SDG3 on health and wellbeing. Across agritech, while new technologies show great promise for improving our food systems and tackling hunger, there has only been $14 billion investment in technology startups over the same timeframe.
The potential economic and societal impact at stake is substantial. As a recent study by Microsoft and PwC UK demonstrates, using existing AI applications across agriculture, energy, transport and water could conservatively boost global GDP by 4% by 2030, while at the same time reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 4% – equivalent to the projected 2030 annual emissions of Australia, Canada and Japan combined.
SDG 4 Quality Education
Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. This goal ensures that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary schooling by 2030. It also aims to provide equal access to affordable vocational training, to eliminate gender and wealth disparities and achieve universal access to a quality higher education.
According to United Nation statistics, 750 million people still remain illiterate and two third of them are women. Education is the basis for improving our lives and for sustainable development. In addition to enriching people’s quality of life, access to inclusive and equitable education can contribute by providing people with the tools to develop innovative solutions to the world’s major problems.
Estimates show that, among those 59 million children, 1 in 5 of them had dropped out and recent trends suggest that 2 in 5 of out-of-school children will never set foot in a classroom. The Sustainable Development Goals clearly recognise that this gap must be closed, even as the international community more explicitly addresses the challenges of quality and equity in education.
ITU and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are leading the Digital Skills for Decent Jobs Campaign, which aims to equip 5 million young men and women with job-ready digital skills by 2030 in support of the first-ever, comprehensive UN system-wide effort for the promotion of youth employment worldwide. The Giga Initiative led founded by ITU and UNICEF monitors and promotes connectivity in schools.
Space technologies can provide, among others:
- High-speed internet connectivity and tailored online educational content delivered via satellite
- Electronic attendance monitoring and provision of incentives for parents to reduce dropout rates
- Remote learning, e-learning and lifelong learning opportunities for remote and isolated communities
Engineering solutions can improve the quality of the education facilities through new technologies to reach children and youth who have not been reached to date in accessing basic quality education. For example, innovative methods such as using off-grid solar system to power a classroom in a community that has no access to grid electricity, a mobile engineering workshop or a laboratory in a rural village to teach science to school children, or a service learning project by engineering students to enhance secondary level exam qualifiers to tertiary education.
SDG 5 Gender Equality
Sustainable Development Goal 5 seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Gender equality and women’s empowerment have advanced in recent decades. Women’s and girls’ access to education has improved; the rate of child marriage has fallen and progress has been made in the area of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including fewer maternal deaths. Nevertheless, gender equality remains a persistent challenge for countries worldwide and the lack of equality is a major obstacle to sustainable development, as gender and wealth disparities persist and obstruct universal access to a quality higher education.
The spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has enormous potential to support the advancement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by providing them with opportunities to obtain and share information, gain access to educational and health services, generate income, engage in networking and have their voices heard.
Gender equality initiatives where ITU is directly engaged include EQUALS, a ground-breaking global network to build an evidence base and improve women’s access to technology, build relevant digital and other skills, and promote female leadership in the tech sector.
Space technologies can support women’s empowerment through:
- Access to quality education even in remote and isolated communities
- Support for female entrepreneurship, through access to training, soft infrastructure, information and safety in the work environment
- Career development opportunities, often within STEM
SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation
Sustainable Development Goal 6 pursues to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in. There is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. However, every year millions of people, most of them children, die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Clean water, basic toilets and good hygiene practices are essential for the survival and development of children. Today, there are around 2.4 billion people who do not use improved sanitation, and 663 million who do not have access to improved water sources. Every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases caused by poor water, and a lack of sanitation and hygiene.
Water purification, efficiency, delivery, and sanitation technologies can enable access to clean water. Water conservation and management are among the most critical issues facing humankind.
New and emerging digital technologies facilitate smart water and sanitation management. The ITU Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities follows key trends in urban smart water management, including ICTs for wastewater management.
Space technologies enable, among others:
Water quality monitoring
Access to infrastructural support and technical know-how
Space technology can help analyze global water cycles, map watercourses, and monitor and mitigate the effects of floods and droughts.
Affordable and clean energy – SDG 7
Sustainable Development Goal 7 aims at ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today. Sustainable energy is an opportunity to transform lives, economies and the planet. Still, one in five people lack access to electricity and, as demand continues to rise, there needs to be a substantial increase in the production of renewable energy across the world. The proportion of the world’s population with access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking increased from 51% in 2000 to 58% in 2014, although there has been limited progress since 2010. There are nearly 800 million people without access to reliable and affordable electricity.
