We are approaching the first anniversary when the UN Member States and the UN General Assembly formally agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), setting out a global agenda for development based on economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability known as the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.
The international community has embraced the SDGs with enthusiasm, interest and commitment – and it is my experience that where enthusiasm leads, progress will soon follow.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) will be crucial to achieving the SDGs – and they must be leveraged to accelerate progress. In recognition of this, the Agenda refers to ICT infrastructure as a cross-cutting ‘Means of Implementation’ (MoI).
Although the targets for each SDG are global, each government will set its own national targets taking into account national circumstances, planning processes, policies and strategies. Therefore, monitoring the progress of the goals is an important task. Consequently, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development will meet on an annual basis to review global sustainable development commitments linked to the 17 Goals over the course of a four-year cycle.
In addition, three major recent reports can help us monitor how ICTs are helping accelerate the SDGs.
GeSI and Accenture Strategy Study
#SystemTransformation: How Digital Solutions will Drive Progress towards the SDGs – a report from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), produced with Accenture Strategy – presents a detailed ‘state of the world analysis’ using 63 key performance indicators of where 54 developed, 113 developing and 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) stand in relation to each individual SDG. It also provides examples of the use of digital solutions for three “positive impact categories”:
- Improving people’s quality of life (mainly comprising of SDGs 2, 3, 4 and 16).
- Fostering equitable growth (mainly comprising of SDGs 1, 5, 8, 9 and 10).
- Protecting the environment (mainly comprising of SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15).
The report concludes that “humanity needs exponential development to meet these challenges – development that puts people at its heart and protects our planet”. It finds that digital solutions (for example, e-health, e-learning and smart building) can contribute directly to the achievement of each and every one of the 17 SDGs, and “will be indispensable to meeting the SDGs on the very tight timetable the UN has set, provided barriers [to their adoption] are overcome”.
Other key reports
Ericsson and the Earth Institute published the joint report, How ICTs can Accelerate Action on the Sustainable Development Goals. This report presents a broad overview of the use of ICTs to achieve the SDGs, with detailed sectoral analysis for a number of different sectors – ICT infrastructure, health, education, energy, digital identity and financial inclusion. ITU contributed to this report with data and findings on progress in ICT uptake and adoption. The headline conclusion of the report is that the SDGs “are achievable, but they require a breakthrough in both the speed and degree of progress… Meeting these global ‘stretch’ goals calls for a transformation of societies far deeper and faster than in the past—a rate of change that a Business-As-Usual (BAU) approach simply cannot deliver.”
The OECD report, “Measuring Distance to the OECD Targets: A pilot assessment of where OECD countries stand”, presents a preliminary assessment of OECD member countries’ starting positions in relation to relevant SDG targets. Even though analysis is offered for each OCED country, it is encouraging that the OECD’s analysis does not just treat SDGs as matters for ‘domestic policy’, but also recognizes the important global nature of many of the targets – through international aid flows, for example. Subject to data availability limitations, the report concludes that “OECD members have made most progress on health, water and energy, and have furthest to go on gender equality”.
Malcolm Johnson (@ITU_DSG) was elected ITU Deputy Secretary General at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 in Busan, Republic of Korea. Mr. Johnson was elected as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in 2006 in Antalya, Turkey and was re-elected at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2010 in Guadalajara, Mexico.