05/04/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/04/2021 16:37
Note: Owing to the liquidity crisis and the current COVID-19 pandemic impacting our Organization, only a partial summary of statements made in today's meetings of the Economic and Social Council is available at this time. The complete summary will be issued later as Press Release ECOSOC/7043.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of science and technology for the well-being of global populations, and advances in these fields are necessary not only to recover better from the crisis, but also to address other global challenges, such as poverty, inequality and climate change, speakers said today as the Economic and Social Council opened a two-day forum on the subject.
'COVID-19, and the inadequate response to the pandemic, have divided the world in two, between those countries primed to move on from the pandemic and those mired in it for the foreseeable future,' said Rajiv Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, in his keynote address to the sixth annual Multi‑stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.
As the pandemic enters its second year, this division could become a lasting divergence between one part of the world that's much better off and another falling far behind, he warned. 'Indeed, we've already lost ground on every measure of humanity's progress and the Sustainable Development Goals the world committed to more than five years ago,' he said. 'To restart convergence, we need to reimagine how we pursue those goals and global development more broadly.'
That will require a new mindset and redefining the focus, scale and purpose of the international economic order to give people everywhere the opportunity to not just get back on their feet, but also prosper amid an economic transition to a modern digital, environmentally stable economy, he said. And it will require empowering the bottom billion with the new advances in science, technology and innovation, he said.
Recalling that, throughout the last century, scientific and technological breakthroughs fuelled global development, progress and hope, he said that science, technology and innovation should help ensure a truly sustainable, equitable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. To that end, the Foundation is launching a pandemic prevention hub that can leverage the latest advances in data, science and technology to enable global public health leaders to foresee an outbreak.
And later this year at the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP26, the Foundation intends to begin ground-breaking collaboration that leverages breakthroughs in solar energy, battery storage and artificial intelligence to advance climate transitions and bring reliable electricity to 1 billion people, he said. The Foundation, however, cannot do this alone, he said, urging joint efforts.
The other keynote speaker, Julie Makani, Professor and Principal Investigator for the Sickle Cell Disease Programme at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in the United Republic of Tanzania, emphasized the need to harness the power of science, technology and innovation. 'There is considerable knowledge in the world,' she said, stressing that this knowledge can be used to reduce and end the ongoing pandemic and prepare for future ones.
Calling for investment in gene-based diagnosis and therapies in a manner that will address the ethics and equity of health, she said that, 'by working together, through multi-stakeholder partnerships, we will be able to say that we have used science, technology and innovation to improve health and prevent, treat and cure diseases, such as COVID-19 and sickle cell disease, irrespective of who you are and where you live.'
For Africa, she said, it is possible to establish capacity in genomics and data science with adequate investment directly going to institutions and scientists there. The existing platforms, such as ACEGID in Nigeria, the first centre in Africa to sequence the SARS-COV-2 virus and contribute to genomic surveillance, can be used to participate in research and conduct trials in gene therapy to cure sickle cell disease and HIV. She expressed hope that she will soon be able to sit in a clinic in Dar-es-Salaam, discuss gene-based treatment to cure sickle cell disease with a patient and give that patient the same health care as if she was sitting in a clinic in London or New York.
In a message, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the COVID-19 crisis has increased innovation in medicines and digital communications technologies. 'These advances hold promise for our collective challenges beyond COVID-19 - including limiting climate disruption, reducing inequalities, including the digital divide, and ending our war on nature,' he said in his remarks, delivered on his behalf by Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Officer-in-Charge, United Nations Office of the Secretary General's Envoy on Technology.
'It is essential that we work together - across borders, sectors and disciplines - to make science and technology work for everyone,' the Secretary‑General said, drawing attention to the United Nations Technology Facilitation Mechanism designed to promote multi-stakeholder collaboration on technological progress, as well as the Road Map for Digital Cooperation, which he launched last year.
Also speaking was Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, who warned that the digital divide is rapidly becoming the new face of inequality and there is no path to sustainable development without closing this gap. The differences between the digital haves and have-nots extend far beyond having an email account, he said, pointing out that implications of this divide are evident in the quality of education and health care, and in the availability and diversity of jobs and livelihoods.
'Expanding access to digital technologies is not only about leaving no one behind, it is about hitting the accelerator on sustainable development, driving a new surge in action and innovation across the entirety of the [Sustainable Development Goals],' he said. Few actions are as powerful as digitization in quickly and broadly scaling up progress, he added, emphasizing that a COVID-19 recovery must be a digital one.
Resultant benefits, he said, include the emergence of new sectors and markets; better trained and equipped workforces; and the availability of data on everything from soil conditions to sea surge that will help policymakers and practitioners design environmental conservation efforts.