Aim is to have access to energy that is clean, affordable, and sustainable (e.g., through energy-efficient technologies and technologies that use alternative sources of energy.
Rising tech use contributes to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But the industry is exploring ways to use greener energy, make devices more energy efficient, and incorporate solar, wind and other renewable sources into the value chain. At the same time, cutting-edge tech will be essential to cut global emissions, build smart grids and cities, electrify transport, and build sustainable economies and societies. ITU has helped set more stringent energy efficiency and emission control standards for ICTs and has outlined how smart grids can help to build more controllable and efficient energy systems and reduce carbon emissions.
Space technologies are central in:
Critical infrastructure monitoring, particularly with regards to energy networks
Power grid synchronization
Identification of optimal sites for the production of renewable energy
Solar and wind energy production forecasting to estimate the amount of energy needed from other sources
Satellites can be used to collect solar energy so that it can be distributed for use all over the earth. Solar power satellites, otherwise known as powersats, orbit the earth and are designed to capture solar energy and transmit that energy to receiving stations that are situated thousands of miles from each other on the surface of the earth. These satellites are made up of a number of modules outfitted with lightweight photovoltaic solar panels.
Space is contributing to the management of smart grids, as their development is not possible without Global Navigation Satellite Systems, which provide the accurate timing that the smart grids require for synchronization. Additionally, technologies such as solar panels for spacecrafts when the solar radiation is enough to power the on-board instruments or radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) for missions that cannot rely on the energy coming from the Sun, have applications on Earth, where RTGs have been used to power unmanned facilities.
Rapid advancements in AI, blockchain, advanced materials for solar panels and battery technology (specifically lithium-ion batteries) means that renewable energy mini-grids now have the potential to be the cheapest solution to connect 290 million people to power.
Emerging technologies have huge potential to accelerate electrification, particularly in areas with fewer centralized network power grids, including Africa. Powergen, for example, has installed solar-powered mini-grid projects with battery storage across Kenya and Zambia, providing electricity to rural areas at rates equivalent to that spent currently on kerosene.
More broadly, AI, blockchain and IoT technologies have the potential to enable a much greater proportion of renewables on centralized power grids as well as optimizing decentralized energy systems worldwide. AI and IoT combined can offer smart monitoring and active management of an energy system, for example, optimizing energy use by automating price responsiveness to market signals; or coordinating operations of a cluster of decentralized energy networks to improve operational efficiency and reduce waste.
These solutions will improve efficiency, bring cleaner energy options to global markets, and reduce costs. Blockchain solutions can also be layered into decentralized solutions to provide a platform for peer-to-peer energy trading, such as LO3 and its microgrid solutions.
SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
Sustainable Development Goal 8 promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Roughly half the world’s population still lives on the equivalent of about US$2 a day, and in too many places, having a job does not guarantee an escape from poverty. Slow and uneven progress in this area requires us to rethink and retool our economic and social policies aimed at eradicating poverty. A continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies: that all must share in progress. Sustainable economic growth will require societies to create the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs that stimulate the economy while not harming the environment.
Technology creates new jobs, enables resilient work and commerce, and stimulates wider social and economic development. ITU’s Digital Innovation Framework helps countries, cities and other communities and systems accelerate their digital transformation, stimulate ICT-centric innovative entrepreneurship, and foster vibrant small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Space technologies support:
Global economies and GDP growth, contributing to a range of sectors, particularly service delivery, utilities, banking and finance, agriculture and communications
Lone workers monitoring, establishing safe and secure working environments
Engineering skills are key to build a sufficient workforce (SDG 8) that will develop the infrastructure to enhance the living standards of people (SDG 9) and address global issues such affordable energy (SDG 7), resilient cities (SDG 11) and settlements and adequate water and sanitation facilities (SDG 6).
SDG 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Sustainable Development Goal 9 seeks to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. This SDG encompasses three important aspects of sustainable development: infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation. Infrastructure provides the basic physical systems and structures essential to the operation of a society or enterprise. Industrialisation drives economic growth, creates job opportunities and thereby reduces income poverty.
Innovation advances the technological capabilities of industrial sectors and prompts the development of new skills. Inclusive and sustainable industrial development is the primary source of income generation, allows for rapid and sustained increases in living standards for all people, and provides the technological solutions needed for environmentally sound industrialization.
