THE latest Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 (SDGR 2019) should ring alarm bells.
Closer to home, on some goals, Asia and the Pacific region are, in fact, “going backwards”. Unless progress is accelerated, the region is on course to miss all 17 goals.
We all want our world to be a better place. However, in efforts to eradicate poverty, hunger, disease and all forms of inequality, there is also a need to ensure that we safeguard the planet for future generations.
For this reason, discussions on sustainable development have taken centre stage and there is raging debate on issues such as poverty, health and the effects of climate change.
Today’s development has yielded significant progress in these spheres but has simultaneously hurt our environment and caused inequality.
The present need is to eliminate the gap between development and sustainability and ensure that both go hand in hand.
Realising the utmost urgency of this matter, the UN began the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 with eight specific goals; it set to achieve them by 2015.
Indeed, by 2015, several targets had been achieved and the UN called it the “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history”.
The success of MDGs paved the way for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In September 2015, 193 countries of the UN approved the global agenda with a broadened list of 17 global goals and 169 targets, with the aim of transforming the world by 2030.
These goals range from no poverty and reduced inequality to responsible consumption and protection of life below water.
At least once, all the nations came under one umbrella to work together for the shared prosperity of the globe and with a promise of “leaving no one behind”.
As per the SDGR 2019 report, although there has been progress in some spheres, there has been slippage in others. For example, although extreme poverty has declined considerably, ending it by 2030 is a monumental task.
Furthermore, our environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate, global hunger is rising and more than half the world’s population still does not have access to essential health services.
In addition, inequality is on the rise.
We have about 11 years to achieve the ambitious 17 goals of the SDGs. The question is — can we get there?
Economic growth alone is not a precursor to meeting the goals. Although this has held true in the past, the next decade would require major intervention through policymaking if that economic growth is to meet social, economic and environmental goals.
Significant policymaking involving science, technology and innovation (STI) is imperative to create synergies within the goals and to reduce conflicts as much as possible. Simply put, STI must be harnessed optimally and should be the driving force of all 17 global goals.
Science and technology drive almost everything in today’s world — from industries and trade to our day-to-day lives. Thus, expecting it to propel efforts to meet global goals should not come as a surprise.
But there is a pressing need to effectively deploy the STI arsenal now. To this end, the UN Technology Facilitation Mission has been conducting regular STI forums to take stock of the actions of member states. STI forums focus on specific goal sets every year.
STI will be instrumental not only in minimising the technology and innovation gap but will also reduce inequality.
For example, in SDG 4 (quality education), the latest technologies for blended learning and making individuals and early learners tech savvy such as in software knowledge and coding, would narrow the gap.
At universities and research institutions, there is a need to further promote research and development. The knowledge generated would help in making better medicines, superior infrastructure and overall connectivity.
Actions would thrive only in an ecosystem that has both fertile national policies and legal environment, which must be linked with national development agendas. For example, Japan has aligned SDGs with its own Society 5.0 agenda and Mauritius has an integrated ocean-based economy.
Malaysia, with its array of national development programmes, has formed alignments with SDGs.
Unfortunately, several developing countries and the least developed countries still lack a national framework of innovation.
At the regional level, Asean Vision 2025 blueprints and the SDGs have several goals in common. Together with the Asean Plan of Action on STI 2016-2025, these could help the implementation of common goals.
However, STI policies must be coherent so that technology transfer and intellectual property protection could occur favourably.
Successful projects, policies and lessons learnt by one country could be implemented by others. This would cut down on learning time.