Opening the Forum, Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, reminded participants that the dialogue platform is mandated to facilitate interaction and matchmaking among partners on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development. He encouraged them to explore ways to use science and technology to foster inclusive action. In this regard, he said, intellectual property can address inequalities widened by the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for the sharing of open science, open‑source technology and digital public goods. Science can achieve rapid breakthroughs, he said, stressing the need for targeted research to accelerate progress towards sustainable development.
Throughout the day, the Forum held panels and ministerial-level dialogues, bringing together a wide range of stakeholders under the theme 'Science, technology and innovation for a sustainable and resilient COVID-19 recovery, and effective pathways of inclusive action towards the Sustainable Development Goals'.
The Forum will reconvene at 9 a.m., on Wednesday, 5 May to continue its work.
The Forum then held a panel discussion and interactive dialogue on the theme 'Science, technology and innovation lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic'. Moderated by Vaughan Turekian, Senior Director, United States National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, it featured presentations by Jeremy James Farrar, Director, The Wellcome Trust; Nísia Verônica Trindade Lima, President, Oswaldo Cruz Foundaiton (Fiocruz), Brazil; Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, Deputy Secretary-General, Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD); and Dina Dellyana, Coordinator, Global Center of Excellent and International Cooperation for Creative Economy, Indonesia.
ANDREJS PILDEGOVICS (Latvia), Forum Co-Chair, delivered opening remarks, saying that the world must draw lessons from the pandemic to build foresight and resilience and to be better prepared for unforeseen future shocks. With the pandemic demonstrating the power of science, technology and innovation, it is essential to keep up the momentum while also delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr. TUREKIAN said that so much has been learned since the pandemic began, but lessons are still being drawn as this is an ongoing pandemic. Science, technology and innovation has much to teach the world about how it can interface with 'wicked problems', including climate change. There is terrific value in mobilizing the global scientific community to provide insight into the progress of the pandemic, but further interventions are required to move forward. The past 14 months have also exposed challenges in the relationship between the science, technology and innovation community, on the one hand, and policy implementation, on the other. Elaborating, he said that the speed at which science, technology and innovation develops is relatively slow compared with the speed at which the political world must act.
Dr. FARRAR said that the pandemic must be put into the context of changes during the past 20 years. It did not come out of the blue; rather, it was preceded by many warnings, culminating in a perfect storm. The twenty-first century will see more transnational challenges like COVID-19 that will require countries to come together and act in a coordinated manner. He added that, while the pandemic country is past its peak in some countries, most of the world is closer to its start than to the end. Everything must be done to address inequalities in such areas as vaccines, testing and oxygen supplies.
Ms. LIMA, discussing her Foundation's work in Brazil, emphasized that COVID‑19 responses must address social inequalities. While many countries were able to carry out research, access to that research was extremely unequal. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must be considered in that context. While recent years have seen improvements in quality-of-life indicators, the pandemic has prompted setbacks, including the return to poverty of 70 million to 100 million people worldwide. She underscored the importance of strengthening universal health systems to build national resilience and for preparing for future pandemics, as well as a more symmetrical distribution of knowledge. In addition, policies must be guided by the needs of society and the planet, and integrated into the principle that development aims to improve people's lives.
Mr. KNUDSEN said that the unprecedented mobilization of science and research systems around the world during the pandemic was an acceleration of trends that were already under way. Some 75,000 scientific papers related to COVID-19 have been published, more than 70 per cent of which are available through open access. Billions of dollars were poured into better understanding the virus and into developing vaccines with unprecedented levels of international cooperation. Emphasizing the importance of data‑sharing, he said that, while several vaccines have been approved and vaccination campaigns are under way, an intense response to COVID-19 is needed in all countries and not just in a privileged few. Summarizing some of OECD's recommendations, he said that Governments should review their policies, including funding for science and technology, to focus on pandemics and climate change. International collaboration must be strengthened and adequately funded. Clearly, no country, society or economy can face the pandemic - or other global crises - alone, he said.
Ms. DELLYANA said that her organization is extending a helping hand to creative actors in Indonesia, who, in a survey, identified several challenges, including human resources management, lack of adequate infrastructure and access to raw materials. In response, her organization is helping to make creative actors more competitive, introducing them to the potential of big data for making decisions in real time. She added that the pandemic has revealed the value of decentralized production models and local sourcing, as well as the need to bolster cybersecurity through cost-effective means.
In the ensuing dialogue, the Russian Federation's representative spotlighted his country's progress in science, technology and innovation, including the Sputnik V vaccine and a twofold increase in software exports over the past five years. However, like all innovations, digital technology can be subject to uncontrolled proliferation, hence the need for an effective and transparent system to regulate the Internet, with Governments moving forward on an equal footing and the United Nations playing an active role. The Internet Governance Forum, which has so far been only a discussion platform with no power to make recommendations, should be given an improved mandate. Key decisions should be agreed by consensus. He added that, while the Secretary-General's Road Map for Digital Cooperation has positive elements, it also contains questionable ones, particularly in the area of international digital safety and security, which should be addressed by the relevant open-ended working group.