Efficient and affordable ICT infrastructure and services help countries to engage in the digital economy and boost their economic competitiveness and well-being. Most of the world’s 42 least developed countries (LDCs) are making impressive progress towards SDG 9, with significant impact in financial inclusion, poverty reduction and improved health.
Much of ITU’s work directly aims to improve the extent and quality of ICT infrastructure of radiocommunication and backbone networks and to extend networks into underserved remote and rural areas. ITU’s standards are improving the energy efficiency and performance of ICT networks, in backhaul, wireline and radiocommunication networks.
Space technologies play a key role in:
Infrastructure mapping and monitoring, including maintenance of road infrastructure in rural environments, where the most reliable technology is satellite-based
Construction surveying though machine automation
Smart mobility, e.g. reduced fuel consumption by smarter planning and monitoring of driving behaviour
SDG 10 Reducing Inequality
Sustainable Development Goal 10 aims at reducing inequality within and among countries. This SDG calls for reducing inequalities in income as well as those based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status within a country. The goal also addresses inequalities among countries, including those related to representation, migration and development assistance.
The international community has made significant strides towards lifting people out of poverty. The most vulnerable nations – the least developed countries, the landlocked developing countries and the Small Island developing States – continue to make inroads into poverty reduction. However, inequality still persists and large disparities remain in access to health and education services and other assets.
ITU works to reduce inequality within and between countries, communities, and populations by extending access to technologies and knowledge to disadvantaged segments of society.
Space technologies can contribute in various ways, for example through:
Connectivity in remote and isolated areas
Remote participation in democratic processes
Reliable access to information
Connectivity in remote and isolated areas
Remote participation in democratic processes
Reliable access to information
Space economy, the full range of activities and the use of resources that create value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, researching, understanding, managing, and utilizing space, is booming. According to estimates in 2017, the global space economy totaled $383.5 billion worldwide and employed well over 900,000 people, and is set to generate revenues of $1.1 trillion or more by 2040 according to some estimates. Some developing countries already have a large space sector, allowing them to tap into this growth.
Through space education and capacity development on space exploration and technology, more developing countries can take part in this booming sector and leverage its potential for inclusive economic growth. As competition in the sector increases, the price of launches and other space-related technology is falling. The fall in costs and other barriers to space particularly benefits developing states and allows new countries to become spacefaring nations. By offering opportunities for productive employment regardless of gender, the space sector can reduce inequality in pay between men and women and promote the economic and social inclusion of women.
SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
Sustainable Development Goal 11 is focused on cities, as more than half of the world’s population lives in them. Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more; they have enabled people to advance socially and economically. However, many challenges exist to maintaining cities in a way that continues to create jobs and prosperity without straining land and resources.
“United for Smart Sustainable Cities” (U4SSC), begun by ITU and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 2016, helps cities take key steps to become smart and sustainable. Fifty cities from a number of countries worldwide have now joined this project.
Space technologies are utilised for:
Urban planning, to pinpoint structures and reference points for cadastral and urban planning purposes
Smart Cities, through the application of Global Navigation Satellite Systems, Earth Observation and Satellite Telecommunications
Improvement of city services, such as smart waste management systems
Air quality monitoring
Search and rescue operations
Earth Observation and GNSS data support urban mapping and infrastructure monitoring to help plan and manage city services and structures. EO and GNSS-based services create smarter, sustainable cities by optimizing traffic management, reducing energy consumption, and improving urban mobility, and monitoring air pollution. To reduce the human and economic cost of disasters, space-based data enhances the full disaster management cycle by supporting an understanding of disaster risk, preparations to reduce risk, and measures to improve resilience, response and capacity to recover.
Satellite data helps to support, plan and monitor migration and mobility of people, either in the case of human migration between different areas of the world, or mobility within urban centres, and assist disaster planning and emergency response.
SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production
Sustainable Development Goal 12 aims at ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. SDG 12 is about promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty. Sustainable consumption and production aims at “doing more and better with less”, increasing net welfare gains from economic activities by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole lifecycle, while increasing quality of life.
E-Waste, including waste created by ICTs, is increasing all over the world. ITU has launched a coalition to produce the Global E-waste Monitor and strengthen collaboration to address the global challenge of waste from electrical and electronic equipment. ITU is also developing global strategies, standards and policies that offer guidelines for the sustainable management of e-waste.