The representative of Finland said that a crisis of the pandemic's magnitude warrants both very specific and more general knowledge which supports innovation and decision-making in both the public and private sectors. It is thus essential to pool scientific knowledge produced in various countries and by various scientific disciplines, such as the social sciences and humanities. COVID-19 has demonstrated that sustainable resilience warrants a wide range of knowledge and capacities - developed and supported before the crisis - as well as the ability to quickly pool minds and resources, she said.
The representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that scientific literacy is more important than ever. Knowledge must benefit everyone and not create new forms of exclusion and marginalization. In that regard, UNESCO's recommendations for open science can be a game changer in fulfilling the right to science. Citing the forthcoming UNESCO Science Report, she said there is an urgent need to improve the status of scientists and researchers 'who are truly the canaries in the mine'. Scientific communities are not born overnight, but the fruit of long-term investment, she said, emphasizing the 'soft power of science' and calling for basic science education for all children.
A representative of Saahas, a civil society organization in India, said that technology holds tremendous promise for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, which spiked during the pandemic, by making help more accessible more quickly. Stressing the power of community, she said that bystander intervention training has enabled resident associations to identify and support survivors. She added that a combination of technology-based support and access to resources can go far in supporting survivors in times of emergency, particularly when it is not safe for them to leave their homes even if they want to.
Next, the Forum held a ministerial session on the theme 'Science, technology and innovation policies and initiatives for sustainable development: best practices and lessons learned'.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that the Forum was finally meeting a year after COVID-19 deferred the session, stressing its relevance and importance in addressing the pandemic and shaping recovery from it. The Forum, which is part of Technology Facilitation Mechanism that supports achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, holds the key to resolving crises. Noting advances in science, such as artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology, he stressed the importance of hearing the voices of those impacted by these innovations, as well as the need to achieve inclusive results that benefit all. He said he looks forward to examining the annual report on the Mechanism to be presented today, as well as hearing national experiences on this matter.
STEPHEN QUEST, Director-General of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, said that the European Union is strongly committed to the 2030 Agenda and remains at the forefront of the response to the climate and biodiversity crises. With the European Green Deal, the bloc aspires to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050.
MABEL GISELA TORRES TORRES, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation of Colombia, said the Ministry was created with a dream of Colombia becoming a society of knowledge based on the strengthening and consolidation of scientific capacities in all regions to generate productivity towards fairness and equity. For the first time in history, the national development plan dedicated an entire chapter to science and technology, and defined a 25-year road map for a biodiverse, productive, sustainable and equitable Colombia.
ANNIKA SAARIKKO, Minister for Science and Culture of Finland, said that resolving global challenges requires skills and expertise. 'We stand the best chance of success if we address future skills,' she said, stressing the role of science and technology to promote coherence between research and development policy. Research-based knowledge opens up opportunities. Finland rewards ground‑breaking achievements in open science and celebrates the Year of Research‑Based Knowledge in 2021, she added.
HARSH VARDHAN, Minister for Science and Technology of India, said that science and technology are no doubt powerful enablers for progress on sustainable development and recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. India has about 20 COVID-19 vaccine candidates, he said, urging the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to suspend intellectual property rights to help scale up vaccine production for all.
FORTUNATO DE LA PEÑA, Secretary for Science and Technology of the Philippines, said the COVID-19 pandemic rolled back progress on sustainable development in middle-income countries like his. Recalling that Member States adopted the Decade of Action for sustainable development, he said the significance of science and technology cannot be overemphasized. The Government used open science and technology in the fight against the pandemic, including COVID-19 testing and travel management.
FRANKLIN GARCÍA FERMÍN, Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology of the Dominican Republic, highlighted the role played by UNESCO in harnessing the power of science during the pandemic. The complex challenges posed by COVID-19 required collaborative solutions by Latin American and Caribbean countries. Guided by UNESCO, his country's Government led a strategic plan for quality education for all.
The Forum then held a session on the theme 'Effective paths towards the Sustainable Development Goals: science, technology and innovation for ending poverty and hunger, enhancing human well-being and building resilience'. Moderated by Huadong Guo, Chair of the Academic Committee, Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, it featured presentations by Mohamed Hassan, President, World Academy of Sciences and the Sudanese National Academy of Sciences; Carolina Botero Cabrera, Director, Karisma Foundation, Colombia, and Member of the UNESCO Advisory Committee on Open Science; and Peter Gluckman, President-elect, International Science Council.
Mr. HASSAN said that strengthening the science-policy interface can help countries to come up with national food systems that can then be integrated into national development plans. One per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) can be earmarked for such efforts. He also emphasized the importance of empowering women farmers to improve their productivity and raise their incomes. There are several examples in Asia and Africa of how digital technology can be used to that end, he added.