Space technologies can assist with:
Natural resources management
Food and dangerous goods traceability
Monitoring of endangered species trafficking and products of human slavery
Smart Agriculture by combining Earth observation, satellite telecommunications and Global Navigation Satellite Systems
Spin-offs of In-situ resources utilization (ISRU), such 3d printing technologies to create structures in orbit, could have applications on Earth
SDG 13 Climate Action
Sustainable Development Goal 13 urges to take action to combat climate change and its impacts*. Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and countries dearly today and even more tomorrow. People are experiencing the significant impacts of climate change, which include changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather events. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are driving climate change and are continuing to rise. They are now at their highest levels in history. Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century and is likely to surpass 3ºC this century-with some areas of the world expected to warm even more.
Digital tools allow increasingly sophisticated climate modelling. ITU facilities international cooperation on policies and standards to help reduce energy consumption for ICT products and services. Key ITU standards promote green data centres and green power feeding systems. ITU is carrying out a joint project to model cities using digital twin modelling.
Space technologies play a central role in:
Climate change monitoring
Search and rescue operations
SDG 14 Life Below Water
Sustainable Development Goal 14 pursues to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. They are particularly crucial for people living in coastal communities, who represented 37% of the global population in 2010.
Oceans provide livelihoods and tourism benefits, as well as subsistence and income. They also help regulate the global ecosystem by absorbing heat and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and protecting coastal areas from flooding and erosion. In fact, coastal and marine resources contribute an estimated $28 trillion to the global economy each year through ecosystem services.
ICTs are being extensively used to monitor the changing marine environment (e.g. the movement of ice flows and glacial movements). Buoys can be equipped with remote monitoring to monitor changing conditions at sea (e.g. salinity levels of water via buoys). Sensor networks and RFID chips can be used to protect endangered animals (e.g. whales and dolphins) to learn about their migratory patterns and needs.
Space technologies support:
Mapping and monitoring of natural and protected areas
Fishing vessel tracking and navigation
Monitoring of illegal, unregulated and unreported fisheries
Fishery product traceability (endangered species, exploitation of fishery resources)
Assessment and monitoring of marine and coastal resources
Climate change monitoring, particularly water temperature
Identification of algal blooms
SDG 15 Life On Land
Sustainable Development Goal 15 seeks to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Preserving diverse forms of life on land requires targeted efforts to protect, restore and promote the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial and other ecosystems. Goal 15 focuses specifically on managing forests sustainably, restoring degraded lands and successfully combating desertification, reducing degraded natural habitats and ending biodiversity loss.
ICTs can be used to identify, monitor, photograph and track wildlife populations. Sensor networks and RFID chips can be used to protect endangered animals (e.g. lions, elephants and tigers) to learn more about their migratory patterns and needs for protection.
Space technologies can be utilised for:
Bio-geophysical land surface monitoring
Terrestrial biodiversity monitoring
Monitoring of poaching and identification of smuggling routes
It is possible to derive from Earth observation satellites a series of bio and geophysical products on the status and evolution of the land surface on a global scale and a set of biophysical variables describing the state, the dynamism and the disturbances of terrestrial vegetation at mid and low spatial resolution. These products are used to monitor vegetation, the water cycle and energy budget.
Satellites can also provide the information necessary to obtain physical variables of the canopy like the leaf area index, the fraction of vegetation cover, and the fraction of radiation absorbed for photosynthesis, to respectively quantify the density, the extent and the health of the vegetation. In addition, the dry matter productivity features the growth of standing biomass for specific agronomic applications. Finally, maps of burned areas delineate the zones of the globe affected by fire events. GNSS is widely adopted for animal tracking. Understanding animal movement is vital for biodiversity research, predicting conservation hotspots, identifying human-animal conflict zones, rebuilding and sustaining productive fisheries and ecosystems and understanding the spread of pandemic disease and invasive species.
SDG 16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
Sustainable Development Goal 16 promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Peace, justice and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are at the core of sustainable development. Several regions have enjoyed increased and sustained levels of peace and security in recent decades. But many countries still face protracted armed conflict and violence, and far too many people struggle as a result of weak institutions and the lack of access to justice, information and other fundamental freedoms.
E-government services are helping improve the relationship of citizens and state and improving the efficiency of delivery of government services. ITU helps to drive citizen empowerment through its work on smart sustainable cities and key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure social inclusion, such as voter participation or the number of government services delivered through electronic means.
Space technologies are pivotal in:
Enabling participation of remote and isolated communities in democratic processes
Enforcement of legislation
Access to reliable information
SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals.
Sustainable Development Goal 17 seeks to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. These inclusive partnerships, built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local levels.