Ms. CABRERA said that technology alone cannot solve complex problems, such as peace and poverty. Positive outcomes depend on the social programmes in which technology is inserted. Technologies and innovations that will endure post‑pandemic must be evaluated and adjusted to ensure that social programmes remain accessible to all; are non-discriminatory; transparent, explicable and accountable; and take into considerations the needs of the people affected. Social programmes and their underlying technologies and innovations which meet those criteria are the ones that can transform the lives of those living in poverty and help achieve Goal 16.
Mr. GLUCKMAN said that science has been the hero of vaccine development, yet the uptake of public health evidence in the political and public response to the pandemic reflects variable perceptions of the uses of science. Political processes have interfered with the best use of available knowledge, the multilateral system has been surprisingly ineffective and solutions to the myriad issues laid bare by the pandemic are many years away. 'Urgency and potentially disruptive change are needed if we are to meet the enormous number of challenges ahead.' He added that the contemporary science system is made up of disparate agendas and incentives, with no mechanism to identify key priorities and actions. It is therefore time for a more collective approach among funders, academia, experts and the multilateral system to determine the science priorities needed to overcome the challenges faced by the global commons.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the Philippines discussed the ways in which her country is using science and innovation to bring down its rate of poverty, which stood at 16.7 per cent in 2018. In particular, she described the 'Enhanced Nutribun', a bread made from squash that is rich in vitamin A and iron, distributed through community quarantine feed programmes and in times of emergency. 'Pack of Hope' ready-to-eat meals provide complete nutrition for survivors of natural disasters. Protocols and platforms have also been established to inform citizens, communities, local governments and national agencies on ways to avert and minimize risks emanating from natural hazards.
The representative of Finland, emphasizing the Goals' knowledge-based character, said that her country attaches great importance to academic freedom, integrity of peer review, open science, research-based knowledge and freedom of expression. In that spirit, it has declared 2021 to be the 'Year of Research‑Based Knowledge', a programme of actions and events which give a comprehensive view of the role of research-based knowledge in the well-being of individuals and the functioning of society. It will raise the visibility of different sources of knowledge, including statistics, reports and analyses, and highlight the fundamental nature of knowledge that is constantly updated as new research results emerge.
The representative of Bangladesh said that the fourth industrial revolution is likely to eliminate many artificial barriers between men and women, especially in developing countries. However, a financial crisis brought on by the pandemic means that many vulnerable countries cannot embrace the technology they need for development. Such countries will require access to funding through a variety of mechanisms. He went on to say that COVID-19 vaccines must be declared a global public good so that their underlying technology can be shared with those countries with production capability.
The representative of the World Food Programme (WFP) said that, even though the world produces enough food for everyone, 690 million people go to bed hungry every night and the world is not on track to eliminate hunger by 2030. The international community must do its utmost to avert famine for 34 million people. More can and must be done to eliminate hunger and change the lives of those who are furthest behind. She described WFP's efforts in that regard, including the use of blockchain technology to distribute assistance to 1 million people every month. Predictive analytics enable WFP to pinpoint hunger hotspots. Stressing the importance of partnership, she noted the launch of a new innovation hub in Kenya with another to follow in Colombia.
The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), looking ahead to this year's Food Systems Summit, said that science, technology and innovation should be an integral part of efforts to achieve Goal 2 and the wider 2030 Agenda. The pandemic has demonstrated that the world is interconnected and that everyone should have access to science, technology and innovation to transform their agrifood systems. Partnerships and access to know-how are therefore a must, she said.
The representative of Germany highlighted the EMPACT programme, which is an integral part of WFP's operations in Iraq, with strong support from his country's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. With digital skills and English training moving online, data indicates that EMPACT has been a great benefit for its 10,000 participating vulnerable youths and their families, providing them with a skillset to access income-generating opportunities.
The representative of China said that, as many people know, his country has made great progress in poverty eradication through science, technology and innovation over several decades. He stressed the importance of capacity-building to address a variety of situations in different parts of the country. Incentives have encouraged experts at universities and research institutes to come up with capacity-building projects for local farmers.
The representative of the major group for children and youth said that the scaling up of proven and emerging technologies to address the Goals must be locally driven and context specific. Effective science, technology and innovation solutions will require broader intergenerational dialogue and the engagement of all stakeholders. Greater emphasis should be put on systems-based thinking and innovative uses of existing technologies. Underrepresented groups should be brought into decision-making processes, he said, adding that citizen science initiatives which contribute to open and accessible data sets can help to ensure that institutions are accountable to all stakeholders. He went on to say that greater emphasis should be put on defining metrics of well-being, which go beyond economic growth and include justice and sustainability score components.