Public-private partnerships are key to bringing ICTs to all nations, peoples, and communities. Partnerships are particularly needed to build the physical infrastructure required to deliver Internet services in hard-to-reach areas and to currently disadvantaged populations, as well as to facilitate the investment, inclusion and innovation required to for SDG fulfilment across the board.
Space technologies enable:
International cooperation initiatives
Exchange of data and information
Open source databases
Sharing of infrastructure and exchange of technical know-how
Synthetic biology in particular is a discipline that builds on biotechnology to redesign and engineer organisms for novel purposes and functions. Areas of research include synthetic genomics, synthetic metabolic pathways engineering, protocell construction, xenobiology and more. With paradigmatic advances in genetic engineering and genome editing, such as the discovery of the bacterial immune system component CRISPR-Cas9 which can be re-appropriated to precisely edit gene sequences, synthetic biology has gained significant momentum and is employed in various ways to tackle SDG-related issues. Synthetic biology can help fight pollution and neutralise environmental hazards, counteract climate change, alleviate humanitarian and socioeconomic crises like hunger, disease, inadequate access to water, sanitation, hygiene and more.
However, at the same time, it is important to consider the possible risks and problems that arise when harnessing the benefits of synthetic biology. Genetically engineered organisms may have devastating effects on ecosystems if released accidently. Gene drive technologies may introduce new diseases and synthetic products may have toxic effects on naturally occurring microorganisms. Using large amounts of biomass may decrease soil fertility and biodiversity, and ultimately contribute to climate change by altering land-use.
Internet of Things (IoT), interconnected devices communicating with the internet is expected to grow to billions in this decade. This creates an incredible opportunity to harness IoT technology to help achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By 2025, IoT’s economic impact has the potential to reach $11.1 trillion.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is emerging as a powerful enabler in many application domains, such as water and energy management, environmental monitoring, health, smart cities, smart industry and supply chain management. The IoT has the potential to address some of the most acute human, economic and environmental needs. It can also directly contribute to achieving the targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Accordingly, the emerging IoT paradigm has the potential to create an efficient, effective and secure ecosystem taking advantage of connected devices for managing the major global challenges faced by this, and future generations. Internet of things (IoT) are being harnessed to support the public-health response to COVID-19 worldwide that can make a significant impact to achieve SDGs in developing regions.
However, they note that IoT is only one technology for digital transformation and “is combined in business solutions with other digital technologies, like mobile, cloud, drones, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), all to support digital transformation. …
In 2015, team from the Institute for Transformative Technologies released an in-depth study to identify the 50 most important technology breakthroughs required for the SDGs. Team took stock of how much the technology needle has moved in 2019 and of how the broader policy and business ecosystem is supporting the development and commercialization of critical technologies.
Out of the 50 technologies identified as essential to achieving the SDGs, 10 have been developed (e.g., a low-cost smartphone, point-of-care diagnostic devices for primary healthcare, a low-cost solar mini-grid system) and a number of them appear to be on the way to reaching meaningful scale. Judging by the current trajectory and the emphasis on technology innovations, I believe at least 40 of the 50 Breakthroughs will be developed by the time we reach 2030. However, only about 25 are likely to reach the hundreds of millions (or even billions) needed to fully impact the SDGs. Still, 2030 is somewhat of an artificial deadline; and overall, it does appear that a new generation of critical technologies will come to life over the next decade, writes Shashi Buluswar, CEO of the Institute for Transformative Technologies.
There are two rapidly evolving frontier technologies that I believe can be are truly transformative in the SDG timeline. The first is CRISPR, which has fundamentally democratized the ability to edit genes. Our analysis suggests that the most immediate positive impact of CRISPR will be in making local seed varieties resistant to some of the effects of climate change, specifically drought and heat This can be done using cisgenesis, a process that is much less controversial than transgenesis (i.e., conventional GMOs). Gene editing for improving human health in the developing world will likely be a much more complex and drawn-out process, given underlying risks and unpredictable externalities.
The second is a platform for increasing transparency into issues like deforestation, mass atrocities and similar events that can be documented via aerial imagery. Planet, a satellite company, has dramatically reduced the cost of developing and sending satellites into space, and has already deployed the largest fleet of satellites in history. They are currently able to image every point on Earth once a day. Over time, the spatial and temporal resolution of their imagery will only increase, making it an essential tool for a large number of issues.
Unlike the above two examples, I believe (and have discussed in this report) AI is largely hype and has few impactful applications in the developing world in the SDG timeline. Rather than be distracted by the hype, it will be important for countries to invest in foundational interventions (e.g., increasing access to irrigation). Over time, data-driven analytics can be of tremendous value to societies in improving decision-making; in order to get there, governments should seriously consider investing in data infrastructures like India’s Aadhar ID system so that there is enough relevant data for such tools to be useful.
The private sector will play a pivotal role in harnessing technology innovations to achieve the SDGs. Established companies from emerging economies (e.g., India’s Tata Group of companies and Kenya’s Nairobi Women’s Hospital) are well positioned to build true win-win business that earn profits while also solving social problems at a large scale. Such companies will likely be significantly more important in this context than Western multinationals, for whom the modest profits from low-income markets will likely be unattractive. One exciting example of that is our partnership with Tata Power in India, with whom we launched an initiative to build smart solar mini-grids for over 10,000 of India’s poorest villages. If successful, this will be one of the largest electrification events in history.
Quantum computers use quantum phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computations that can vastly outperform classical computers at certain tasks. The tasks quantum computers can do may lead to solutions for humankind’s most pressing challenges. Nonetheless, there continues to be significant obstacles to overcome before these machines are powerful enough to meet their expected potential.
A new documentary – Quantum Technology | Our Sustainable Future from The Quantum Daily, developed in partnership with Oxford Instruments Nanoscience – was released in July 2021 with a call from industry experts to leverage the power of quantum computing in addressing the world’s urgent sustainability challenges.
The documentary features insights from leading quantum computing experts and tech giants such as Google, IBM and Intel, as well as start-ups such as SeeQC and PsiQuantum regarding how quantum technologies could help address key sustainability issues, including:
- reduce the energy use of datacenters and servers that underpin today’s digital world
- reduce the energy required for complex computations even as demand continues to rise in AI, optimization, simulation and more
- accelerate the development of new applications to address global sustainability such as carbon capture and battery development
- minimize quantum computing’s own potential environmental impact
“We have one planet, and these conversations must happen now,” said Stuart Woods, Managing Director of Oxford Instruments NanoScience, a leading provider of high technology material science tools and systems for research and industry. “The broad participation of industry thought leaders in this film shows the support and the importance of prioritizing sustainability in quantum technologies.”
Tamar Eilam, Israeli-American scientist and IBM Fellow, said, “The responsible, ethical use of technology, such as quantum tech, will serve as an important tool for scientists, policymakers and citizens working for a cleaner, more sustainable world. Technology plays a dual role in combating climate change. We simply have no chance to win without technology. However, technology, and in particular AI and quantum, can be associated with a high carbon footprint cost. We must use technology responsibly.”
“The timing of quantum’s emergence to tackle climate change is propitious,” said Richard Murray, CEO of Orca Computing. “Climate change is a global challenge that will shape our lives over the next 10-50 years. While some of the answers to the climate catastrophe will come through behavioural changes, I’m of the belief that the biggest gains are to be had from technology. Quantum computing offers the chance for numerous breakthroughs that will allow us to continue our day-to-day lives in harmony with the planet and its resources. It creates ideas that can bring about new materials and products, while reducing the exorbitant hidden energy-cost of modern-day high-performance computing.”
“We recognize the centrality of sustainability in the development of quantum systems, both from an energy efficiency perspective as well as with the applications that quantum computers will address in areas such as climate modeling, material science and energy,” said John Levy, CEO of SeeQC. “We are pleased to participate on this important documentary with our colleagues in the quantum space to highlight our collective work on a global scale.”
For all the potential technology offers, it could also put greater stress on our society. Each day, more questions arise with media headlines on the risks of privacy, crime and security, the growing market power of the tech giants, risks to democracy and human rights from misuse of technology, and the potential impact of automation on jobs and inequality. One thing is certain: governments and businesses need to work together to make sure that technology is actively managed to align with societal needs, and address its most urgent goals – our SDGs.
Automation is also disrupting labor markets, and could displace a significant number of jobs over the next few decades. This was highlighted in the recent WBG report Trouble in the Making? The future of Manufacturing led Growth. And remember that innovations such as blockchain technology are being used for speculative purposes as evidenced by the rise of cryptocurrencies, which have been subject to fraud, theft, and criminal misuse.
One of greatest challenges that countries — especially developing countries — face in realizing sustainable development is obtaining and putting in place the necessary technologies. While access to technology depends to some extent on financial resources, it is not only a financial issue. In many instances, legal and institutional frameworks impede the development, import/export, transfer, and use of technologies for sustainable development. Quotas and tariffs can affect the ability to import technologies.